Alberta coal production plummeted in 2021

Last year, Alberta’s coal industry saw its lowest production levels in over a decade.

While browsing through the Alberta Energy Regulator’s website, I came across a collection of annual reports on the coal industry in Alberta.

One of the details in the reports was production, and I thought it would be interesting to compile the monthly production data from all the PDFs for the last 10 years and compare it to see if we could see any trends.

The data goes up to only October 2021 though, just something to keep in mind.

In this chart, we can see that for the first 3 years or so, coal production was pretty stable. However, starting in 2014, monthly coal production started to wane, notwithstanding a production spike in December 2016.

It stabilized somewhat in 2018 and 2019, then went back to decreasing after a sizeable spike at the end of 2019.

Here is the average monthly production levels.

This chart, more or less, mirrors annual production levels, just with smaller numbers.

A drop in 2012, then fairly stable over the next 3 years, then another drop, stability for 2 years, then 2 more years of drops, a spike (the only one in this reporting period), then two more drops.

Coal production in 2021 was at an all-time low. Remember, however, that this is just for 10 months. However, even if we multiple the monthly average for 2021 by 12, the chart doesn’t change a whole lot.

Even when extrapolating for November and December, 2021 still comes in with the lowest coal production.

In fact, the average monthly production levels for 2021 are only 36% of what they were just a decade before. Alberta is basically producing 64% less coal now than they were in 2011.

Here are the 10 months with the highest increases in coal production:

ProductionChange from
prev. month
May 20211,277,675948,053
May 20152,789,602879,449
Dec 20163,707,967808,281
Oct 20113,697,145696,637
Dec 20133,638,628682,338
Dec 20182,585,503667,446
Dec 20152,970,654622,382
Nov 20162,899,686605,757
May 20113,074,473591,649
Mar 20123,336,011575,135
in tonnes

Notice that 4 of those months were during the NDP term and 1 was under the UCP’s term (the largest increase). All others were while the PCs were in power.

And here are the 10 months with the largest decreases in coal production.

ProductionChange from
prev. month
Jan 20172,202,134.00-1,505,833
Jan 20201,817,265.00-1,149,791
Apr 20122,400,745.00-935,266
Jan 20182,103,052.00-767,748
Jan 20191,908,030.00-677,473
Jan 20142,984,142.00-654,486
Apr 20112,482,824.00-635,661
Jan 20162,349,370.00-621,284
Feb 20181,500,329.00-602,723
Feb 2021677,891.00-602,610
in tonnes

This time, 5 of the months were under the NDP (including the largest decrease), and 2 were under the UCP. The other 3 were during the PC administration.

Maybe having the lowest production levels of coal in more than decade is why the UCP were so desparate to rescind the 1976 coal policy to open up more coal production in the Rockies and their eastern slopes.


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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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