MAC: Mines and Communities

Consent & Waste - The beginning and end of Canadian mining problems

Published by MAC on 2015-09-09
Source: Desmog Canada, Canadian Press

Canada's British Columbia (BC) provincial government has been criticised (again) for promoting mining over consultation with First Nations.

Given the environmentally disastrous situation with mines historic tailings, the population of BC would be well within its rights to be sceptical about future mine development.

The people of Quebec, led by First Nations, are looking to emulate BC, and Nova Scotia, in rejecting uranium mining.

Once more, Canada's BC provincial government is hauled over the coals for defective permitting of extractive industry

B.C. Handed Out Scientifically Flawed Fracking Water Licence to Nexen: Appeals Board

By Carol Linnitt

DeSmog Canada

8 September 2015

The B.C. Environmental Appeal Board has ruled the province failed to properly consult the Fort Nelson First Nations and employ adequate scientific modelling when it approved a long-term water withdrawal licence for Nexen Inc., a company with fracked gas operations in the Horn River Basin.

The board ordered the cancellation of the water licence, effectively immediately. The permit granted Nexen permission to withdraw up to 2.5 million cubic metres of water annually from North Tsea Lake, located within traditional Fort Nelson First Nation territory, until 2017.

The First Nation considers the ruling a significant victory over both Nexen and the B.C. government.

“Granting this licence was a major mistake by the province,” Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Liz Logan said, adding “our members have always used the Tsea Lake area in our territory to hunt, trap, and live on the land.”

Logan said Nexen withdrew water from Tsea Lake at ecologically damaging times.

“The company pumped water out of the lake, even during drought conditions,” she said. “There were major impacts on the lake, fish, beavers and surrounding environment.”

“Water is a huge concern for us, and for all British Columbians. By approving this licence, the province demonstrated it is not protecting the public interest in water.”

The appeals board found the province did not base its decision to grant the water permit in 2012 on sound science. Certain aspects of the permit were based on “a general and untested theory,” the board stated in its decision, and the percentage of lake water Nexen was allowed to use was “not supported by either scientific theory, appropriate and reliable stream flow modeling, or adequate field data.”

The ruling rejected the province’s assertion the water withdrawal would have no significant environmental impacts.

The board also found the province failed to operate in good faith with the Fort Nelson First Nation, which has a constitutionally protected right to hunt, trap, fish and continue traditional ways of life on its Treaty 8 territory.

The province’s consultation process with the First Nation was “seriously flawed,” according to the board and failed to adequately consider the adverse effects of the water withdrawal licence on the nation.

“We want to work with the province and industry on sustainable development in our territory, but we are being ignored,” Chief Logan said. “We have in the past, and are willing to do so moving forward, as long as our treaty rights are respected and the public interest in environmentally sustainable development is upheld.”

The ruling will set a new precedent for water permits in B.C. and could
potentially impact fracking operations underpinning the province’s push for a massive increase in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

“This decision sends a clear message to the B.C. government and to the fracking industry that the LNG dream will not happen at the expense of our lakes, rivers, and treaty rights,” Logan said.

The Trouble With Tailings: Toxic Waste ‘Time Bombs’ Loom Large Over Alaska’s Salmon Rivers

By Judith Lavoie

3 September 2015

DeSmog Canada

There are a few unarguable truths about mine tailings, the pulverized rock, water and sludge left over from mineral extraction — mining is a messy business, the leftovers have to be dealt with forever and it’s impossible to guarantee against another tailings dam failure such as the Mount Polley catastrophe.

In B.C., there are 98 tailings storage facilities at 60 metal and coal mines, of which 31 are operating or under construction and the remaining 67 are at mines that are either permanently or temporarily closed

That means communities throughout B.C. and Alaska are looking nervously at nearby tailings ponds, which sometimes more closely resemble lakes, stretching over several square kilometres, with the toxic waste held back by earth and rock-filled dams. The water is usually recycled through the plant when the mine is operating, but, after the mine closes, water, toxins and finely ground rock must continue to be contained or treated.

It’s the realization that tailings have to be treated in perpetuity that worries many of those living downstream, especially as the Mount Polley breach happened only 17 years after the dam was constructed.

“The concept of forever boggles people minds. In one thousand years is the bank account still going to be there? These people are going to be dead,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.

“There are time-bombs up there without a plan to deal with them. Are they going to be able to build a mine that’s going to keep its integrity forever?”

“This is why this region of the world is so globally significant and why we care so much,” said Hardcastle, who is among those pushing for the issue to be referred to the International Joint Commission.

Two B.C. Tailings Dams Expected to Fail Every Decade: Expert Panel

The unease is heightened by the expert panel report on the Mount Polley dam failure, which concluded that, without significant changes to current mining practices, two tailings dams could be expected to fail in B.C. every 10 years.

Karina Brino, Mining Association of B.C CEO, said the association is aiming for a zero failure rate with members committed to implementing the panel’s recommendations for best practices.

But no one controls nature, Brino warned.

“I don’t think anyone can say this will never, ever happen again. It would be irresponsible to say that, because these are man-made structures that may be affected by natural causes,” she said.

Mining experts say that, with proper management, the ponds are safe.

“Different accidents happen, but is a plane safe? There are more accidents with planes than tailings dams. It depends on how you maintain them,” said University of B.C. mining professor Marcello Veiga.

Reclamation is a long-term commitment and communities need to be reassured that there are systems in place to look after the facilities, he said

It’s a claim met with skepticism by those battling for better safeguards for watersheds and an international assessment of the new-age gold rush on the B.C./Alaska border.

“Proposed Canadian mining and energy development on several headwaters within this region pose a major threat to fisheries and local communities downstream,” says a letter from Irene Dundas, Ketchikan Indian Community council member and former president.

“Our concern about Canada’s rush to develop this extraordinary region is compounded by recent legislative initiatives that have weakened Canadian environmental assessment standards and oversight.”

Mine Inspections Have Dropped Dramatically

According to the Chief Inspector of Mines annual reports, the number of mine inspections dropped dramatically from 2,021 in 2001 to 1,496 in 2002, after the B.C. Liberals came to power. The low was 494 in 2011 and in 2013, the latest figure available, there were 904 inspections. Mount Polley had 14 inspections, the highest of all mines.

First Nations land is ground zero for many of the dams and a June report by the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council, which looked at 35 tailings ponds in northern B.C., found that 8,678 kilometres of streams, rivers and lakes, 33 First Nations communities and 208 cities and settlements would be in the path of contaminants if those dams failed.

Copper, a common contaminant in acid rock drainage, is acutely toxic to salmon and the First Nations Mining Council is calling for protection of river, lake and wetland ecosystems from industrial activities, protection for rivers with high numbers of migratory fish and better funding for problems that might arise after a mine closes.

Red Chris, KSM Mines to Use Tailings Ponds Despite Expert Recommendation

However, in northwest B.C., the two newest mines, Red Chris and KSM, are both close to important salmon rivers that flow into Southeast Alaska and both will use tailings ponds — despite a recommendation after the Mount Polley disaster that companies look at other methods, such as dry stack tailings, a method that involves filtering out water and piling dry tailings.

Several other mine proposals in the province’s northwest also specify the use of tailings ponds. The exception is the recently approved Silvertip project, owned by JDS Silver, which will use dry stacking and underground storage, despite the extra expense.

Red Chris, owned by Imperial Metals, which also owns Mount Polley, is close to the Iskut River, in the Stikine watershed. In June, Red Chris was handed its final operating permit by the province, following an evaluation of the tailings dam.

The dam is different from Mount Polley and has no lacustrine clay layer in the foundation – something that was instrumental in the Mount Polley breach — said Energy and Mines Ministry spokesman David Haslam.

“The Red Chris tailings storage facility has been the subject of three independent reviews done to assess seepage and design considerations,” he said

The province has been assured that Red Chris and its consultants have done extensive reviews of the site’s hydrogeology and made the necessary adjustments, Haslam said.

B.C.'s Push for New Transboundary Mines 'Astonishing'

But the decision to approve the Red Chris tailings pond has horrified Alaskan groups, who call the decision ill-conceived.

It is reckless for B.C. to permit a new mine with the same type of tailings technology that failed so catastrophically at Mount Polley, said a statement from Salmon Beyond Borders and the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group.

“It’s astonishing to me how B.C. is dead set on getting these transboundary mines operating at all costs — even when their own experts say that current mining technology will fail,” said Rob Sanderson Jr., co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group.

Seabridge Gold’s KSM mine, which will stash its tailings behind a 239-metre high dam, making it among the highest in the world, is located in the Unuk River watershed, which drains into Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument.

Each mine has to be looked at individually and, for some, water management of tailings continues to be sound technology, Brino said.

“Dry stack is not new technology. It has been around for a long time and it’s more appropriate for dry climates and small operations because a lot of material needs to be hauled to the site,” she said.

“B.C. has a very wet climate and most are very large tailings facilities,” she said.

One of two mines operating in Southeast Alaska, Greens Creek, an underground silver and gold mine, uses dry-stacking and Pretium’s Brucejack, an underground mine in the Unuk watershed, recently approved by the province, plans to backfill waste underground or in lakes.

The province is moving to a requirement to have all mines with tailings ponds establish Independent Tailings Dam Review Boards, something Red Chris already has in place and a requirement that will apply to KSM, Haslam said.

Some additional requirements will not apply to those two mines as they have already received environmental assessment certificates, but, any changes to the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines, following a review this summer, will also apply to Red Chris and KSM, Haslam said,

No Compensation for Downstream Losses in Case of Tailings Dam Failure
Hardcastle, looking at the risks Southeast Alaska is facing, wants B.C. to take on more of the onus with an adequate bonding mechanism.

“There’s currently no mechanism for compensation for downstream losses when pollution occurs,” she said.

Security deposits the province requires from companies to ensure reclamation have gone from $10 million in 1984 to more than $791 million by the end of 2013, according to the Chief Inspector of Mines annual report.

The province currently holds $12 million in reclamation securities for Red Chris and $19 million for Mount Polley. The securities, which will be returned only when the sites are reclaimed, may change over the life of the mining operations.

However, the securities do not include cleaning up after disasters. Imperial Metals, which last year estimated the cleanup costs for Mount Polley at $67.4 million, is raising $100 million through debentures to cover the mop-up .

That should make all Alaskans feel insecure about corporate promises, said Zimmer, who has seen companies walk away after going bankrupt.

Public fears put uranium mining on same path as shale gas in Quebec

Ross Marowits

The Canadian Press

8 September 2015

MONTREAL -- Fears about radioactive contamination may close the door to uranium mining in Quebec just as public angst shelved shale gas extraction in the province in 2011.

"Like shale gas, it touches a sensitive chord in Quebec," says Ugo Lapointe of MiningWatch Canada, which opposes mining of the metal that fuels nuclear power plants.

Hundreds of municipalities have joined First Nations to oppose uranium mining, worried that it could threaten their health, harm natural environments and ruin traditional hunting and fishing.

Quebec's environmental regulation agency (BAPE) has concluded there is no "social acceptability" for uranium mining to proceed at this time. After a year of study, a three-person panel said that it would be premature to authorize development of Quebec's uranium industry.

While uranium mining has made substantial progress, especially in containing waste, there are still many uncertainties and "significant gaps in scientific knowledge of the impacts of uranium mining on the environment and public health," it said in a lengthy report.

The panel said the province could make the current, nearly two-year moratorium permanent, but advised the government to take its time to minimize potential costs, including a large potential payout to Strateco, which is suing the province for $190 million for holding up its mining project in northern Quebec.

A permanent ban would align Quebec with British Columbia and Nova Scotia, coal-producing provinces that have rejected uranium mining.

Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel has appointed an interdepartmental committee to review the environmental agency's report.

Currently, Saskatchewan is the only uranium-producing province in Canada, and the second-largest producer in the world behind Kazakhstan.

In 2013, its output for three mines was almost 9,000 tons, or about 16 per cent of global production. Quebec's identified uranium reserves are relatively small at about 8,800 tons, the BAPE said.

Industry observers and environmentalists say the regulatory agency's report has given Heurtel cover on the sensitive issue.

"Going against the BAPE ... could be very dangerous politically for him," said Louis Simard, associate professor of political studies at the University of Ottawa.

He said BAPE, which has been around for 35 years, has a lot of credibility with Quebecers.

But the agency's report ignited an angry response from the head of Canada's nuclear safety watchdog, which said its conclusions and recommendations "lack scientific basis and rigour."

To "suggest that uranium mining is unsafe is to imply that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and the government of Saskatchewan have been irresponsible in their approval and oversight of the uranium mines of Canada for the last 30 years," Michael Binder wrote in a letter to the minister.

The nuclear safety commission said there is no link between cancer development and living near or working in a mine or processing facility. It added that environmental monitoring in northern Saskatchewan has shown no risk to health from traditional foods consumed by aboriginal populations.

While nuclear power is seen as a way to reduce greenhouse gases, its global use has fallen to about 12 per cent. The International Atomic Energy Agency expects the share of nuclear power will remain stable through 2035 even though some 67 new plants under construction will nearly double uranium demand to 122,000 tons from around 67,000 tons.

Strateco CEO Guy Hebert, whose Matoush uranium project has been idled, criticized suggestions that not enough information is available on health risks.

Hebert said Canada's former uranium capital of Elliot Lake has become a thriving retirement community, even though 12 uranium mines operated for decades in the northern Ontario community until the 1990s under older, less stringent, regulations.

"If it was a disaster or a deserted, deadly place, nobody would go there," he said in an interview.

The CNSC has said that mining in Elliot Lake did indeed cause "irreparable harm" to several lakes used as mine tailings ponds. But it added that downstream lakes that were negatively affected have gradually recovered with radioactive concentrations in surface water below Canadian guidelines for drinking water and to safely consumer fish.

Valerie Fillion, head of the Quebec Mineral Exploration Association, said the government faces a tough decision because the environmental report has created uncertainty for foreign investors looking at other mining projects in the province.

"Yes it's political, but it's also very economic because if they want us to bring investment to Quebec, some of those investments might not come depending on the decision they make."




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