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

A photo illustration shows a fountain planned for Mill Lake. (City of Abbotsford photo)
UPDATED: City approves $200K fountain for Mill Lake using donated funds

Project will improve lake quality and ecosystem, say Abbotsford city staff

Linnea Labbee outside the Chilliwack Law Courts on April 1, 2021 on day 16 of her trial in BC Supreme Court where she is charged in connection with the fatal hit-and-run of a 78-year-old woman on Mary Street on Dec. 1, 2016. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crown seeking jail time for 72-year-old Chilliwack woman found guilty in fatal hit-and-run

Trial of Linnea Labbee who struck and killed 78-year-old woman in 2016 ended Monday

The Abbotsford IHOP, shown here on April 5, is now completely removed. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Abbotsford IHOP building taken down

Iconic restaurant had been on South Fraser Way for nearly 33 years

Abbotsford's Rick Hansen Secondary School is celebrating Vaisakhi virtually for 2021. (Submitted)
VIDEO: Abbotsford’s Rick Hansen Secondary School celebrates ‘Virtual Vaisakhi’

Production highlights local youth talent in anticipation of the start of annual festival on April 13

The Abbotsford Gogos are inviting local residents to watch a virtual concert in support of African grandmothers. The concert first airs on April 15. (Photo: Abbotsford Gogos Facebook page)
Abbotsford Gogos invite guests to virtual concert to support African grandmothers

Event first airs on April 15, featuring music, dance and storytelling

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Surrey RCMP are seeking the public's help to locate three puppies stolen from a South Surrey home on April 10. (Surrey RCMP photos)
Puppies stolen during weekend break-and-enter in South Surrey

Surrey RCMP seeking public’s assistance in locating three American Bulldog puppies

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

Mounties say they “corralled” four Ford Mustangs April 4 after an officer saw the muscle cars racing down 184 Street near 53 Avenue at about 10 p.m. (File Photo)
Mounties impound four Mustangs

Surrey RCMP say they seized four cars for street racing

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

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

Most Read