It was a dramatic image: millions of cubic metres of waste cascading from the Mount Polley mine breach into the Quesnel watershed in B.C.’s Interior. Besides destroying a nine-kilometre creek and endangering salmon and the neighbouring community of Likely, the catastrophe damaged the mining industry’s reputation.
In the months following, fingers pointed, independent panels weighed in and committees were struck. One year later, the Mount Polley mine is operating again, this time with a conditional permit and no long-term plan to deal with excess tailings.
In British Columbia, after metals are extracted from large mines, the finely ground rock that remains is stored under water behind earth-and-rock dams, which can prevent acid mine drainage. (Acid mine drainage occurs when water flows through exposed acidic minerals and becomes contaminated.) But storing massive quantities of water in large open pits near towns and waterways is risky.
First Nations, scientists and the independent review panel investigating the breach point to dry stacking as a safer, proven alternative to century-old wet tailings technology. The review panel encouraged this costlier method, yet all 10 B.C. mine proposals either approved or waiting for approval are planning to use wet tailings.
Seabridge Gold’s $5.4-billion KSM copper-gold proposal, already approved by the B.C. and federal governments, includes a 239-metre-high earth dam, which would be among the world’s highest, to store 27 times more tailings than were stored at Mount Polley.
The company rejected dry stacking, citing costs and concluding it wasn’t feasible in the wet, mountainous region. The Blackwater gold and silver mine southwest of Prince George, which plans to store four times as many tailings as were stored at Mount Polley, also rejected the safer alternative.
For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/david-suzuki/bc-must-heed-mount-polley_b_7973864.html