‘Major failure’ of coal mine pit releases waste water into Athabasca River

EDMONTON – The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is responding to what it calls a “major failure” of a pit at a coal mine near Hinton.

A pit containing coal process and surface water failed at the Obed Mountain Coal Mine on Thursday evening, releasing a large quantity of the process water into the Athabasca River.

“Coal mines typically have a pit where the waste and water – coal dust and water – gather. And that pit, the open pit that contains that mixture, failed,” explained Darin Barter, a spokesperson with AER. “It’s our understanding that the water has entered two tributaries in the Athabasca River.”

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Communities in the area have been notified of the failure, but Barter says it doesn’t affect residents’ drinking water.

“Residents may see a noticeable colour change to the river as the sediment moves downstream,” added Robyn Cochrane, a spokesperson with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD).

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“Initial water samples are currently being analyzed by independent labs and they’ll be reviewed by Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Environment and Sustainable Resource Development staff.”

Cochrane says the results of the tests will be made public once they’re complete, which she believes could be as soon as Sunday.

Barter says an investigation is underway to determine if Obed Mountain Coal Ltd. was complying with AER requirements.

“In a nutshell, a company is required to operate safely. This is a major failure at a pit so our geotechnical folks are on site right now evaluating the construction, what exactly occurred. And if we determine that they were non-compliant with regulations, we can take serious measures all the way up to closing the mine down,” he said. “If they’re non-compliant, there’s going to be consequences.”

The coal mine is located about 30 kilometres east of Hinton.

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