Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo by Jonathan Hayward)

Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo by Jonathan Hayward)

New map details potential environmental threats from B.C. mines

Map editors pressure province to move faster on regulation reforms

A new map detailing B.C. mine sites and the potential risks they pose to the environment is now available to communities concerned about industrial pollution leaking into drinking water and fish habitat.

SkeenaWild Conservation Network and the BC Mining Law Reform Network released the map of 173 metal and coal sites in response to what they call growing concerns over antiquated B.C. mining regulations.

SkeenaWild executive director Greg Knox said he and his team spent four months compiling the data from limited ministry documents, mining company websites and interviews, and environmental assessment reports.

“The information on the map was challenging to uncover,” Knox said. “How can we begin to investigate these potentially mine-damaged waters and monitor the extent of the pollution, when the information is not even available to the public?”

The map features 173 large coal or metal mines either closed, abandoned, or active, but excludes 130 sites currently in the exploration stage.

READ MORE: B.C. outdoor group calls for removal of U.S. dam

Of those studied, only two sites pose no water contamination threat, according to the research, while 116 have already contaminated the surrounding environment or have the potential to do so. Knox said 55 of the sites had no publicly-available information about contamination risk.

Leaks from tailings ponds would pose serious threats to salmon habitat throughout the province. Knox singled out the Northwest’s Babine Lake, the largest sockeye salmon producing system in Canada that contributes about 90 per cent of sockeye returns to the Skeena River. SkeenaWild research has found high levels of metal contaminates around two decommissioned mine sites, within the lake and in fish tissue.

The 2014 breach of the Mount Polley mine’s tailings pond underscores the need for more transparency in the mining sector, say the map’s editors. A provincial investigation found poor regulations contributed to the disaster that released 24-million cubic metres of waste water into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely.

In a statement to Black Press Media the B.C. government said it has taken substantial action to improve mining oversight since the Mount Polley investigation recommendations, including the formation of a mining division on health, safety and enforcement in 2019, backed by $20-million.

An amended Mines Act in 2020 also created a chief permitting officer position distinct from the chief inspector of mines, and a chief auditor to evaluate the effectiveness of regulatory framework. A committee was then established to ensure regulations remain current and responsive to industry changes.

A ministry spokesperson said these amendments recently led to the first successful prosecutions in two decades for non-compliance.

The government’s BC Mine Information Website, a site related to prosecutions and penalties, and the MINFILE database offer public access to mining activities, but Knox cautioned these resources are starved of adequate information.

“It cost us over $20,000 to pull this information together and produce the map, I think this reflects the lack of ease and availability of information that should be easily accessible to the public.”

He added many permits allow companies to exceed pollution levels and to discharge water from contaminated sites, so even if a mine is in compliance it is still possible to cause harm.

Nikki Skuce, co-chair of the BC Mining Law Reform Network believes the government is making genuine strides to improve mining regulation, but notes the laws developed in the 1850s were intentionally lax to encourage exploration and settlement during the gold rush era. Despite government assurances today, environmental organizations are still pushing hard to see regulations overhauled to reflect current standards of social responsibility and scientific knowledge.

“B.C. is trying to position itself as a leader for mining materials that go toward the low-carbon energy future … but it needs to do more in order to truly be considered a responsible mining jurisdiction,” she said. “The government has committed to put in some kind of polluter-pays policy into their mandate, but it’s been four years of public engagement. They also committed to implementing the recommendations of the Mount Polley disaster but they have yet to fully do that.”

The closed Tulsequah Chief mine near the B.C.-Alaska border has been leaking high levels of acid drainage into the Taku watershed for more than 60 years. Despite ongoing talks between the province and their American counterparts, the mine was a key feature in a successful campaign by U.S. senators, led by Alaskan Republican senator Lisa Murkowski, to receive $3.6 million from the American government to pressure the B.C. and Canadian governments into reforming mining regulations they say have placed transboundary watersheds at risk.

READ MORE: Alaska demands action on B.C.’s ‘lax’ mining oversight

The province took the mine into receivership in 2016 and has secured all known chemicals on site. This summer road repairs and other infrastructure upgrades will begin ahead of remediation work developed with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. Each of three remediation options will cost the province in the high tens-of-millions of dollars.

But the mine’s owners had provided just $1 million for its reclamation bond, according to Skuce, who points to Tulsequah as an example for higher bond requirements.

“If a company has to pay upfront for how they’re going to eventually close the mine, then they’re going to choose tailings that are less risky for communities and watersheds,” Skuce said.

On this, the province agreed, saying it “strongly believes” large industrial projects should be bonded to pay the full costs of environmental cleanup, and is currently engaging with First Nations, environmental organizations and industry to put something in place.

“While mining companies are responsible for reclamation liabilities on their mine sites whether a bond is held by government or not, we know there is more we can do.”

To view the map visit reformingbcmining.com.



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

ConservationEnvironmentminingSalmon

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

”It was an angry welcome for Cowichan-Ladysmith MLA Jan Pullinger when she arrived in Lake Cowichan Monday to open her constituency office. She was greeted with some of her long time supporters calling her a ‘liar’. Left to right, Jan Pullinger, Director of Area I, Lois Gage, school trustee Rolli Gunderson, school trustee Pat Weaver, Save our School Committee Chairperson, Tara Daly.” (Lake News/April 17,1996)
Flashback: Garbage, geography and tragedy

Remember these stories from Lake Cowichan?

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Parking permits for people with disabilities

These permits are issued to the person, not the vehicle owner or driver.

Dr. Bernhardt’s freshly planted strawberries. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Hoping for a bumper crop of strawberries

Because our new plot gets a lot of sun, maybe strawberries won’t become consumed by wood bugs

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson Column: Newton’s first law of motion

I could have sworn I told them to help each other get unbuckled and to come inside.

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Rules against RV living hard on Island residents caught in housing crunch

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Most Read