MAC/20: Mines and Communities

A very fishy business

Published by MAC on 2006-10-27

A very fishy business

27th October 2006

Dumping pyritic (acid-generating) mine tailings into lakes doesn't seem like such a good idea - not if you want to save the biota in the water. It's widely advocated by the mining industry because it' s cheap and does seem to effectively deal with "acid rock drainage." Not that this is universally agreed by scientists. If the water's too shallow, or oxygen gets in (via rainfall for example), the problem can recurr.

The fundamental question, though, is surely a moral not a technical one. How can an industry that increasingly claims it's dedicated to "sustainable" development justify wiping whole bodies of water off the map of available resources?

But that's what the Canadian government has just done in a revision of the MMER (Metal Mining Effluent Regulation), whose Schedule 2 pinpoints three lakes now slated for destruction - two by Aur Resources and a third by Northgate Minerals. (see article below).

The whole debacle has involved a 12 year review process that ended in 2002. During this lengthy review a "multistakeholder" team debated every bit of the minutiae of the regulation, right up to the moment it was gazetted Yet, according to one of those involved in the process, the true reality of the destructive "Schedule Two" was never once discussed. Then suddenly - there it was, encorsed by one official from Environment Canada as a means of dealing with "existing and historic" cases of lakes that had already been used for tailings dumping. If these lakes were not included in the regulations, it was asserted, they would become "illegal" when the rules came into force.

Could new lakes then be added to the list? In theory - yes; but in practice, according to the Environment Canada official, this was hardly like to happen, as it would require re-opening the whole process, taking probably several more years deliberation.

Then, barely three years later, once again the regulations were being amended . Well after the process was underway, Environment Canada suddenly added new lakes to the Schedule - primarily to accommodate the needs of Aur Resources. What's more, the review process was stepped up to meet Aur's deadlines.

If ever the tail wagged the dog..!

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