Coal in Canada: A by-the-numbers look at the industry

Canada's coal industry has been able to maintain its production levels despite the country’s decline in consumption. But now a decrease in global demand is hurting business.

As countries around the world look to reduce carbon emissions, Canada's coal business is hurting

Smoke rises from stacks at Ontario's coal-fired Nanticoke Generating Station in this 2007 file photo. The province phased out coal-fired electricity generation in 2014. (J.P. Moczulski/Reuters)

Canada's coal production has been consistent over the past decade, but a downturn in global demand is wounding the industry.

Though Canada has maintained steady production in recent years, largely through exports, a decrease in demand from countries such as China has halted production in some Canadian coal mines.

Canada's own consumption of coal has also decreased dramatically over the past decade. Meanwhile, worldwide coal consumption is under threat from the recently adopted Paris Agreement, as countries around the world look to reduce carbon emissions.

Here are some key figures regarding Canada's coal industry:

Canadian coal production

Canadian mines produced 69 million tonnes of coal during 2014, according to Natural Resources Canada.

Over the past 10 years, Canada's coal production has remained steady, hovering at 67 to 69 million tonnes of coal produced per year.

Canada's coal production peaked in 1997, when the country produced approximately 78 million tonnes.

This production total is split almost evenly between the two primary forms of coal: coking coal, used in the production of steel, and thermal coal, used to produce electricity.

Kevin Stone, a senior adviser in the minerals and metals sector with Natural Resources Canada, predicts thermal coal demand will decline over the long-term.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger shake hands during a signing ceremony at the United Nations Climate Change Conference just outside of Paris on Dec. 7, 2015. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

"After 2025, there are two different stories. On the thermal side, we might see some downsizing because of the recent commitment in Paris," he said. "A lot of countries restricted coal use. We will see thermal coal gradually going down."

But Stone said he believes coking coal production is more likely to remain stable.

"[For] coking coal, I do not see significant decrease because in the global economy, steel is a key part," he said.


Canada exported 39.1 million tonnes of coal in 2013 — the most in the country's history. This was driven by a high global demand for coal.

But a decrease in that demand has had an adverse effect on coal exports and production in Canada. In 2014, the country's coal exports dropped by 4.8 million tonnes, to 34.5 million tonnes total.
Coal is one of British Columbia's largest exports. Though the market for energy-producing thermal coal is at risk due to environmental policy, demand for B.C.'s steel-producing coal may be more secure.

Stone said that the downturn is tied to China.

"The Chinese economy is not doing well. They're restricting everything. That's dragging the global economy down."

But Stone also said he is optimistic that the global coal market will rebound.

"I would say that, in the next three years, global coal production and export and trade will return to normal."

Canadian coal consumption

Canada consumed approximately 41 million tonnes of coal in 2014, 35 million tonnes of which was used for power generation.

Canada's coal consumption has decreased by 42 per cent since 2005, when Canada used 60 million tonnes of coal — 52 million tonnes of which was for power generation.

The decrease is a result of Canada, particularly Ontario, phasing out coal-fired power plants.

Provincial breakdown

A faster phase-out of coal-fired plants is at the top of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's climate-change strategy. The province is both Canada's largest producer and consumer of coal. (Canadian Press)

Coal remains a key part of energy production for some Canadian provinces. However, the majority do not use coal for energy or have plans to reduce coal usage.

A breakdown of how big of a role the coal industry plays in each Canadian province:


  • In 2003, the province committed to phasing out all coal consumption by the end of 2014.
  • Coal made up 25 per cent of the province's power generation in 2003, which successfully fell down to zero in 2014, according to the Government of Ontario.


  • According to the Alberta Utilities Commission, 55 per cent of Alberta's electricity came from coal in 2014.
  • The province currently operates 18 coal-fired power plants.
  • About 33.8 million tonnes of coal were produced in 2014 (24.1 thermal and 9.8 coking), according to Alberta Energy. This represents just under half (49%) of Canada's coal production.
  • The province plans to phase out coal power by 2030.

British Columbia

  • An estimated 28.3 million tonnes of coal were produced in 2014, according to B.C.'s Ministry of Energy and Mines. This figure represents approximately 41 per cent of Canada's coal production.
  • About 70 to 90 per cent of the province's coal production is steel-producing coking coal, according to the Government of British Columbia.
  • The province does not utilize coal for power generation.


  • The province produces roughly 10 million tonnes of coal per year, according to the Government of Saskatchewan. 
  • Around 44 per cent of Saskatchewan's energy came from coal in 2014, according to SaskPower.
  • Saskatchewan has no plans to phase out coal entirely, but is working to retrofit existing coal plants to include carbon capture and storage – a "clean coal" technology.

Nova Scotia

  • About 60 per cent of the province's energy production was derived from coal in 2014, according to Nova Scotia Power.
  • Nova Scotia has plans to move to cleaner energy sources. While the province has an agreement with federal government to keep the province's coal plants running longer than federally mandated, caps are set in place to reduce greenhouse emissions over the next 15 years.

New Brunswick

  • About 13 per cent of New Brunswick's power was generated by single coal-fired plant (Belledune) in 2014, according to NB Power.
  • There is no concrete plan in place to close the Belledune plant, though a federal government mandate has it slated to close by 2043.


  • Coal-energy use in Manitoba is limited to emergency production. Coal represents less than 0.1 per cent of the province's total energy production, according to the Government of Manitoba.
  • There are plans to phase out coal for home space heating by June 30, 2017.

The remainder of Canada's provinces and territories — Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon — do not use coal-fired power generation and do not produce a substantial percentage of Canadian coal.