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Oversights and overstatements: where B.C.’s mine waste audit fell short

Source: 
The Narwhal

Despite the province’s world-class claims, the safety of mine tailings storage is not up to international standards

Written by Judith Lavoie for the Narwhal 

Mount Polley Mine's tailings pondMount Polley mine’s tailings pond and pile. Production was ramped up at the mine before a tailings pond breached in 2014, causing one of B.C.’s worst environmental disasters. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

The Red Chris mine tailings pond in northwest B.C., in 2017. A new report is critical of the province's regulations around tailings storage, as well as a government audit that concluded those laws meet international safety standards.

There is a golden rule when it comes to tailings ponds: if you can’t build it safely, don’t do it, says Steven Emerman, the author of a new report on B.C.’s mine waste regulations. It’s a rule that Emerman says B.C. is continuing to break. 

The report, Bridging the Gap: Towards Best International Standards on Mine Waste Safety in B.C., looks at the province’s first internal audit of regulations for tailings storage facilities, released in April 2021. It concludes that, despite the province’s world-class claims, its legislation is not yet up to par with international standards on mine waste storage safety. 

“The audit’s overall conclusion that current B.C. requirements are ‘in alignment with industry best practice’ is not accurate,” according to the report.

This, despite the province’s experience with the Mount Polley disaster in 2014, when a tailings dam collapse sent 24-billion litres of mine waste flooding into the Quesnel Lake watershed. 

“It was a recommendation of the Mount Polley report — safety had to be the guiding principle …  project safety cannot be balanced against other project benefits,” Emerman, a consultant who specializes in evaluating the environmental impacts of mining, tells The Narwhal. Adding to the concern is catastrophic weather events in the province, he says.

Ugo Lapointe, B.C. Mining Law Reform Network co-chair and co-lead with MiningWatch Canada, says the report, published by the two organizations, underlines deficiencies in B.C.’s laws.

“The reality is that we still have out-of-date laws that will not adequately protect communities or the environment from mine waste disasters like we saw with the Mount Polley dam breach,” he says.

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See the full article on the Narwhal.