Alberta Energy Coal


Coal mining began in Canada in the 1800s, initially centred around Nova Scotia and Alberta. Over 1800 coal mines have operated in Alberta since the 1800s.

Some of the earliest coal mining in Alberta began in what is now Banff National Park. High grade anthracite was mined at Bankhead near the Banff town site, with mines soon opening in nearby Canmore, successfully operating for 80 years.

Primarily driven by the need to supply the railways, coal mining began in the 1860’s near the future site of Lethbridge, with many coal mines springing up in the Drumheller area from 1910 onwards.

Types of Coal

Coal is classified by the degree of transformation of the original plant matter into carbon. Anthracite – the highest rank of coal, is the hardest, then bituminous, sub-bituminous and lignite (brown coal). Anthracite is typically used for residential heating, bituminous and sub- bituminous is most commonly used for electricity generation.  Majority of coal in Alberta is bituminous and sub- bituminous. The coal resource in Alberta is especially important as an energy source because it contains more than twice as much energy, as other non-renewable energy resources such as natural gas, bitumens, and oils. It burns relatively cleaner than other coals around the world due to the low sulphur content.

Production Methods

Most coal produced in Alberta is extracted by surface mining, both open pit and strip mining. Much of the future reserves within Alberta are too deep for economical extraction via surface mining, and new techniques are being developed that are both cost effective and reduce the environmental impact on the surrounding landscape. Underground coal gasification (UCG) injects oxidants into the coal seams, and allows the product gas to be brought to the surface. This gas can be used as a chemical feedstock or fuel for power generation. After the coal is extracted the land can be reclaimed and returned to recreational and agricultural uses in some cases within a few years.


  • Canada has 24 producing coals mines, with ten mines in British Columbia, nine mines in Alberta, three in Saskatchewan and two in Nova Scotia.
  • There are 6.6 billion tonnes of recoverable coal reserves in Canada, using current extraction methods
  • Alberta is Canada’s largest producer of coal, and contains 70 % of the country’s coal reserves.
  • There are coal-bearing areas under about 48 % of Alberta’s land area.
  • In Alberta 74% of electricity is generated by coal.
  • There are currently 25 new coal projects going through governmental regulatory processes.
  • 73% of coal produced in Canada was exported to Asia in 2010.
  • Over 42,000 people are directly and indirectly employed in coal related industry.

The Future

Coal will remain a primary worldwide energy source for both developing and developed countries. With huge advances in technology and the application of Clean Coal Technologies (CCTs) coal becomes a more viable, economic and cleaner energy source.