Deep underground and in open pits, coal miners are harvesting ancient swamps and forests. Over millions of years, heat and pressure transformed prehistoric vegetation into coal, a form of carbon. Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel in the world—and it transformed Canada into an industrialized nation.
Canada ranks 13th world-wide in coal consumption. Its coal reserves amount to close to 10 billion tonnes, capable of producing more energy than all other fossil fuel reserves combined. In British Columbia, coal accounts for 27% of the province's energy production but only 2% of its consumption.
More than half of annual extracted coal is used to produce electricity, while the rest is used in steel production.
HARNESSING AND TRANSMITTING COAL
Coal is extracted in underground operations and through strip mining. It does not generally require extensive processing: apart from separating out impurities, coal is sorted and used. In Canada, coal-fired electric utilities are often built near the mining sites. Coal exports are usually transported by rail.
- At the current rate of coal production, Canadian proven coal reserves will last about 100 years
- Coal is widely available at a relatively low cost compared to other fuels
- Low power plant installation costs—$2 per watt of energy produced
- A reliable and secure source of energy
- Storable and easily transported
- Canada is the world’s second largest supplier of metallurgical coal, the coal used in steel production
- Contributes an estimated $4.9 billion to Canada’s economy each year
- Most toxic air pollutants from coal-burning power plants are captured in bottom or fly ash and pose no significant health risks
- Electrostatic precipitators and CO2 capture units improve emission levels and help to mitigate some of the environmental impacts of coal-fired plants
- Closed mines become part of a land reclamation process
- Remote mining has a great potential to improve the efficiency of coal mining—and increase the safety of miners.
- Life cycle impact on the environment is high
- The burning of coal is responsible for one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions
- Coal-fired power plants are major emitters of CO2 in Canada
- Trace metals, mercury and sulphur concentration in water and soil is higher in proximity to coal-fired plants
- Heavily reliant on the needs of the steel industry
- Open pit coal mining disturbs large areas of land
- Because of environmental factors, governments have enacted policies to eliminate or limit coal-fired power generation
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