Canadians and Americans Demand No More Mount Polleys
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 The report’s principal recommendation calls for an end to outdated “hundred year old” wet tailings storage and conversion to “dry stack” tailings systems.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.
For more information: www.riverswithoutborders.org, www.wildborderwatersheds.org and www.cleanmining.ca
Monty Bassett, Documentary Filmmaker, 250-877-0961 or 250-847-5605
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders, 907-586-2166 or 907-988-8173, Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org
Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, Professor of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, email@example.com