(Reuters) - Mining companies should be required to buy private insurance for tailings dams and their board of directors should be held legally responsible for any disasters, a coalition of 140 environmental groups said in a report published on Tuesday.
The recommendations, which differ from standards to be published soon from a group that includes miners and investors, come as public scrutiny over tailings dams has intensified after the deadly 2019 collapse of a Brazil dam owned by Vale SA.
Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada, two prominent environmental nonprofits, co-wrote the report earthworks.org/safety-first that includes 16 recommendations they hope will be adopted by regulators across the world and used by bankers as they consider whether to lend to miners.
Tailings dams, which are embankments constructed near mines to store mining waste in a liquid or solid form, can sometimes tower dozens of meters high and stretch for several kilometers. They are the most common waste-disposal method for miners, but they can be dangerous depending on construction method and a host of other factors.
The Earthworks-led report recommends that new tailings dams be banned near inhabited areas; make dam inspection data easily available; and make safety, not cost, the main factor in a dam’s construction.
“We hope local governments and local regulators, as well as lenders, insurers and investors, take these recommendations into account,” said Earthworks’ Jan Morrill, who co-authored the report.
Reuters reported last week that the Global Tailings Review (GTR), a panel of industry, investor and United Nations groups, had finalized its own tailings dam standards, which are not binding and are set to be released in the coming weeks here
The GTR’s final standards do not require private insurance and do not place final culpability with a company’s board. Instead, they call for appointing at least one executive responsible for tailings dam safety who is accountable to the chief executive and has regular communication with the board.
Graphic: The Looming Risk of Tailings Dams here
Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; additional reporting by Jeff Lewis; Editing by Aurora Ellis
DFO preseason forecasts as low as half of minimum population requirement
QUINN BENDER, LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE REPORTER
Jun. 23, 2020 12:30 p.m.
Poor preseason estimates have triggered the closure of this year’s recreational fishery for large chinook salmon on the Stikine and Taku Rivers.
In its notice Tuesday (June 23) Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) posted a preseason forecast of 13,400 chinook for the Stikine River, far below the escapement target of 17,000. The notice stated a forecast of this magnitude does not provide any opportunities for sport harvesting on the Stikine and its tributaries until at least next year’s planned opening of March 31.
READ MORE: NW salmon conservation projects picked for funding grant
The Tahltan River will also be closed to all recreational salmon fishing until Aug. 31 of this year.
On the Taku River, the preseason forecast for large chinook salmon is just 12,400, roughly half of the 25,000 escapement requirement. The Taku and its tributaries will also be closed to recreational chinook until March 31 of 2021.
The conservation measures here follow steep restrictions imposed on chinook harvests all along B.C.’s coast and freshwater regions as the runs experience historic lows.
READ MORE: More restrictions for Fraser River chinook fishers
Further recreational chinook closures for the Northwest include the entire Nakina River from July 20 to Aug. 15, in addition to a portion of the river near the Sloko River confluence that is now shut down until March 31 of next year. See the notice here for specific location details.
Tatsatua Creek will be closed to all salmon fishing effective Aug. 20 to Sept. 15, 2020.
Area closures help ensure chinook salmon escapement is maximized in the Stikine and Taku rivers for 2020. Further restrictions or liberalizations are subject to in-season information.
Jun 4, 2020 7:35 AM By: Nelson Bennett
Mount Polley. (via The Canadian Press)
Three engineers are facing disciplinary hearings, six years after one of the worst mine disasters in B.C. history.
On Aug. 4, 2014, a tailings pond at the Mount Polley copper mine collapsed, sending 20 million cubic metres of water and slurry flooding into into Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.
The disaster cost Imperial Metals $67 million in clean-up and remediation costs, as well as revenue lost from the mine being shut down.
The disaster was investigated by both federal and provincial agencies, but the company was never charged.
A special technical panel struck to investigate the tailings pond collapse concluded that the collapse was caused by a design flaw and failure by engineers to understand the geology of the site. The tailings pond was situated above an unstable layer of glacial till, which gave way under pressure, and ever increasing embankments built up to contain a growing volume of water.
But there may have been warning signs that engineers responsible for the tailings pond’s design, maintenance and supervision never picked up on.
Concerns had also been raised over the provincial government’s delay in issuing a water release permit – something that might have taken some pressure off the tailings pond's embankments.
In 2016, Imperial Metals sued the two engineering firms responsible for the tailings pond’s design, maintenance and supervision -- Knight Piesold Ltd., the original engineering firm, and its successors: Amec Americas Ltd., Amec Earth and Environmental and Amerc Foster Wheeler Americas Ltd.
In 2018, the firms settled out of court, with Imperial Metals receiving $108 million.
Now, the Engineering and Geoscientists of British Columbia plan to haul three of the engineers who were responsible for the tailings pond before a disciplinary committee to face charges of professional misconduct.
Stephen Rice, a senior engineer with AMEC Foster Wheeler at the time, will face a disciplinary hearing June 15 to 19.
In hearing documents, the disciplinary committee says Rice “demonstrated unprofessional conduct” on a number of counts, including allowing a junior engineer -- Laura Fidel, who faces a disciplinary hearing in July – who is described as “a relatively junior engineer with little experience with embankment design” to act as the engineer of record. The panel charges her with accepting that role, while knowing she was not qualified.
The panel also charges that Fidel failed to conduct more than one site visit in a 13-month period, between January 2013 and February 2014.
Todd Martin faces similar charges of accepting the role of engineer of record without having the qualifications to do so. His hearing is set for late August and early September.
After Fidel left, the disciplinary committee says Rice, as senior engineer, failed to appoint a new engineer of record, or designate someone with the responsibility to observe and monitor the tailings pond and embankments. The disciplinary committee also says Rice “never visited" the tailings pond site himself.
According to the Engineers and Geoscience BC website, possible disciplinary actions can include the revoking of membership. Members who have their memberships suspended or revoked are not allowed to practice as engineers or even call themselves professional engineers or geoscientists in B.C.
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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