Australian coal company puts Alberta project on hold after reinstatement of 1976 policy
Shares of Atrum Coal plunged more than 70 per cent following announcement
Australian coal company Atrum Coal announced Friday it would pause operations at its Elan project, located just north of Grassy Mountain, citing upcoming consultations on coal policy scheduled by the Alberta government.
Atrum's Elan Hard Coking Coal project is located on what was designated "Category 2" lands under Alberta's 1976 coal policy, under which open-pit mining typically is prohibited.
Last year, the Alberta government cancelled its 1976 Coal Development Policy for Alberta with no public consultation.
In the wake of mounting opposition from municipalities, First Nations and other Albertans, the government reinstated that policy pending a public consultation process.
Atrum is still allowed to conduct activities on the Elan project under its previously approved coal exploration permit from last year, but has halted all "significant" activities on the site, including any planned drilling in 2021.
"We fully accept the Alberta government's reinstatement decision. We also welcome a consultation process that is rigorous, inclusive and transparent," said Atrum's CEO, Andrew Caruso, in a release.
Atrum Coal's shares plunged following the announcement, closing down more than 70 per cent.
Consultations set to begin next week
In its release, Atrum said it expected process details on Alberta's consultation would be released publicly next week. It went on to say that all site-based activities, excluding environmental studies, would be paused for the time being.
In February, the Alberta government said public consultations would begin March 29, but additional details surrounding the nature of those consultations have yet to be released.
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In late February, one critic said a consultation that utilized feedback collected by the same department encouraging expansion would likely be insufficient.
"Alberta Energy has lost a lot of trust in their dealings with the coal issue," Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society told The Canadian Press.
"It does seem a little like a quick-and-dirty process to get back to the business they started with."
The province previously said that it would not issue any new coal leases in Category 2 lands until consultations are complete.
In response to a request for more information on the upcoming consultations, a spokesperson provided a statement attributed to Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage.
"We remain committed to widespread consultation on a modern coal policy that will be by Albertans and for Albertans," the statement reads.
"Public consultations will begin on March 29, and more details about the government's engagement approach will be released in the coming days."
With files from Robson Fletcher and The Canadian Press