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Alberta conservation group concerned about transfer of coal lease applications in Category 2 land

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An Alberta conservation group is raising concerns over the transfer of coal lease applications in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Katie Morrison, conservation director at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Southern Alberta Chapter, says while looking through a database of lease ownership, her group came across a transfer that raised some concerns.

“There were some lease applications that, over the summer, had been transferred from Peace River Coal Corporation to Cabin Ridge Project Limited, who are very active in these Category 2 areas in the eastern slopes area,” she said.

Read more: Alberta halts coal exploration in Rocky Mountains as consultations continue

Minister of Energy Sonya Savage announced in April that all coal exploration projects on Category 2 lands would be halted immediately, after a survey showed many respondents have significant concerns about coal exploration.

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Not included were lease transfer applications. A spokesperson for the Minister of Energy confirmed that these are not new leases, but rather existing ones.

“I think that’s really disingenuous when we should be, at this time, engaging openly, fully, and in good faith with Albertans on a new coal policy.” said Morrison.

A map provided by CPAWS shows where Cabin Ridge has property, coal lease and coal lease application. It all appears to be in the same area.

Map of coal projects and leases for Cabin Ridge Project Limited. Courtesy: CPAWS

“There’s really no compelling reason why the ministry should have accepted this transfer of the lease application from one company to another during this public engagement process, or before a new policy is created.”

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In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy said this is a standard administrative practice of transferring a lease when one company sells it to another.

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The statement reads, in part, “having a lease does not guarantee development — the company will still need regulatory approvals and comply with all rules, regulations, policies. All coal exploration activities on category two lands remain halted. While these leases are near the proposed Cabin Ridge project, it would be inappropriate for us to speculate on why Cabin Ridge has purchased these leases.”

Still, Morrison is worried about what this could mean for the future of the area.

“I think it sends the message to Albertans that the ministry intends to keep moving forward with coal in this area despite all that pushback, despite all the engagement that has happened,” said Morrison.

Read more: No need for federal involvement in Hinton coal mine review, Alberta First Nation says

In a statement to Global News, Minister of Energy Hon. Sonya Savage said, “I am puzzled why any coal company would want to purchase a lease application for Category 2 lands in that area given the strong concerns raised by Albertans, with all exploration activity currently halted, no new leases are being issued, and an independent Coal Policy Committee leading a public engagement with Albertans on the future of coal development in our province. We have been clear that all exploration activity in that region has been halted.”

Global News reached out to both Cabin Ridge Project and Peace River Coal Corporation for comment on the lease application transfer, but did not receive a reply.

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The final report from the Coal Policy Committee is due on Nov. 15.

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