Sent on behalf of Chief and Council, November 12, 2020:
Benga Mining Ltd. is seeking approval from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (“CEAA)”, now the Impact Assessment Agency (“IAA”), and the Alberta Energy Regulator (“AER”) to operate the proposed Grassy Mountain Mine Project (the “Project”) near Blairmore, AB, about 120 km west of the Blood Reserve. The Project would produce about 4.5 million tonnes of metallurgical coal annually. Metallurgical coal is high quality coal used in the process of making steel and other metals, it is not burned to generate electricity. The Project will occupy about 2,800 hectares of land, 50% private land and 50% Crown land.
Benga submitted an application for approval of the Project to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (“CEAA)”, now the Impact Assessment Agency (“IAA”), and the Alberta Energy Regulator (“AER”) in 2016. The Project requires the approval of both the IAA and AER and is currently undergoing a joint hearing by the two regulatory agencies, who will make a formal decision on the Project sometime in 2021.
As the Project is about 120 km west of the Blood Tribe it is unlikely to impact air or water quality on Blood Tribe reserve lands. Due to the location of the Project in a valley and other factors, an Air Quality Assessment conducted in 2016 concluded that: “because Project impacts were local, and regional emissions were near ground level and confined to Highway 3 and communities, the cumulative impacts were also considered to be local… [and] overall, residual air quality impacts relevant to the Project were considered to be not significant.” (111) Even though air quality impacts will be localized to the Coleman/Blairmore/Bellevue area, Benga has committed to a range of steps to mitigate impacts to air quality such as the use of covered conveyor systems, low emission mining equipment, and other measures.
Unlike other proposed mines in the regions, the Project is not in the main headwaters of the Oldman River system. Only two minor creeks, Gold Creek and Blairmore Creek, are within the Project area. Benga has also invested considerable resources to develop a thorough plan for managing water quality issues associated with its mining operations. The Surface Water Quality Assessment Report conducted in 2016 concluded that in light of Benga’s management of water issues “negligible effects are anticipated on water quality from sediment-associated inputs. … All 21 regulated water quality variables were within Alberta water quality guidelines.” (112-113). All water from the Project must meet water quality specifications to ensure safety and sustainability. The Blood Tribe will also have a key role in monitoring the Project with Benga throughout the operation of the mine as discussed in more detail below.
Consultation with the Blood Tribe
Care and effort were invested by the Blood Tribe in discussions with Benga, since 2013. As part of the consultation process with Benga a cumulative impact assessment study and a traditional land use study were conducted by the Blood Tribe, with input from Blood Tribe traditional knowledge holders. Those studies informed the development of the conditions on the Project that Benga has agreed to. Benga has committed to progressively reclaim the mining area in a manner that will meet or exceed current federal and provincial standards. Progressive reclamation means the lands will be reclaimed and restored as mining occurs. The decision to do progressive reclamation was made based on input from the Blood Tribe. Further, Benga has agreed that the reclamation of the mine site will be planned and carried out by way of discussions with the Blood Tribe that must take into account the Blood Tribe’s traditional knowledge and use of the lands for traditional purposes. The goal of the process is to restore the mine site to a state that can support Treaty rights and traditional land use.
It is important to understand the limitations of consultation that result both from the law on the duty to consult and the systems and policies used by the provincial and federal governments to carry out and monitor consultation. The Blood Tribe does not have veto over the Project. The ability to consult and be heard is always a challenge as we must continually prove that we have interests in the area under development by industry.
However, significant effort was made by the Blood Tribe to use the duty to consult to ensure that if the Project proceeds it will do so only on these conditions:
- Benga has agreed to engage in on-going consultation with the Blood Tribe throughout the life of the Project including the reclamation of the mine area.
- In addition to the above, an Environmental Stewardship Committee will monitor the Project for the purpose of identifying and addressing environmental issues.
- Benga has agreed to a number of significant measures to support the Blood Tribe’s connection to and use of the Crowsnest Pass Region.
- Culturally significant sites identified by the Blood Tribe in the mine area will be protected where possible throughout the operation of the mine and the reclamation of the mine area.
- Benga has agreed to make an annual financial contribution to the Blood Tribe linked to production from the mine, these funds will be used for community purposes.
Involvement in the Grassy Mountain Mine Project does not mean that the Blood Tribe will support any further coal mine development in our traditional territory. The Grassy Mountain Mine Project is unique in that it will occur on an existing mine site, an already disturbed site. The conditions negotiated by the Blood Tribe for this Project will help ensure that mining is conducted to the highest environmental standards and the mining area is reclaimed and returned to a state that supports our Treaty rights and cultural uses of the land.
The Blood Tribe has clearly communicated to the Government of Alberta that the Blood Tribe will not accept further coal mining development in the Crowsnest Pass Region. Other mine projects are proposed in very sensitive and mostly undisturbed areas of the Crowsnest Pass Region that have the potential to impact Grizzlies, Big Horn Sheep, Elk and Bull Trout, as well as the headwaters of the Oldman and Livingstone Rivers which are source water to the Blood Tribe. Work is currently underway on a strategy and plan for opposition to mining in these sensitive and relatively untouched areas of the Crowsnest Pass Region. The Blood Tribe has also recently taken steps to oppose proposed new mining projects in the Elk Valley area of BC on the basis that those proposed projects may have a significant potential for negative cumulative impacts in our traditional territory.
Director, Communications and Community Engagement