Long before Alberta’s first oil and gas boom, the province relied on coal to heat homes, generate electricity, and provide fuel for transportation. Coal was also the first energy commodity to be exported from the province in the late 1800s. By the 1960s, however, oil and natural gas had almost completely replaced coal as Alberta’s primary sources of energy.
Today, Alberta coal continues to generate electricity and is exported to produce power and steel in other countries.
This page explains how coal is formed, how we regulate coal mining, and how we ensure that the public and the environment are protected.
How is coal formed?
The coal mined in Alberta today was formed in prehistoric swamps millions of years ago. As dead plants break down in swamps and bogs, the decaying plant matter slowly sinks to the bottom and is buried under layers of sand and mud, forming peat. Over time, a combination of heat and pressure hardens the peat into coal.
Coalbed methane, a form of natural gas, is a by-product of this process. Learn more about coalbed methane and how we regulate it.
Types of Coal Mined in Alberta
Two types of coal are mined in Alberta: thermal coal and metallurgical coal.
- Thermal coal is burned to run steam turbines for generating electricity. It is also used to heat homes.
- Metallurgical coal, which is harder than thermal coal, burns at higher temperatures and is used for smelting iron and making steel.
How We Regulate Coal Mining
It’s our job to ensure that companies mine coal in Alberta responsibly. Our work starts before a mine is built and continues after mining is complete.
Companies must submit applications and receive our approval before developing coal mines. Further applications are often required as a mine expands and evolves over time. Throughout the life of a coal mine, companies must comply with the following rules, regulations, and requirements:
At the end of a mining project’s life, the company that owns the coal mine must remove all infrastructure and return the land to how it looked, and how it was used (or similarly), before development took place, as set out in our mine reclamation requirements.
We work with the Government of Alberta to ensure that Albertans are protected from paying mine closure costs. Learn more on our Mine Financial Security Program page.
Compliance and Enforcement
We conduct regular inspections and audits to make sure that companies are following our requirements.
We inspect all coal mines several times during the year. The number of inspections per year at a mine is based on a risk assessment of the mine, which considers such factors as its size, location, performance, and compliance history, and the stage in the mine’s life cycle (exploration, construction, operation, or closure).
Phasing Out Coal-Fired Electricity
Under the Government of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan, coal-fired electricity generation in Alberta will be phased out by 2030. This phaseout will not eliminate coal mining in Alberta; coal will continue to be mined for international export.
Learn more on the Government of Alberta’s website.
Our statistical report ST45: Operating and Abandoned Coal Mines in Alberta contains information on mines in Alberta dating back to 1880. The report also includes an interactive coal mine map viewer, which allows users to view coal mines located across Alberta.
ST98: Alberta's Energy Reserves and Supply/Demand Outlook provides supply and demand estimates for the previous year and a supply and demand forecast for the next ten years for Alberta’s coal resources.
The Alberta Geological Survey’s website provides more information about the types of coal found in our province.