Coal is a combustible SEDIMENTARY ROCK formed from the remains of plant
life and comprises the world's largest fossil energy resource. It is located
primarily in the Northern Hemisphere. Coal is not a uniform substance; rather, it
is a wide variety of minerals with different characteristics arising from the nature
of its vegetation source and siltation history and from the time and geological
forces involved in its formation (including temperature and pressure).
according to 4
or classes, each
fixed carbon and volatile matter content and heating value.
The anthracite class, the most valuable, is blended with bituminous coals to
make coke for the iron and steel industry and is also used in the chemical
Bituminous coal, besides its use in steelmaking, is used as thermal coal for
Subbituminous coal supplies thermal-power fuel and steam for industry, and can
be used in COAL GASIFICATION and COAL LIQUEFACTION.
The lowest grade of coal, lignite, is used for the same purposes as
Canada's only known body of anthracite was discovered in northwestern BC;
bituminous coal is found in NS, NB, Alberta and BC; subbituminous, in Alberta;
lignite in Saskatchewan and BC. With its usual perversity, nature did not
distribute Canada's coal conveniently. In NS, most of it is under the seafloor; in
western Canada, which has about 97% of the country's coal, almost all of it is
located hundreds of kilometres from either the Pacific tidewater or central
Canada contains nearly 4% of the world's coal resources, exceeded only by the
former Soviet Union, the US, the People's Republic of China and Australia.
Canada has at least 80 billion t of exploitable coal using today's technology, with
about 8 billion t classified as commercially feasible under today's conditions.
These reserves equal about 100 years' supply at current production levels.
History in Canada
Coal has been mined in Canada since 1639, when a small mine was opened at
Grand Lake (NB). In 1720 French soldiers began to mine at Cow Bay (Cape
Breton, NS) to supply the fortress at LOUISBOURG. Cape Breton later supplied
coal to Boston and other American ports, and to the militia in Halifax. By 1870, 21
collieries were operating in Cape Breton. These markets disappeared early in
Commercial COAL MINING in New Brunswick began in 1825 and, except for
some early exports, most of the province's coal production has been used locally.
In western Canada, coal was first mined on Vancouver Island in the mid-19th
century. The building of the transcontinental railways through Alberta and BC
caused coal mines to be developed on the banks of the Oldman River near
Lethbridge, at Banff, Drumheller and Edmonton.
By 1867 coal production had reached an annual total of 3 million tonnes - over 2
million tonnes in NS, the rest of the balance in western Canada and a small
amount in NB. By 1911 western Canada had taken the lead and, despite serious
downturns in the 1950s and 1960s, it now produces over 95% of the total. In
1947, the year that OIL AND NATURAL GAS were first produced commercially
near Leduc, Alta, coal supplied one-half of Canada's ENERGY needs Drumheller alone producing 2 million t of coal and employing 2000 men. The
rapid conversion of coal's traditional markets to oil and gas caused the coal
mining industry almost to disappear. Beginning in the 1950's, almost all coal used
for domestic heating, industrial energy and transportation energy was replaced
by petroleum products and natural gas.
Coal mining entered an expansion phase in the late 1960s. Canadian producers
signed long-term contracts under which they supplied several million tonnes of
metallurgical coal each year to Japan. This led to the re-opening of some closed
mines and the development of new mines in Alberta and BC. At about the same
time, Alberta and Saskatchewan began to use their substantial coal resources to
Throughout the 1970s, unprecedented international crude oil price increases and
supply disruptions focused attention on coal as an alternate energy source. In the
mid-1970s, with the steel industry still growing, major producers such as Japan
sought to further diversify their sources of supply. This led to more expansion of
the Canadian coal industry in the 1970s and early 1980s. New mines opened
and new efficient rail and port facilities were put in place.
The Modern Industry
Coal meets about an eighth of Canada's primary energy needs, mainly as a fuel
for electricity generation. The Canadian steel industry depends on coal for the
production of almost every tonne of steel. Canada's coal consumption jumped in
the late 1980s and has remained fairly constant since. Coal now supplies about
12% of Canada's energy needs. Because Canada produces more coal than it
uses and because of an ever-growing worldwide demand for coal, along with a
world- competitive Canadian industry, almost half of its production is exported.
Coal is one of Canada's leading mineral export commodities, with exports valued
at about $2 billion. Canada is the world's fourth-largest exporter of coal, after
Australia, the US and South Africa. While Canada exports both metallurgical and
thermal coal, it is the higher- value metallurgical coals that make up most of its
coal exports. However, growth potential for exports is considered to be in thermal
coals. In 1995, 20 countries imported coal from Canada.
hese developments have resulted in vast changes in the Canadian coal industry.
Over 400 small producers were in operation in the 1930s; today, Canada has
only 8 large producers and a small number of minor producers.
Some 34 million t of coal were exported in 1995, and 9.3 million t were imported;
about 74.9 million t were produced and about 52.8 million t were consumed in
Canada. One reason for the apparent anomalous situation of a major coalproducing country importing such a large quantity of coal is that most of
Canada's coal is located about 2300 km from the industrial heartland of central
Canada. As a result, the steel mills in Ontario and Ontario Hydro have found it
advantageous to import most of their coal from nearby mines
in the US.
The 2 major railways that carry western coals to Pacific tidewater also carry
potash, sulphur, grain, petrochemicals and forest products. Huge capital
investments are being made to increase rail capacity, thus enabling the railways
to meet projected offshore demand for these products.