October 8th, 2014 ~ Vol. 84 No. 39
Environmental issues raised at Riversdale open house
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
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Crowsnest River
Pass Herald Reporter
Selenium contamination of the community’s water resources will be an issue for the proposed Grassy Mountain coal project, said Dane McCoy, Millennium EMS Solutions (MEMS) environmental coordinator.
“The geology of the Crowsnest Pass is the same geology as the Elk Valley,” said McCoy. “We believe we will have the same type of issue [that Teck Coal has been dealing with]. Selenium will be present.”
Though Blairmore Creek and the Crowsnest River will be near the project, a combination of prevention and water treatment should minimize the impact on the environment, said McCoy.
“If you know about it early, you can design your mine to minimize how much gets into the system,” said McCoy
Designing dumps that resist infiltration from snowmelt and rainfall can control selenium and other substances found in waste rock, said McCoy.
“You can take that water and treat it, or you can take your dump and make it so the water does not infiltrate it,” said McCoy. “It actually runs off of it instead of infiltrating it by making the dump a little steeper.”
In the Elk Valley, Teck Coal has had its own issues with selenium contamination.
A 2013 report by Ric Hauer of the Flathead Lake Biological Station at the University of Montana found toxic levels of selenium in the Elk River.
The study, commissioned by Glacier National Park, compared water quality in the Elk River with the neighbouring Flathead River basin. The researchers tested above and below mines and used the pristine water quality of the nearby Flathead River to determine background levels, and ascertain what aquatic life would normally be present in the Elk River were it not so polluted.
Selenium levels were 10 times higher in the Elk River, and there were also increased levels of nitrogen and sulphate present.
In April, one of the three water wells servicing Sparwood had to be shut down because of elevated selenium levels.
The selenium levels in the well reached 0.01mg/l, which was the Maximum Acceptable Concentration (MAC) set by Health Canada Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
The local economy relies heavily on Teck, which employs about 3700 people at five coal mines in the Elk Valley.
Last year B.C.’s Environment Minister Terry Lake announced no new coal mines would be approved in the Elk Valley until Teck developed a system to manage selenium concentrations in the Elk River.
In 2013 Ian Kilgour, Teck’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the company would invest $600 million into research, water diversion and treatment.
Selenium is a naturally occurring element, commonly found in rocks and soil. Natural sources of selenium include coal, and other fossil fuel deposits.
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A 2006 study prepared for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development and Alberta Environment on the tissues of fish from the Upper McLeod and Upper Smoky river systems, show elevated levels of selenium can lead to reduced growth, reproductive impairment, gill damage, and increased mortality in fish.
In the meantime, McCoy said MEMS is undertaking exploratory drilling of the rock profile, taking samples, and measuring them for selenium and other potentially dangerous substances.
“That helps us understand how much of it might be present and how we might manage it once the project is operational,” says McCoy.
McCoy is a senior environmental and applications specialist with almost 30 years of experience in project management, reclamation planning, and waste and water management.
He’s worked on many major coal projects in the province and was the environment and reclamation manager at the Coal Valley mine, which is south of Edson, for 12 years.
Riversdale Resources has employed MEMS to undertake environmental studies of Grassy Mountain since acquiring the property from CONSOL and Devon Canada for about $50 million in 2013.

Other environmental concerns
MEMS is conducting several environmental studies on the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, said McCoy at a Riversdale Resources open house at the Crowsnest Pass Sports Complex on Sept. 30.
“See that hill there,” said McCoy pointing to a stepped hill south of Coleman, “that whole hill all the way along there. That’s all old waste rock that came out of a mine. It was dumped there and then reclaimed.”
“We’ll have some dumps that will look like that at the end of the day. We’ll most likely do a lot of reforestation on it,” he said. “Of course those landforms don’t look completely natural but if you plant trees on them it masks some of the engineered bumps, which are necessary for safety.”
Mining on Grassy Mountain started as far back as the early 1900s with surface mining stopping around the 1970s.
MEMS began environmental baseline studies over a year ago including wildlife surveys where about 25 wildlife cameras were spread around the project area. Personnel visit the cameras every five or six months to obtain the data.
Water studies have been measuring flows, and quality of water and air monitoring stations have been set up.
This summer MEMS increased the pace of its work, doing soil studies, vegetation studies, and more intensive fish and wildlife studies.
“The idea being that when we’ve surveyed the area enough we’ll understand it fully, so we know what’s out there,” said McCoy.

October 8th ~ Vol. 84 No. 39
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