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How is coal mined?

One of the important factors in planning the location of coal-fired thermal plants is the availability of an abundant coal supply nearby. Most coal-fired generating plants in Canada use coal from nearby mines. These “mine-mouth” operations significantly reduce the costs of transporting fuel.

Large coal reserves are found in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. (Because of the lack of large local reserves, Ontario imports coal from the United States and Western Canada.) Thermal plants in these provinces use bituminous, sub-bituminous or lignite grades of coal.

Nearly all their coal comes from surface (strip or open-pit) mines. A typical surface mine follows these steps to remove coal and to reclaim land after mining is completed:

  • Topsoil covering the mine site is removed and stockpiled.
  • A large excavating machine (dragline) removes the layers of soil and rock covering coal seams (overburden). The dragline then digs out the coal.
  • The coal is loaded into large haulers and trucked to the power plant.
  • Tankers spray roads to control dust as trucks transport coal.
  • Once the coal has been removed from an area of the mine, land is reclaimed. Bulldozers begin by grading and contouring overburden and waste materials left by the dragline.
  • Subsoil and topsoil are replaced on the site.
  • The land is replanted with vegetation, and returned to productive use.

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