7 Years Later... are we any safer?
Seven years after the worst mining disaster in Canadian history, community members and taxpayers are still not protected from devastating harm.
British Columbia currently has 98 tailings dams at 60 mine sites, which the Mount Polley expert panel recommended be reduced by half to get on a path toward zero failures.
Many mines in B.C. use the same type of waste storage facility that Mount Polley used, and more are being approved. Some key recommendations by the expert panel into the Mount Polley disaster have been ignored or not implemented in a way to significantly reduce the risk of tailings dam breaches in both existing and planned structures.
In particular, B.C. does not put safety first when it comes to mine tailings design, construction, operation and closure. More reforms are needed to ensure best practices and the safety of dozens of First Nations and non-First Nation communities living downstream of existing or planned tailings dams.
In northern B.C., at least 12 new mines have been proposed or are already under construction. One of them, the KSM Mine, could be the largest open pit gold and copper mine in North America. Its proposed tailings dam – 28 times the volume of Mount Polley’s – could be behind a 239-metre high dam – taller than Vancouver’s tallest building, the Shangri’la - towering over the salmon-rich Bell Irving/Nass watershed.
The owners of Copper Mountain mine in southern B.C. want to expand operations and raise the current tailings dam from 150 metres to 260 metres – 220 metres higher than the Mount Polley dam and higher than Vancouver’s tallest skyscraper.
British Columbia also has a legacy of nearly 200 contaminated or potentially contaminating mine sites throughout the province and no plan to properly clean them up. Nor has government made good on its promise to require that the polluter (mining company) actually post financial bonds to ensure reclamation costs are available when mines shut down or companies go bankrupt.
And yet British Columbia is relying on new mining development and mineral exploration as part of its post-COVID recovery. There is a growing global demand for metals and minerals as part of the low-carbon transition. If B.C. is to be a source for this transition, than it needs to ensure that communities and watersheds are not at risk.
August 4th is a traumatic anniversary. We hope that B.C. reforms its mining laws to put safety first and make sure our communities and watersheds are protected from disasters like Mount Polley.
Learn more and take action to reform B.C. mining laws and protect our waters at: https://reformbcmining.ca