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pie graph of cal mines in Canada's provinces

Canada's coal resources sites 

Coal is one of the major sources of energy. Canada is home to 24 permitted coal mines –19 of which are currently in  operation. More than 90% of Canada’s coal deposits are located in western provinces, in British Columbia, Alberta, and  Saskatchewan. There are possibly numbers of coal mines in northern areas, however, there are not any active mines and  many resources are buried in the ice. Coal mines in each province are specified in Table 1, Figure 1 and Figure 2, Figure  3.

Helya Oghabi 

Kevin Adeli

Graph of average levels of arsenic, copper, lead and selenium concentration in water
Map of Canada's coal mines an river maps

Most of Canada’s coal mining is processed by extraction through surface mining — more specifically through strip  mining or open-pit extraction. surface mining is a serious threat to wildlife habitats and water systems, and they are  more contaminating than underground mining. It is very crucial to determine conserved and protcted areas while being  exposed to industrial zones and their contaminations. Figure 3 demonstrates the excessive coal plants located in Alberta  and British Columbia and is an example of jeopardy to conserved areas.

Map of coal mines in British Columbia and Alberta

Potential risks for ecosystem 

2.1 Coal resources impact on ecosystem 

Water is one the basic needs of the mining industry. Only 2.5% of earth’s water consists of freshwater of which 98.8%  is glaciated. Thus the actual and available water resources for humans are restricted. All the operations of mining,  directly or indirectly require water for their operational functions. The mining industry has been utilizing water carelessly without anticipating the negative impacts it is having on the ecology and the bio-diversity of the region. Acid  mine drainage has become a common phenomenon associated with mining. As far as concerned, water pollution due to  industrial activities should be prohibited in the best possible manner and coal mines has this significant impact on  environment.  

One of the essential action plans is water quality assessment, especially in heavy industry sector. Water quality analysis  in nearby water resources to mines, gives a general overview of the quality of water present in the mines. It helps identify  the areas of concern, the parameters which are most harmful, contaminants which pollute the most and the areas which  cause the contamination.(Singh, 1988)

2.2 Mining process and industry impact on ecosystem  

Water as a resource is integral to process of extraction of coal both from surface and underground mines. Many of  mining functioning relies on water supplies such such as coal cutting in underground mines, dust suppression, coal  preparation, coal washing, domestic use in mines, etc. The mines usually salvage the ground water to meet their demands  and in the absence of ground water, they acquire water from the nearby water resources.(Tiwary, 2001) The adjacent  water systems to coal mines with specification of provinces are provided in the Table 2.  

List of major rivers in each province

Coal mining activities can directly affect the quality of the water or indirectly through processes which may show their consequences at a later stage in the life of the mine. The gravity of the impact of these activities depend on a number of  factors like the geology of the area, the mineral constituents of the coal, the composition of the overburden, scale of  operations, rainfall distribution, etc. Some of the major sources of water pollution in coal mining areas are listed as  below.  

2.2.1 Mine water drainage/Acid mine drainage  

Coal seams sometimes contain high concentration of pyrites. This substance will undergo oxidation in presence of water  and oxygen to give sulphuric acid and consequently increasing the acidity and pH of the water used. This water  contaminates the other water bodies and the ground water when it is discharged from the mine. Figure 4 and Figure 5 discuss the pH level in Alberta and Nova Scotia water resources respectively.(Wright, Belmer, & Davies, 2017)

Graph of pH levels in Alberta's water

2.2.5 Sewage discharges  

The water used in mines are mostly contaminated with different substances and are not treated before it is discharged to  the water streams. It can permeate through the soils and contaminate other water bodies. This incident may lead to  unrecoverable circumstances and threatens ecosystem and human life. (Tiwary, 2001) 

3 Water quality index in Canada 

Canada is among the most industrialized countries. Industrialization often leads to mismanagement of resources, especially  environmental resources. Thus, it is significant to consider ecosystem protection as well as industrial development. Figure 10 and  Figure 11 explain Canada’s water quality index among other developed countries. 

Map of Canada freshwater quality in a gloabal context

4 Methodology for water quality assessment  

The critical situation requires carrying out water analysis of all the water bodies in and around the mines to determine  the source, cause, effect and remedies of the different contaminants and pollutants.  

The parameters that were determined for this purpose are temperature, pH, conductivity, TDS1, DO2, BOD3, turbidity,  acidity, sulphates, phosphates, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and other trace metals. 

Almost every water body is polluted to an alarming level. The estimation of quality of water is extremely important for  proper assessment of the associated hazards. The extensive mining activities also adversely affect the environment. Due  to lack of proper planning and negligence of regulations an appreciable amount of environmental degradation and  ecological damage to water air, and soil occurs.


4.1 Significant parameters for water quality experiments 

Temperature plays an important role in controlling chemical and biological processes that occurs in aqueous phase.  Also, oxygen content relies directly on water temperature and will decrease by increase in temperature. For example, it  can directly affect the photosynthesis of aquatic plants, the metabolism rates of organisms. 

Polluted water can affect the biodiversity of the area. Increase or decrease in pH of the water can affect or prevent the  growth of the plants in the area. Similarly, increase in other physical and chemical parameters directly or indirectly  affect vegetation of the area. With no vegetation and contaminated water the wildlife also faces the brunt. Figure 12 and  Figure 13 discuss the pH and dissolved oxygen level in Alberta water resources.  

Graph of average temperature of Alberta's water
Graph of the temerature and dissolved oxygen in Alberta's water

2.2.2 Loose material runoffs  

The process of mining is usually associated with generation of large amount of dust and, the mineral and overburden  excavated are converted to loose material. Winds pick up these dust particles along with loose material and deposit them  on water bodies. Loose material is also carried by the streams running through the mines which eventually meet the  main course or end into a water reservoir causing pollution in both cases. (Singh, 1988) 

Figure 6 shows the average fine particulate matter (FPM) concentration in Alberta and British Columbia. 

Map of average fine particulate matter concentration reorded by air quality stations
Graph of Alberta's water columbia from 2015-2017
Map of carbon monoxide emitted by coal facilities in Alberta and British Columbia

2.2.4 Pollutant leaching from overburden dump  

Overburden dump is the waste material which must be removed before the mineral resources can be retrieved. The waste  materials can contain pollutants in the form of heavy metals of other chemicals which may leach out during the rains  and pollute the surrounding areas. Since there is high CO2 air emission close to coal facilities, acid rains can occur and  worsen the leaching process. Figure 8 and Figure 9 show the ionic compound concentration of metals in Alberta water  resources. 

2.2.3 Oil and fuel spills  

Oils and fuels are used for the machinery and equipment used in the mining operations. These oils and fuel sometimes  leak away or washed off during cleaning and maintenance. The water used for washing or during rains, these oils and  fuels contaminate the nearby water bodies. Figure 7 shows CO emission near to coal facilities. (Tiwary, 2001)

Potential Resources

Potential Resources

Potential Resources

How are current and potential coal resources distributed in Canada and where do they pose  their greatest risk to ecosystems including our  freshwater resources? 

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