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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Coal
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Cage with loaded car arriving in tipple.Coal is derived from plant remains, which accumulated in ancient swamps and were subsequently covered by sediments. Heat, pressure and chemical reactions gradually changed the plant remains, called peat, into coal. Coal-bearing rocks have formed continuously since land plants began to spread some 400 million years ago. The Pennsylvanian Period of geology of 300 million years ago was dominated by large land plants, which flourished in warm, swampy environments. Eighty percent of the world's coal was laid down as peat during that period, 30 centimetres of coal being formed from about 6.0 metres of peat. Coal of Pennsylvanian age was laid down in Alberta as well but the great beds have been almost entirely eroded away. Only a few tantalizing remnants remain, none suitable for production.

Loaded coal cars at the bottom of the shaft of the Shaughnessy mine (Mine No. 1263) ready for hoisting to the tipple.The coal of southern Alberta and southeastern British Columbia derives from younger periods. Rocks of the Cretaceous and Tertiary Periods, of 135 million and 65 million years ago, respectively, have escaped massive erosion. It is these formations in which the coal beds are found.

Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel in the world, and is by far the international fuel of choice for generating electricity. Population growth in developing countries will probably increase the need for this resource around the world. Western Canada has an advantage over many other coal-producing nations, like England and Germany, in that the reserves are in more mature stages of development. Western Canada’s coal resources are widely distributed, have low production costs and are used in a number of domestic and international markets.Lethbridge Its Coal Industry

This article is extracted from Alex Johnston, Keith G. Gladwyn and L. Gregory Ellis. Lethbridge: Its Coal Industry (Lethbridge, Lethbridge: City of Lethbridge, 1989), Occasional Paper No. 20, The Lethbridge Historical Society. The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium (of which the City of Lethbridge is the lead partner) would like to thank the authors for permission to reprint this material.
 

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