A new report from two environmental groups claims a proposed gold and copper mine northeast of Ketchikan is too risky to build.
It says British Columbia’s Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell project threatens the safety of Alaska and B.C. salmon.
“The most significant risk associated with what KSM is proposing is the unprecedented volume of water that the mine is planning to manage and treat,” says Bonnie Gestring, of the Montana office of Earthworks, a conservation organization focused on mines.
She says it will handle more than 20 billion gallons a year, nearly eight times the volume of the next-largest open pit mine in North America.
Things are not looking good for multi-billion mine projects like the KSM in B.C., according to a new mining global outlook from PwC.
Smaller, leaner projects, may stand more of a chance of getting financed in a new era of prolonged low commodity prices and activist shareholders, according to PwC’s 2015 mining outlook, The Gloves Are Off.
As the title suggests, mining companies will have to fight to survive and they are going to have to get used to operating or building new mines at current commodity prices, rather than pin their hopes on a major rally.
Dozens of Canadian and American environmental groups, First Nations and businesses, as well as scientists and individuals, have called on the B.C. government to end the use of storing mine waste under water and behind earth-and-rock dams.
But Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said that is not going to happen in British Columbia. “I don’t think that’s in the cards for B.C. — or any other province in Canada — to adopt a policy where all you can use to manage tailings is dry-stack tailings,” Bennett said in an interview.
The demand from the U.S. and Canadian groups — sent in a letter Tuesday to Bennett and B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak — came as a result of Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley tailings dam failure last summer.
Monty Bassett, Documentary Filmmaker, 250-877-0961 or 250-847-5605
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders, 907-586-2166 or 907-988-8173, [email protected]
Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, Professor of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, [email protected]
Diverse group of Alaska Tribes, members of First Nations, businesses, organizations, scientists and individuals calls for end to wet mine tailings storage in B.C.
Today a large and diverse group of Canadians and Americans called on the British Columbia (B.C.) government to halt the permitting of wet tailings facilities for new and proposed mines in B.C. based on the Independent Expert Panel recommendations on the Mount Polley mine tailings disaster. Eighty-seven Alaska Native tribes, members of B.C. First Nations, businesses, prominent individuals, scientists, and conservation groups signed a letter to the B.C. government calling for a shift to newer and safer dry tailings storage technology.
“Wet tailings impoundments are an unacceptable financial and environmental liability now and for future generations,” said letter organizer Monty Bassett. “A failure by the B.C. government to stop further construction of wet tailings storage facilities would be a blatant disregard for safety and its own commitments to adopt Best Available Technologies and Practices. Dry stack is a proven tailings technology. Mining industry complaints about costs fly in the face of the Mount Polley report recommendation that costs should not trump safety.”
These concerns are based on recommendations by the Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel, which released a report on the Mount Polley tailings failure in January 2015. The report found that unless significant changes are made in the way B.C. tailings dams are designed and maintained, more failures can be expected. The report’s principal recommendation calls for an end to outdated “hundred year old” wet tailings storage and conversion to “dry stack” tailings systems. According to page 120 of the report, “Improving technology to ensure against failures requires eliminating water both on and in the tailings: water on the surface, and water contained in the interparticle voids. Only this can provide the kind of failsafe redundancy that prevents releases no matter what.”
“We cannot afford another Mount Polley, especially at mines like Red Chris or the proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM), which are much bigger and will have more toxic acidic tailings,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “Unless there are major changes to B.C. tailings storage, we will soon see more dangerous dams built across B.C. and in the headwaters of major transboundary salmon rivers such as the Stikine, Taku and Unuk. These tailings dumps will be toxic time bombs poised upstream of vital salmon habitat.”
Despite the Mount Polley report’s recommendations, just days after the Panel released its report, B.C.’s Ministry of Energy and Mines issued an “interim operating” permit for a wet-tailings facility at the Red Chris mine in northwestern B.C., in the headwaters of the transboundary, salmon-rich Stikine River. The interim permit expires May 4, 2015. The Red Chris facility, also owned by Imperial Metals, is similar to the one that failed at Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley mine in August, releasing almost 25 million cubic meters (6.6 billion gallons) of mine waste water and tailings into the Fraser River watershed.
“It is reckless for B.C. to permit the kind of outdated watered tailings facility at Red Chris that failed at Mount Polley and that the expert panel specifically recommends against,” said Zimmer. “The panel called Mount Polley a ‘loaded gun’ and B.C. is loading the chamber at Red Chris.”
According to an independent expert report commissioned by Imperial Metals, “any failure of the Red Chris impoundment will likely have a much more significant environmental impact than the Mount Polley failure.” This is also true of other mines such as KSM. The proposed KSM tailings facility is roughly six times that of Mount Polley’s.
“We know that a dam failure at mines like Red Chris or KSM could have far worse consequences than Mount Polley, yet the B.C. government and the mining industry are avoiding the one thing that could reduce the risk of such a failure,” said Zimmer. “The costs of such failures to downstream communities could dwarf the costs of implementing changes now.”
The lessons of Mount Polley show that tailings failures are very difficult and expensive to clean up, there are no insurance policies for tailings dams, mine company bonding doesn’t pay for accidents or disasters, and there are no clear mechanisms to compensate injured parties. Industry often can’t pay, which means either B.C. taxpayers end up paying for substantial environmental liabilities, or cleanup and compensation doesn’t happen.
“What we are saying is to do Red Chris right,” said author Wade Davis, who owns a lodge at the base of Mount Todagin where Red Chris is situated. “In the wake of Mount Polley, how can we trust wet tailings storage? Can we not expect the safest mine technology possible from Imperial Metals?”
The letter was sent to Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines; Mary Polak, Minister of Environment; Al Hoffman, Chief Inspector of Mines; Diane Howe, Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines; Norm MacDonald, MLA, Opposition Critic for Energy and Mines; and Doug Donaldson, MLA, Stikine.
Imperial Metals Corp., owner of the mine that caused Canada's worst mining disaster in history, has started limited production at an even bigger mine, which could be a threat to Alaska's $2-billion annual salmon and tourism business.
Meanwhile, Imperial has applied for a temporary restart of Mount Polley Mine, where a tailings storage pond failed in August 2014, spewing 4.3 billion gallons of water and 10.3 million cu yd of mine tailings and construction waste into two lakes and a creek that are part of the Fraser River watershed in British Columbia.
The Mount Polley spillage affected Quesnel Lake—a fjord-type lake in which salmon spawn—dumping chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, silver, vanadium and zinc. Hazeltine Creek, between Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake, got those same minerals as well as arsenic, manganese, mercury, nickel, thallium and titanium.
However, the other British Columbia mines—under construction, in startup or still undergoing assessment—pose a greater threat: acids that are common in copper and gold mining and other metals toxic to aquatic life.
The effects from Mount Polley "may take years to be felt by salmon," thanks to the metals bound to sediment settling in the lake bottom, says Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society. The greater danger, he says, is with the other mines.
"Even though Mount Polley was one of the biggest environmental disasters in Canadian history, the impact would be much worse from a catastrophic failure at a project like Red Chris and KSM [Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell] that are acid- draining, with much larger tailings impoundments," he says.
"KSM, which was quietly approved by the federal government over the Christmas holiday, would have two tailings impoundments around the same size as Hoover Dam," he adds.
B.C.’s approval of a new mine in a transboundary watershed has added fuel to simmering Alaskan anger about the province’s surge of mine development adjacent to the southeast Alaska border.
The province has granted an environmental assessment certificate to Pretivm Resources Inc. for the Brucejack gold and silver mine, about 65 kilometres northwest of Stewart and 40 kilometres upstream from the Alaskan border.
The underground mine, which has not yet received federal approval, will be close to the headwaters of the Unuk River, which flows from B.C. into Alaska. The Unuk is one of Southeast Alaska’s largest king (chinook) salmon rivers and drains into Misty Fjords National Monument, one of Alaska’s most popular tourist destinations.
Brucejack is adjacent to the large Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine, which received B.C and federal government approval last year, despite strong opposition from Alaskan politicians, fishermen and tribal governments.
“It is too much, too fast,” said Chris Zimmer, Alaska campaign director with Rivers Without Borders.
“It is the cumulative effect of so many mines in salmon-producing areas. There is so much coming at us so fast without any long-term controls and the process is just not designed to look at cumulative effects over a big region.”
The provincial government has given its blessing to another potential mine, this time the Brucejack gold project north of Stewart owned by Pretium Resources.
In releasing the decision to grant an environmental assessment certificate, environment minister Mary Polak and mines minister Bill Bennett noted the company will store a portion of its waste tailings underground and won't need a tailings storage facility and dam.
Other tailings will be deposited into Brucejack Lake.
But the ministers did add waters from the area do flow into the Unuk River.
The federal government approved the environmental assessment application on Friday for the massive KSM gold and copper mine in northwestern British Columbia near the Alaska border.
The mine, which is owned by Seabridge Gold Inc., is considered the largest undeveloped gold reserve in the world and also has copper, silver and molybdenum deposits.
The project would be just 35 kilometres from the Alaska border, and in August the state took the rare step of asking the Canadian government for involvement in the approval process over concerns for its rivers and fish.
Transboundary mine opponents are trying a new tactic in their opposition to a project northeast of Ketchikan. They’re telling investors, and anyone else who will listen, that the KSM mine is a bad place to put their money.
Kerr Sulphurets Mitchell, a British Columbia mine in the transboundary Unuk River watershed that concerns many Southeast Alaska fishermen, Native organizations, tourism and environmental groups, has received early construction permits from the British Columbian government.
“I think people are feeling not just a sense of urgency, and being threatened, but anger, too,” said Heather Hardcastle, commercial fishing outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “To hear that they have these preliminary permits, road construction permits — it seems like such a slap in the face, because the project doesn’t yet have federal approval from the government in Canada.”
Changes made two years ago to a century-old federal law mean that a giant new gold mine just approved by the province for northwestern British Columbia will get reduced federal oversight -- and risk creating an international flashpoint.
The B.C. government yesterday gave Seabridge Gold Inc.'s proposed Kerr-Sulpherets-Mitchell gold mine, in the headwaters of the Unuk River, a certificate of approval, concluding that the $5.3-billion open-pit project is unlikely to have any adverse environmental impacts.
That confidence is questionable. The international gold-mining industry has a long and troubling record of serious environmental damage arising from its operations, including rivers and estuaries heavily contaminated by cyanide, arsenic and other chemicals either used in processing ore or released from the ground when it is mined.
The potential implications for the Unuk River, which begins in Canada but runs for the last 40 kilometres of its course through the Alaska panhandle, have alarmed that state's residents.
(To read complete source article, click "The Tyee")
A Canadian junior miner planning to build a massive open pit gold, copper, silver and molybdenum mine in northern British Columbia will likely have to deal with the similar amount and type of hurdles faced by the controversy-ridden Pebble Mine.
The British Columbia government has granted environmental approval for a proposed $5.3-billion mine in the provinces north, which would tap into one of the largest gold and copper deposits in the world and has already received support from local First Nations.
Canadian officials this week announced the start of a new 30-day public comment period on the Canadian federal government’s environmental assessment of the controversial Kerr Sulphurets Mitchell mine proposal.
In their assessment they wrote, “The Agency is satisfied that identified mitigation measures for the project would address potential impacts in Alaska on fish; recreational and commercial fisheries and human health from changes to water quality and quantity in the Unuk River.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of Alaskan tribal members, fishermen and business owners feel differently.
A Canadian government environmental report on a proposed open pit mine northwest of Stewart, British Columbia, is raising concerns from Southeast Alaska fishing interests, who say the project could cause significant harm to salmon habitat.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s comprehensive study report on the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell project, released on July 21, says the agency is satisfied that identified mitigation measures for the project would address potential environmental impacts.
These impacts include, according to the report, potential impacts in Alaska on fish, recreational and commercial fisheries and human health from changes to water quality and quantity in the Unuk River.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, on July 21 opened its fourth and final public comment period on the environmental assessment, which will run through Aug. 20.
The lengthy assessment centers on a proposal from the junior mining company Seabridge Gold Inc., to develop a gold, copper, silver and molybdenum mine, planning the Unuk and Bell-Irving watersheds some 65 kilometers northwest of Stewart, British Columbia. Seabridge Gold, with offices in Toronto, and Smithers, British Columbia, has identified the KSM project as one of the largest undeveloped gold projects in the world, with proven and probable reserves of 38.2 million ounces of gold and 9.9 billion pounds of copper.
The headwaters of the Unuk and Nass rivers lies just 19 miles from the Alaska border. The Unuk, which begins in Canada and flows into Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument, is a key Southeast Alaska king salmon and eulachon river. The Nass is British Columbia’s third largest salmon river, producing fish harvested by both Canadians and Alaskans.
The operators of a wilderness lodge in northwestern B.C. are frustrated they will not able to draw power from the recently completed Northwest Transmission Line.
BC Hydro is in the process of commissioning the $700 million power project, which runs about 350 kilometres north of Terrace alongside Highway 37, and it is expected to come online sometime this month.
The high voltage line is expected to bolster mining and private hydroelectric power projects in northwestern B.C., reduce the use of diesel generators in the area and cut greenhouse gas emissions. It could also eventually connect Alaska with the North American transmission grid.
But while the new transmission line passes within 300 meters of the Bell 2 Lodge, which relies on diesel generators for power, the lodge won't be able to use it for power, according to Mike Watling, the sales director at the lodge.
It has become an all-too-familiar story: Pristine waters. Salmon habitat. Sacred significance. Mining.
The Unuk River watershed, straddling the border between British Columbia and Alaska, is on track to become ground zero in a struggle to stop the world’s largest open-pit mine, Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM). The fight against it is uniting First Nations and Alaska Natives as they battle to preserve stewardship of the pristine region. And it is just one of five massive projects proposed for the region.
(To read the complete source article, click "Indian Country Today")
BC Hydro has been cited for a slew of non-compliance problems related to ongoing construction of two major transmission lines, according to freedom of information documents obtained by The Vancouver Sun.
The documents identify a lack of sediment controls, potential for the spread of invasive plant species, smouldering burn piles during a fire prohibition, a stop-work order to prevent stream damage, lack of environmental monitoring and oversight, and both heavy equipment and felled trees found in creeks.
The problems are connected to the 344-kilometre Northwest Transmission Line being built from Terrace to Bob Quinn Lake and the 247-kilometre Interior to Lower Mainland Transmission Line from Merritt to Coquitlam. The projects are due for completion this spring and 2015, respectively.
(To read complete source article, click "The Vancouver Sun")
If built, the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine near the British Columbian border could produce more than 10 billion pounds of copper, 133 million ounces of silver, 38 million ounces of gold and 200 million pounds of molybdenum. It would also produce more than 2 billion tons of tailings, and one of its three open pit mines would be about as deep as the deepest open pit mine in the world today. Water treatment facilities filtering water from the mine site and into the Unuk River, which flows into Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument, may need to operate 200 years or more to prevent acid from draining into Southeast Alaska waters.
A native band downstream from what may become the biggest mine in Canada says it is worried about the long-term threat that pollution could pose to the Nass and Bell-Irving Rivers in northwest B.C.
“The mine’s life span is for 50 years and they are estimating that mine will be required to treat [waste water] for well over 200 years. And who’s going to be responsible for that?” Glen Williams, Hereditary Chief of the Gitanyow First Nation said Wednesday.
(To read complete source article, click "The Globe and Mail")
A juggernaut of industrial development in northwestern BC is overwhelming environmental groups, First Nations, and other citizens trying to keep up with environmental assessments. There was a time when they could concentrate of one or two projects without allowing several others to slip past them unnoticed. Not any more.
On August 12, Seabridge received confirmation from the Province of British Columbia regulatory authorities that its Application for an Environmental Assessment Certificate has now entered the 180-day review period. This is the second stage of the three-stage regulatory process.
VANCOUVER — A First Nation in British Columbia's northwest is taking the provincial government to court over plans to redevelop an open-pit molybdenum mine on lands where it says its members have fishing and hunting rights.
In a petition launched in B.C. Supreme Court this week, the Nisga'a allege, in part, that the provincial government failed to consult the First Nation on environmental issues before issuing an environmental certificate to Vancouver-based Avanti Mining Inc.
(To read the complete source article, click "The Vancouver Sun")
British Columbia's economy is growing. Much of that growth rests on expanded resource industries. Yet our laws designed to protect the unparalleled beauty and richness of the B.C. environment have been weakened, both federally and provincially, over the past decade.
(To read complete source articles, click "The Tyee")
Loggers say poor quality of material and distance to mills reduce market for timber
By Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun
BC Hydro is burning most of the timber it is cutting along the 340-kilometre-long route of its Northwest Transmission Line north of Terrace, saying the quality of the wood and sheer remoteness of the project make it uneconomic to salvage.
Hydro has warned residents along the route to expect smokey and hazy skies as contractors burn hundreds of thousands of trees — almost all of the estimated 490,000 cubic metres of wood that is now being cleared along the right-of-way for the $404 million project.
Ironically, one of the environmental arguments Hydro makes for the new line is that electrification will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in northwestern B.C.
(To read the complete source article, click "The Vancouver Sun")
British Columbia's government is hitching its economic hopes for the province to a boom in resource development. Much of that is slated for the northwest. Resource journalist Christopher Pollon traveled to the region to learn how an anticipated boom of power lines, new mines and hydro projects will affect northern communities – for better and worse.
(To read complete source articles, click "The Tyee")