My Turn: Mining disasters must end with Mount Polley – by Bill Bennett (Juneau Empire – February 24, 2015)

Bill Bennett is the Minister of Energy and Mines for the province of British Columbia.

It’s unfortunate your editorial has seized upon the Mount Polley mine tailings storage facility failure to undermine the long tradition of respectful relations and co-operation between British Columbia and Alaska on mining development and environmental protection.

A breach of this magnitude is unprecedented in British Columbia in over 160 years of mining. Major breaches of tailings storage facilities have happened all over the world, including in many U.S. states. Your suggestion, based on the Mount Polley failure, that in B.C. we are somehow less responsible in developing our mining industry than you are in Alaska, or that we’re charging forward without due care for environmental protection is based on a misrepresentation of the facts. Let me set the record straight on a few things.

The independent panel traced the cause of the failure at Mount Polley to the original design of the tailings storage facility, and concluded that government inspectors could not have detected the issue.

The panel also noted that it considered the technical qualifications of British Columbia government inspectors as among the best that it has encountered among agencies with similar duties.

Most importantly, it is most certainly not “business as usual” in British Columbia regarding mine tailings storage facilities. Our government has accepted all of the recommendations of the independent panel that investigated the Mount Polley failure and we have already started acting upon the recommendations.

We have committed to taking a leadership role internationally in adopting best available practices and best available technology, including filtered tailings (dry stack) technology where appropriate. However the panel also noted that there are circumstances where other technologies are more appropriate due to the need to neutralize chemicals in the tailings or challenges with dewatering the tailings.

The statistic of two tailings dams failing every decade in British Columbia that was quoted in the report of the independent panel (and used in your editorial) comes from records of the B.C Ministry of Energy and Mines in which a “breach” is any escape of tailings. It does not mean that a breach the size of Mount Polley happens twice a decade.

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