Metalliferous black shale, potential source of base and precious metals | Photo courtesy of Alberta Geological Survey
As of October 2010, Alberta had active mineral permits for metallic and industrial minerals on about nine million hectares of land. Based on corporate
websites and news releases, mineral exploration companies searched for a diverse suite of commodities in Alberta, including diamonds, uranium, polymetallic
black shale, iron, placer gold, Ti-bearing minerals, magnetite and lithium. Industrial mineral production included aggregate, sulphur, peat, salt and
As of July 2010, there were about 1,170 coal leases covering 940,000 hectares. Coal production remains strong in Alberta with 12 mines having produced some
38 million tonnes during 2009.
Production in 2009 was dominated by sub-bituminous coal (~25.1 million tonnes), followed by bituminous metallurgical coal (~4.3 million tonnes) and
bituminous thermal coal (~9.1 million tonnes). The re-opening of Coal Valley’s Obed Mine in August 2009 increased Alberta’s coal production to 12 producing
mines. Coalspur Mines Ltd. is currently developing the Vista Coal project, a large-scale, thermal coal project near Hinton in west-central Alberta. Several
companies, including Swan Hills Synfuels and Laurus Energy Inc., are investigating opportunities to convert coals normally considered too deep for
conventional mining in the Swan Hills area of west-central Alberta into gas by in situ coal gasification.
Several companies have expressed interest in lithium from formation waters in the Swan Hills area in west-central Alberta. The interest is due to mid-1990s
government reports showing that lithium concentrations of up to 140 mg/L in formation waters are associated with carbonate build-ups of the Leduc Formation
in the Woodbend Group and the Swan Hills Formation of the Beaverhill Lake Group. During 2009, at least two exploration companies, including Channel
Resources Ltd. and First Lithium Resources Inc., verified the lithium potential of the Swan Hills formation waters when they reported compositions of up to
112 mg/L lithium from brine-sampling programs of producing wells in the area. In addition to lithium, these companies also reported elevated boron (223
mg/L) and potassium (5,870 mg/L), and therefore the potential for a multi-element separation plant. Channel Resources has extracted a sample of
approximately 2,000 litres of brine to test recovery methods and plans to generate resource estimates for lithium, potassium and other elements at its Fox
The western portion of the Athabasca Basin, which is underexplored but analogous to the highly mineralized unconformity style Eagle Point-Cigar
Lake-McArthur River-Key Lake uranium belt, continues to attract exploration interest. Some of the companies actively exploring in the area since 2007
include Fission Energy Corp. (North Shore property), CanAlaska Uranium Ltd. (Alberta project on the western arm of Lake Athabasca) and Brazilian Gold
Corporation (Rea project). In addition to interest in the Athabasca Basin, several companies, including Fission Energy Corp., Ultra Energy Ltd. and North
American Gem Ltd., are investigating roll front-type uranium mineralization in other parts of Alberta, including the Caribou Mountains in northern Alberta
and various portions of southern Alberta.
Titanium Corporation Inc. and Sustainable Development Technology Canada announced the successful completion of the first phase of its oil sands tailings
pilot demonstration project in October 2010. Titanium Corporation hopes to develop technology to recover heavy minerals, hydrocarbons and water from oil
sands tailings in the Fort McMurray area of northeastern Alberta. The next phase of the project will include a pilot plant to evaluate froth treatment
tailings from three oil sands operating sites.
Polymetallic black shale
During September 2010, DNI Metals Inc. expanded its property interest of polymetallic black shale in the Athabasca area of northeastern Alberta and
implemented Stage 2 leaching tests based on the favourable results reported from the Stage 1 work. The recoveries demonstrate that metals can be readily
extracted from black shale via bioleaching and that recoveries are high enough to compel expansion of the test work.
In March 2010, Canterra Minerals Corporation completed a 54 drill hole program comprising 8,328 metres to test five high-interest kimberlite bodies in the
Buffalo Head Hills kimberlite field in north-central Alberta. The work, which was completed as part of a joint venture agreement with Shore Gold Inc. and
EnCana Corporation, is expected to lead to the development of three-dimensional models for the K5, K6, K14, K91 and K252 kimberlites. Diamond results are
In late 2009, Shear Minerals Ltd. commenced drilling at the Liege diamond project, located about 80 kilometres east of the Buffalo Head Hills kimberlite
field. Shear tested three initial priority targets based on pipe-like features identified from seismic, high-resolution airborne and ground geophysical
surveying completed between 2006 and 2008. The results of the drilling have not been disclosed.
In June 2010, Athabasca Minerals Inc. received its second straight honour of being the top aggregate producer in Canada, as published in Aggregates and
Roadbuilding magazine. With industrial mineral land holdings in the Fort McMurray and Peace River areas of northern Alberta, Athabasca Minerals delivered
some 6.6 million tonnes of aggregate. The company is also pursuing other industrial mineral commodities, including silica sand, limestone, gypsum and salt.
By D. Roy Eccles, Energy Resources Conservation Board, Alberta Geological Survey, and Gary V. White, Alberta Department of Energy, Coal and Mineral