Mount Polley spill leads to new rules for tailing ponds (Canadian Press/CBC News B.C. – March 2015)

Companies have to enhance safety and cut the risk of dam failures

The disastrous collapse of the Mount Polley mine tailings pond in B.C.’s Interior last year has spurred changes to provincial environmental requirements for new mines with similar dams.

Developed in collaboration between the ministries of environment and mines, the new rules say mining firms must consider the possibility of a tailings disaster and evaluate the environmental, health, social and economic impacts of an accident.

Environment Minister Mary Polak said Thursday that companies currently under environmental assessment have been anticipating the changes.

“I think there’s an understanding within the industry that after Mount Polley, the world has changed,” Polak said. “We have to be able to assure the public that what’s happening in the province for resource development is safe.”

On Aug. 4, 2014, the massive dam storing tailings from the gold and copper mine gave way, spilling 24 million cubic metres of mine waste and water into nearby lakes and rivers.

Polak said the new requirements apply to all mining companies with applications currently under environmental assessment and are an interim measure while the Ministry of Mines completes a review of mining regulations.

The changes mean companies must include in their tailing management applications the best-available technologies and options for water balance to enhance safety and reduce the risk of a dam failure.

Potential risks

The Environmental Assessment Office will evaluate tailings management options and decide whether each mining company’s plan adequately addresses potential risks.

Polak said the new requirements won’t change the application process, but that most applicants will need to provide significantly more information and analysis.

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