Coal is the world's most abundant fossil fuel and Canada, in particular western Canada, has literally tons of it.  More than 90% of the country’s coal resources are found in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, which extends from the Canadian Shield to the Rocky Mountains through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and northeastern British Columbia.

Of all the provinces, Alberta has the most abundant coal supply and a rich mining history to go along with it.  It contains 70% of Canada's coal reserves, is the country's largest producer and its second-largest coal exporter.  The combined total of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan coal production makes up nearly all of Canada’s total coal production and supplies roughly 12% of Canada's energy needs.  Besides energy, coal also has other uses.  Gases, oil and tars extracted from coal can, for example, be used in an array of products ranging from baking power to mothballs and carbon filters to pharmaceuticals.

Despite its widespread use, the resource and, in turn, the coal mining sector, are not without their unique challenges.  Increasing concern related to global warming has singled out coal use as a major source of greenhouse gases (coal produces more carbon dioxide per energy unit generated than either oil or natural gas).  As a result, improved technologies, including gasification, are being developed to reduce emissions and increase thermal efficiency.  Further, new technologies are making for both a cleaner and a more efficient use of the resource, for example, the extraction of natural gas from coal without surface mining.  Finally, coals in western Canada are generally lower in sulphur content and therefore burn cleaner than coals found elsewhere.

This section, devoted completely to the coal, is Insightwest’s way of sharing the changing dynamics of this long-time and ever-evolving, staple industry.