Posted by Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska | Sep 25, 2019
The province of British Columbia is taking public input on ways to reform its mining regulations. The ministry says it’s partially in response to the Mount Polley mine disaster.
The tailings dam failure in 2014 was closely watched in Alaska due to fears of a similar breach in one of the region’s many mines in the transboundary watershed.
The Narwhal, an online environmental magazine based in the province’s capital, has reported on criticism of B.C.’s mining sector extensively.
CoastAlaska’s Jacob Resneck spoke with the The Narwhal’s managing editor Carol Linnitt in Victoria, B.C. about the province’s latest pledge to reform.
Jacob Resneck: Are these kind of reforms, the types of things that critics of some of the mining practices in British Columbia have been asking for?
Carol Linnitt: You know, on paper, these recommendations look good. But as is always the case with these kinds of, of policy reviews, the devil’s always in the details. And there’s been a lot of pressure on the province to basically have a more independent compliance and enforcement regime for mines. And that’s another thing that they’re talking about doing here. In these proposed amendments.
Of course, they’re not giving any specifics. It’s just, you know, this is a bullet point list of three things. So we–
JR: Did I hear you correctly, Carol? I had thought this was a summary, that, there’s actually more details than have been offered–
CL: They’ve just said, the ministry is proposing the following amendments; they give like a three-point bullet list. And then they’ve asked people to fill out a survey.
The reform proposals are limited to a brief summary.JR: One of the things that I didn’t see in this summary is the issue of financial assurances. In the state of Alaska, if you want to get a mine permitted, you have to post a bond, just to make sure — in case something catastrophic happens — or the company runs out of money.
CL: You’ve hit the nail on the head; that is, without a doubt the biggest elephant-in-the-room when it comes to mining in British Columbia. And it’s actually a pretty unsexy topic. It’s not necessarily very clear to the public what’s going on when you start talking about unsecured financial cleanup liabilities, it’s like, what are you even talking about? But to drive the point home, for example, there’s a Vancouver-based mining company called Teck Resources, Ltd. They operate in B.C. and they also operate in Alaska.
In Alaska, they have one mine there, and the state government required them to provide the full security of the estimated reclamation costs, which were $562 million. And that same company, which operates numerous mine in B.C. has unsecured reclamation costs of $700 million.
Carol Linnitt is managing editor and a co-founder of The Narwhal, a nonprofit online magazine that covers Canada’s ecology.
JR: We can’t talk about transboundary mining without talking about Mount Polley. Now, it’s not technically on a transboundary system. But bring us up to date since its tailings dam collapsed in 2014.
CL: I’m glad you brought Mount Polley up. And I do think that what happened at that mine and and watching how things unfolded in the aftermath has been a bit of a test case for some of these big mines on the border with Alaska.
So yeah, in 2014, a catastrophic collapse of a tailings pond, the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic sized swimming pools of mining waste flooded into Quennell Lake, a source of drinking water. And this spill was so big, it took 12 hours to spill — it’s just incredible. The Mount Polley mine is owned by Imperial Metals, and they’ve come across hard financial times; they’re on the brink of bankruptcy. We’ve reported on what that actually looks like. And the company just actually sold off a 70% stake of one of its major mines on the border with Alaska, the Red Chris Mine to an Australian company called Newcrest mining.
So here this this is the problem with not having those financial securities established before the fact is that companies hit on financial hard times, and then they just abandon these mines and they abandon those, those financial liabilities and cleanup costs reclamation cost to taxpayers and some of these mines, they require permanent water treatment facilities like in perpetuity forever — and those are very expensive.
So looking at the Red Chris Mine on the border with Alaska, the same company built that same mine but on a way larger scale with a way bigger tailings pond. And now they’re indicating to the world that they’re actually not capable of managing that mine and they want out.
So it’s, it’s worrisome and a lot of people, they still want to talk about the Mount Polley mine because it was basically an example of how companies are not responsible for their liability and basically the environmental mess that they’re creating in this massive resource extraction project from the get-go and it shows exactly how they can slip out of other forms of responsibility, including penalties and fines and cleanup responsibilities all throughout the process.
By Matthew Brown | AP
BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. government scientists found high levels of pollution that can be toxic to fish, aquatic insects and the birds that feed on them in a river that flows into Montana and Idaho from a coal mining region of Canada, officials said Monday.
Elevated levels of selenium were found in fish and fish eggs from the Kootenai River downstream of Lake Koocanusa.
The lake straddles the Canada border in northwestern Montana and southern British Columbia, and feeds into the Kootenai before the water flows downstream to Idaho.
Selenium is a naturally occurring mineral that can be released into rivers and streams during surface mining. It was absent from water samples taken from tributaries of the Kootenai downstream of the lake, indicating it’s coming from mining-related sources upstream, Environmental Protection Agency hydrologist Jason Gildea said.
No human health impacts were expected from the levels detected in the Kootenai.
High levels of selenium can kill animals and cause them reproductive problems. Animals that lay eggs are most at risk because the pollution accumulates in eggs.
Kent Karemaker, a spokesman for British Columbia’s mining agency, said he had not seen the pollution study and could not immediately offer a response. Regulators from the province participate in a cross-border monitoring group with their counterparts from Montana.
Concern about pollution from mines in British Columbia has been building for years.
U.S. senators from Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Washington state said in a June letter to British Columbia’s leader that Canadian regulators need to do more to prevent mining waste from fouling downstream U.S. waterways.
In July, representatives of towns and tribes in the region said the pollution threatens the livelihoods of those who depend on fishing and other forms of recreation.
Selenium concentrations in water entering Lake Koocanusa have been increasing for decades, but the pollution had not previously been found at high levels in the Kootenai River.
“We weren’t expecting to find elevated levels” in the river’s fish, Gildea said. “To see this result indicates that something is going on and we’re a little concerned about it.”
Earlier studies showed the pollution in Lake Koocanusa comes coal mining in the Elk Valley of British Columbia.
The latest findings come from a joint study by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and wildlife agencies in the Montana and Idaho. More than 140 fish were evaluated, and high levels of selenium were found in six mountain whitefish and one redside shiner.
Elevated levels of mercury were found in three fish sampled, but Gildea said that most likely was deposited by air pollution and not mining.
Further studies are needed but whether they happen will depend on funding, said Ayn Schmit, an EPA water policy adviser.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, September 22, 2019 3:49PM PDT
VICTORIA - The British Columbia government is asking for public feedback on proposed changes to the Mines Act that it says will improve regulation and oversight of the mining sector.
The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources says in a news release it's proposing to formally separate authorizations and permitting from enforcement and auditing powers.
It's also suggesting establishing an independent oversight unit with an auditing function and enhancing compliance and enforcement.
The ministry says a $20-million boost in this year's budget allowed it to create a new mines health, safety and enforcement division.
Members of the public can comment on the proposed amendments through an online survey, email or mail before Oct. 25.
Minister Michelle Mungall says her government's No. 1 priority for mining is safety for workers, the environment and communities.
“We've invested $20 million over three years to hire more inspectors on the ground and ensure more frequent inspections,” she says.
“The feedback that we receive from British Columbians will be critical for informing how we improve our mining laws and ensure that mining in B.C. is done right.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2019.
National News | September 13, 2019 by Laurie Hamelin
**see original article for video and photos
The Mount Polley mining disaster was one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history.
Though at fault, five years later the mining company responsible has still not faced any fines or charges.
Bev Sellars, then-chief of Xat’sull First Nation, says she feels helpless to do anything about the tragedy that has impacted her land and people forever.
Sellars recalls the day when 24 million cubic meters of mining waste spewed into waterways within her traditional territory.
“Companies come in, do their damage and are just allowed to walk away,” she said, “and that has to stop.”
Bev Sellars doesn’t believe justice will ever be served for the 2014 Mount Polley mining disaster.
A panel of experts found the company at fault due to an unstable foundation.
Last month marked the five-year anniversary of the tailings pond breach. It also marked the deadline for government to fine the company that operates the gold and copper mine, Imperial Metals.
Sellars said she isn’t holding her breath waiting for justice.
“It’s wrong. It’s so wrong on so many levels,” she said.
‘This isn’t finished’: 5 years after the Mount Polley disaster, still no charges
Sellars tried to file private charges in 2017, just days after the B.C. government announced charges would not be laid.
She claimed the mining company contravened the Environmental Management Act and Mines Act.
But after reviewing her case, the B.C. Prosecution Services did not approve the charges.
“The province of B.C. should have allowed me to go ahead with my private charges against Mount Polley, but they didn’t,” said Sellars.
In July APTN News visited the disaster area below the tailings pond at Hazeltine Creek.
What looks like a valley of destruction at first glance is actually the result of millions of dollars worth of reclamation work paid by Imperial Metals.
The land at Hazeltine Creek just below the Mount Polley tailings pond.
“People from the area who are familiar with the forestry industry and reforestation of cut blocks know that the trees do not grow back overnight, and that full recovery will take some time,” says C.D. ‘Lyn Anglin.
Anglin was Imperial Metals’ chief scientific officer responsible for research and providing guidance for spill response.
“Including all of the environmental and human health impact and risk assessment studies, the ongoing environmental monitoring, and the environmental remediation work completed to date, the company has spent about $70 million on their response to the spill,” she said.
“This does not include the costs of the repair work on the tailings storage facility.”
But Allen Edzerza from the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council says Imperial’s work so far isn’t enough.
“There should have been more done, there should be a long term plan put in place that tracks to see what the impact of the chemicals in the environmental system is and see if it’s affecting the fish and wildlife populations,” said Edzerza.
Allen Edzerza of the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council says Imperial Metals hasn’t done enough to make up for the destruction it has caused to the area.
The same panel of experts that reviewed the Mount Polley breach also found that under current regulations the province can expect two tailings dam failures each decade.
Despite B.C.’s polluter-pays policy, mining companies don’t have to put up full cleaning costs as a deposit.
There’s also no protection against companies going bankrupt.
“What we have seen in the past is large companies, as the mine gets towards the last 10 years of its life, they like to sell out those projects and then take their reclamation deposit and they leave,” Edzerza explained, “and then you have a smaller company now operating these mines.”
In most instances, he continued, those companies don’t have the resources to do full restoration.
The B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council released a report in July urging the government to change its mining laws to protect taxpayers from footing the bill for future accidents.
Edzerza said other mining laws need updating, too, like B.C.s Free Entry Mining System, which he said violates the principle of free, prior and informed consent, which is protected under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Right now you can stake on-line from anywhere in the world,” said Edzerza.
“You don’t even have to come to British Columbia. You don’t have to know what nation’s territory you are in, you don’t have to know the law,” he continued. “You just need to get this certificate, stake a claim and by law the province has to register it. Once a claim is registered the miner has an interest in that land which could be infringing Aboriginal title and rights.”
To prove how easy it is to stake a claim, in 2017 Sellars did just that on the Former Mining Minister Bill Bennett’s home property.
She was the chair of the group First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining at the time.
“So they come in–the government along with the resource companies–and just extract, extract, extract,” she said. “And so what I did is I went and I staked Bill Bennet’s private property.”
Sellars said it cost her less than $200 to stake the claim.
She said the policy is outdated and has been around since the gold rush.
“It’s still the same — it hasn’t changed and it has to change,” she said.
“People come in and they disregard Indigenous territories. They have no right to claim our land.”
In a statement to APTN News, the B.C. government confirmed it is working on a reclamation security policy. It says it has also begun pre-engagement on a review of the Mineral Tenure Act and will continue to work with Indigenous nations and the First Nations Energy and Mining Council.
Sellars is hopeful, but said she won’t believe it until she’s see it.
“They have no choice but to change things. It’s an absolute requirement.”
By Daniel Schindler and Jonathan Moore
Special to The Times
It’s easy to take wild salmon for granted when we see it prominently featured on restaurant menus and in grocery stores. This wild salmon comes mostly from Alaska because elsewhere over the last century, society has chosen to compromise the core thing wild salmon need to survive: clean, free-flowing rivers. The good news is that we can choose to do things differently in Alaska and British Columbia, where we still have intact habitat with thriving wild salmon populations.
At the World Salmon Forum in Seattle this week, scientists and practitioners will discuss how to sustain and restore remaining wild salmon populations. While these conversations take place, government agencies in the U.S. and Canada are actively advancing some of the world’s largest and riskiest mines despite peer-reviewed science showing that these mines would have permanent adverse impacts on the environment, wild salmon and local people. These permitting decisions must be based on credible risk assessments — not on politics, as they seem to be now.
In the U.S., the Environmental Impact Statement process is the “gold standard” for assessing risks mining developments pose to the quality of the human environment. However, this process is only as good as the science that informs it. This has never been truer than in Alaska’s Bristol Bay — home of the world’s largest wild salmon fishery — where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the EIS process for the highly controversial proposed Pebble Mine. The Army Corps recently concluded that the Pebble Mine posed no risks to the rivers of this region, though their draft EIS was so flawed that other federal agencies publicly criticized its inadequacies. The Department of Interior said the draft EIS was so deficient that it “precludes meaningful analysis,” and Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed that “the Corps’ DEIS has failed to meet [her] standard of a robust and rigorous process.” Unless Congress intervenes, the Army Corps says it will make a final permitting decision in early 2020.
Meanwhile, British Columbia is promoting numerous mines in the headwaters of the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers — the region’s top salmon producers — without defensible scientific assessments of cumulative risks, which extend into Southeast Alaska. The political process that oversees mining regulation in B.C. is exemplified by the collapse of the Mount Polley mine’s “state-of-the-art” tailings dam that released 6.6 billion gallons of waste into the Fraser River watershed in 2014. Just six months later, that same company, Imperial Metals, began operations at the massive Red Chris mine on the Stikine River — with the same waste storage design, except exponentially larger. Imperial Metals is also the same company that recently applied for an exploratory mining permit in the headwaters of the Skagit River — critical for the southern resident orcas.
By Ryan Prior, CNN Updated 7:23 AM ET, Sat August 17, 2019
CNN)Alaska has been in the throes of an unprecedented heat wave this summer, and the heat stress is killing salmon in large numbers.
Scientists have observed die-offs of several varieties of Alaskan salmon, including sockeye, chum and pink salmon.
Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, director of the Yukon Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, told CNN she took a group of scientists on an expedition along Alaska's Koyokuk River at the end of July, after locals alerted her to salmon die-offs on the stream.
She and the other scientists counted 850 dead unspawned salmon on that expedition, although they estimated the total was likely four to 10 times larger.
They looked for signs of lesions, parasites and infections, but came up empty. Nearly all the salmon they found had "beautiful eggs still inside them," she said. Because the die-off coincided with the heat wave, they concluded that heat stress was the cause of the mass deaths.
Quinn-Davidson said she'd been working as a scientist for eight years and had "never heard of anything to this extent before."
"I'm not sure people expected how large a die-off we'd see on these rivers," she said.
The heat decreases the amount of oxygen in the water, causing salmon to suffocate.
The heat wave is higher than climate change models predicted
The water temperatures have breaking records at the same time as the air temperatures, according to Sue Mauger, the science director for the Cook Inletkeeper.
Scientists have been tracking stream temperatures around the Cook Inlet, located south of Anchorage, since 2002. They've never recorded a temperature above 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Until now.
On July 7, a major salmon stream on the west side of the Cook Inlet registered 81.7 degrees.
Mauger said she and her team published a study in 2016, creating models outlining moderate and pessimistic projections for how climate change would drive temperatures in Alaska's streams.
"2019 exceeded the value we expected for the worst-case scenario in 2069," she said.
Mauger said that the warm temperatures are affecting salmon in various ways, depending on the stream.
"Physiologically, the fish can't get oxygen moving through their bellies," Mauger said. In other places in the state, the salmon "didn't have the energy to spawn and died with healthy eggs in their bellies."
With so many salmon dying before having a chance to spawn, scientists will have to keep tabs for the next few years to see if this year's heat-related deaths have longer term effects on the state's salmon population.
Salmon under threat
Salmon populations are under stress from other angles as well.
Overfishing is threatening salmon further south in southwestern Canada and northwestern Washington. Orca whales, which are themselves endangered, feed on salmon.
With fewer salmon to eat, populations of orca whales have steadily declined over the past decades.
And last week the Environmental Protection Agency told staff scientists it would no longer oppose a mining project in Alaska that had the potential to devastate one of the world's most valuable wild salmon fisheries, just after President Trump met with Alaska's Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
But in other areas, things are looking up. "Salmon are very resilient. They've overcome a lot," said Mary Catharine Martin, a spokeswoman for the non-profit Salmon State.Alaska's Bristol Bay, the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, is annually seeing boom times for salmon returns, and in 2016 celebrated the 2 billionth salmon caught in its waters, after more than a century of commercial fishing.
"That's very good," she said. "Salmon have sustained the way of life of the people of Alaska for thousands of years."
CNN's Alisha Ebrahimji contributed to this story.
Canadian Mining Journal Staff | August 16, 2019 | 1:45 pm Canada Copper Gold
Imperial Metals’ sale of a 70% interest in the Red Chris copper-gold mine in B.C. has officially closed, with Australia’s Newcrest Mining now the operator of the asset.
Newcrest paid $804 million for its majority interest. The deal was first announced in March.
“We are delighted to have closed the Red Chris transaction and add this operating mine to our existing low cost, long-life portfolio,” Newcrest’s managing director and CEO, Sandeep Biswas, said in a release.
RED CHRIS BEGAN PRODUCTION IN 2015 AND HOSTS RESERVES OF 301.5 MILLION TONNES GRADING 0.36% COPPER AND 0.27 G/T GOLD
“We are pleased with the highly constructive and collaborative relationship we are developing with the Tahltan Nation and the government of British Columbia and look forward to working together as we execute our forward work plan to unlock the significant potential from Red Chris. We are excited to establish a strong presence in British Columbia, a quality mining jurisdiction in a country with roots in mining, much like Australia.”
Red Chris, which began production in 2015 and is located 80 km south of Dease Lake, hosts reserves of 301.5 million tonnes grading 0.36% copper and 0.27 g/t gold. Production for 2019 is forecast at 72-76 million lb. copper and 36,000 to 38,000 oz. gold. Newcrest has said it has identified a clear path to turn Red Chris into a Tier 1 operation.
Imperial will use the funds to pay down debt and as working capital. The company is still suffering the financial repercussions of the 2014 tailings dam failure at its still-suspended Mount Polley copper-gold mine in B.C.
“The sale of a 70% interest in Red Chris to Newcrest will allow Imperial to significantly strengthen its balance sheet, while continuing to hold a 30% interest in a joint venture that will leverage Newcrest’s unique technical expertise in block caving operations,” said Imperial’s president, Brian Kynoch. “We look forward to working alongside Newcrest with this new venture as well as the resumption of exploration activities at Red Chris. As a result of this transaction, Imperial will be in a much better position to create value and opportunities for its shareholders and stakeholders.”
(This article first appeared in The Canadian Mining Journal)
Imperial Metals seeking permit in the Skagit headwaters just north of the U.S. border
Rafferty Baker · CBC News · Posted: Aug 14, 2019 5:37 PM PT | Last Updated: August 14
The Smitheram Valley is one of the three main valleys in the area known as the Donut Hole, where Imperial Metals wants to explore for gold. (Wilderness Committee)
The list of organizations and officials opposing proposed mining work just north of the U.S. border has grown to 140, as Imperial Metals seeks a permit to do exploratory drilling in the Skagit headwaters — an area surrounded by protected parks.
The area is known as the Giant Copper property, but according to the company's website, exploratory work carried out in 2017 revealed the potential for gold mining.
It's about 50 kilometres southeast of Hope, B.C., between Skagit Valley Provincial Park and Manning Provincial Park.
In December, Imperial Metals applied to do more exploratory work, including drilling and trenching. According to its website, the plan is do that work during the 2019 field season. A public comment period on the proposal wrapped up in April.
A weathered shack filled with mineral core samples sits near the area where Imperial Metals has applied to do exploratory drilling in search for gold. (Wilderness Committee)The collection of names opposing the project includes Canadian and U.S. First Nations, conservancy groups, recreation user groups, local businesses and U.S. politicians. This week, 29 names were added to the list, including Arc'teryx, Red Truck Beer, Patagonia Vancouver and the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C.
Tom Uniack, executive director of the non-profit Washington Wild, highlighted the concern about resource extraction in the Skagit headwaters, which are within Canadian jurisdiction, but drain straight into the United States and across Washington state.
"The Skagit River is extremely important. It contributes about 30 per cent of the fresh water into Puget Sound. It's one of the most productive salmon streams that we have and it's kind of iconic for a lot of reasons," said Uniack.
"The headwaters — and a place nestled between two protected parks is not the place that we should be prioritizing mining," he said.
Contents from an Imperial Metals tailings pond are pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. on August, 5, 2014, following the collapse of the Mount Polley mine tailings dam. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)Uniack said he wasn't familiar with Imperial Metals prior to 2014, when one of the company's mines, Mount Polley, was the scene of the largest environmental mining disaster in the province.
After a dam at a tailings facility collapsed, 24 million cubic metres of mining waste spilled into the waterways near Likely, B.C.
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By Ainslie Cruickshank Star Vancouver
Fri., Aug. 9, 2019, 4 min. read
VANCOUVER—Two U.S. senators and Alaska government officials have taken long-standing concerns about toxic waste from B.C. mines to an international body created under a century-old treaty that governs transboundary water issues between Canada and the United States.
Some Alaskan officials are not satisfied that B.C. has the regulatory system in place to protect the environment from the impacts of mining, especially as new mines are proposed in the region.
“My longstanding concern is that our neighbors in British Columbia are not meeting a similar high standard with regard to the impacts of hard rock mining on other resources and livelihoods in transboundary watersheds — especially the downstream fisheries that support tribes and coastal communities in Alaska,” said U.S. senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski in a statement.
U.S. senator for Alaska Dan Sullivan, who also attended the meeting with the International Joint Commission, said in a statement that progress is finally being made on the transboundary mining concerns.
“The best way to build on this momentum is for Canadian officials to work expeditiously to fully and finally remediate the Tulsequah Chief mine to prevent further pollution into the Taku River. This is an issue I’ve been pressing senior Canadian officials on, including Prime Minister Trudeau. I am hopeful we’ll see progress soon,” he said.
For six decades, the Tulsequah Chief copper mine in B.C.’s northwest, about 60 kilometres northeast from Juneau, Alaska, has been discharging acid waste into the Tulsequah River, which flows into the Taku River, before continuing west to the Alaskan coast. This acid forms when sulphides in the rock are exposed to air and water.
B.C. mining touted as green solution even as environmental groups warn of lax industry regulation
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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