ESAA Weekly News – Week ending June 25th, 2021

Protecting Alberta’s water quality

Alberta’s government is taking action to ensure Albertans continue to have access to abundant supplies of clean water while protecting the province’s aquatic species.

The government wants to hear from the public and Indigenous Peoples regarding new surface water quality management frameworks for the North Saskatchewan, Battle and Upper Athabasca rivers. The engagements will look to address pressures on water resources due to population growth and other development. The government is also launching a selenium management review to ensure water quality remains protected now and in the future.

“Alberta has a long history of responsibly managing our water resources to ensure healthy, clean and safe water for our communities, the environment and the economy. We have heard from Albertans regarding their concerns about selenium, particularly the need for the province’s industries to do their part to manage the mineral. Together, the surface water quality management frameworks and selenium management review will help ensure appropriate water quality objectives, monitoring and management responses are in place to maintain the health of our rivers.”

Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks

To help inform the development of surface water quality management frameworks, the government is releasing a recent report into water quality upstream and downstream of active and inactive mining operations in the McLeod River watershed between 2005 and 2016. While the McLeod report shows selenium levels immediately downstream of reclamation activities are decreasing, the findings also demonstrate why Alberta must maintain and improve monitoring and regulatory processes to protect its water.

“Alberta’s aquatic ecosystems, including rivers, lakes and wetlands, are foundational to the well-being of people and wildlife in this province. Implementation of robust, science-based surface water quality management frameworks can help ensure the many ecosystem services they provide are realized over the long term. Ducks Unlimited Canada is pleased to learn of the new frameworks and looks forward to next steps in this important conversation with Albertans and Indigenous Peoples.”

Thorsten Hebben, manager, Provincial Operations, Alberta Ducks Unlimited Canada

“All Albertans value water and with this recognition, the province is taking steps to manage water quality through a multi-stakeholder framework approach. As most of Alberta’s industrial activity takes place in rural areas, the RMA supports this as a positive step intended to support continual improvements to protect Alberta’s environmental landscape moving forward. It is by active management and not just monitoring that this valuable resource can be protected.”

Paul McLauchlin, president, Rural Municipalities of Alberta

“An efficient, predictable and streamlined regulatory process is a key element in attracting value-add investments to Alberta. A water quality management framework for the North Saskatchewan watershed reinforces Alberta’s Industrial Heartland region as an attractive jurisdiction to do business.”

Mark Plamondon, executive director, Alberta Industrial Heartland Association

Water quality management frameworks establish clear regional objectives for water quality. They include thresholds that require a management response when exceeded to ensure our rivers can support water needs for communities, aquatic habitat and a vibrant economy. Similar frameworks are already in place to monitor and manage long-term, cumulative changes in water quality in the lower Athabasca, Bow, South Saskatchewan, Oldman and Milk rivers.

The selenium management review will examine current requirements within the regulatory lifecycle of coal projects, with the aim to identify any findings that could pose a threat to water quality. The management review will be led by Environment and Parks, with support from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). The review will also examine relevant policy tools used in comparable jurisdictions and how they might be applied in Alberta.

The government is also anticipating the release of the Alberta Water Council’s Water For Life Implementation Plan Review report in the coming days. The report will detail the progress Alberta has made in implementing the Water For Life strategy’s goals to ensure a safe and secure drinking water supply, healthy aquatic ecosystems and reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy.

Quick facts

  • Engagement on the North Saskatchewan Region and upper Athabasca Region water quality management frameworks will run until Sept. 17.
  • The surface water quality management framework for the North Saskatchewan River builds on the Water Management Framework for the Industrial Heartland and Capital Region, which has been in effect since 2008.
  • The selenium management review will cover the full regulatory lifecycle of a project from application, construction and operation to decommissioning and reclamation.
  • The scope of the selenium management review will include:
    • Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act
      (EPEA) approval conditions relating to selenium.
    • Selenium management plans developed by mining operations.
    • Best management practices in Alberta and comparable jurisdictions.
    • Compliance or enforcement procedures for the
      construction, operation and reclamation of mines.
  • The coal mining sites mentioned in the McLeod report are no longer active. All three mines in the McLeod River watershed are now in either the decommissioning or reclamation phase.
  • Environment and Parks is now monitoring water quality at 115 provincial sites across Alberta. This network includes the recent addition of a Tributary Monitoring Network in the North Saskatchewan River watershed, operated in partnership with EPCOR, the City of Edmonton and the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance.

 

AER: New Functionality Moving to OneStop

On July 8, 2021 we will release new functionality to the OneStop platform:

Well Licence Resumptions

Well licensees will have the ability to submit an application in OneStop to resume activity on an existing well.

Wells System-Generated Cancellations

Wells system-generated cancellations for expiries will now be auto-completed in OneStop. The cancellation notice will go to the most recently updated master security administrator in the Digital Data Submission System (DDS) for the company.

Public Lands

Applicants will now have the ability to link Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) approvals to Public Lands in-situ applications based on specific disposition types, purposes, and activity codes. OneStop will exclude any identified Master Schedule of Standards and Conditions (MSSC) approval clauses from Public Lands approvals that are identified as redundant with existing EPEA approvals. For more details on which MSSC clauses are identified as redundant, please refer to the updated OneStop Public Lands Standards and Conditions Change Key on the OneStop landing page.

The EPEA update to MSSC will be applied to all Public Lands applications that have not been submitted before the update. Draft applications created before July 7, 2021, that contain a variance (rational and mitigation) to standards will be affected and will require updated variance information. Applicants are encouraged to maintain a separate copy of variance information for replacement in the draft application for submission.

Well Logs

Well licensees will be required to submit Log ASCII Standard (LAS) and raster well logs through OneStop. CD/DVD submissions will no longer be accepted. Well log summary reports will no longer be required.

Directive 080: Well Logging and an associated FAQ document will be updated to reflect these changes to submission requirements and will come into effect on July 8, 2021. These documents will not refer to OneStop directly. Instead the more generic term “designated information submission system” will be used. The Directive 80 landing page, under the new heading “Designated Information Submission System,” will indicate which systems must be used for which submission requirements.

Record of Site Condition (RoSC)

Licensees will be required to submit all RoSCs and associated professional reports through OneStop unless the submission is required under an EPEA approval for mining operations. More information can be found on our website, www.aer.ca, under “Contamination Management Tools and Resources”.

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Details on other enhancements and fixes will be made available at the time of release in the “What’s New” document, found on the OneStop landing page under “Enhancements and Fixes”.

We will schedule a system outage to implement these new changes. The outage notice will be posted on our Systems and Tools portal on our website, www.aer.ca and the OneStop landing page.

Training and support materials

We will hold training sessions on RoSC before and after the release, and training sessions on well log submissions after the release. More information can be found on the Events page.

New quick reference guides (QRGs) will be posted on the OneStop landing page to support resumptions, well logs, and RoSC functionality. Updates to some Public Lands QRGs will also be posted to reflect changes to the application process.

If you have questions about OneStop or this bulletin, contact the AER’s Customer Contact Centre by phone at 403-297-8311 (1-855-297-8311 toll free) or by email at [email protected].

ECO Canada’s Science & Technology Internship funding program is now open for applications! 

ECO Canada’s Science & Technology Internship funding program is now open for applications!  With this program, eligible employers can receive up to 80% of the salary for a young professional aged 30 and under when hiring for full-time roles with a focus on natural resources. This includes: the Energy Sector; Forest Sector; Mining, Minerals & Metals Sector; Earth Sciences & Support or for roles that have a positive environmental impact.

Funding is limited, visit ECO Canada’s new website to apply: Click Here

 

U of A researchers innovate less intrusive lithium extraction technology

Their technology extracts lithium from brines, waste water already produced by the oil and gas industry.

(Source: The Gateway) Two University of Alberta researchers are developing a way to access a new energy source, and they say demand is set to double or even triple in the next 10 to 15 years. 

The energy source in question is lithium, a metal that powers the batteries in objects like cellphones and electric vehicles. Daniel Alessi, an associate professor with the department of earth and atmospheric sciences, and Salman Safari, a chemical engineer and former post-doctoral fellow, have been researching their method of extracting lithium from the waste waters of the oil and gas industry for the past four years.

The duo’s work has culminated in their own startup, Recion Technologies, which stands for “recovery of ions.”

According to Alessi, a lot of the lithium currently used to make batteries for cars and cellphones come from “environmentally intrusive” sources.   

“The nice thing about our technology is [that it uses brines, waste water with concentrated salts] that are already produced by the oil and gas industry. So there’s really little extra infrastructure besides the extraction process itself, or cost in terms of disposal.” 

Alessi said this method of extracting lithium contrasts other conventional processes such as open-pit mines that mar the earth’s surface as well as create pollution in the form of tailings, which are waste rocks and minerals. In contrast, Safari said their technology benefits from a “very simple” precipitation process that stands out from the work of other companies in the area.

“It consumes less reagents […] and it produces more or less pure lithium concentrate that doesn’t require much removal of contaminants afterwards,” Safari said. “Other technology still has a lot of contaminants in it, so it would require some polishing and that would increase the total cost of production.” 

In addition to requiring less removal of contaminants, while most conventional processes require quite a bit of fresh water to be evaporated, Alessi and Safari believe their process won’t require quite as mch. 

“We haven’t done any analysis to see what would be the consumption of water at scale, but the preliminary data that we have [indicates that] our power consumption and fresh water consumption is much less than what they’re using in places such as South America,” said Safari. “We also expect the process to be less energy intensive and generate less carbon dioxide (CO2) compared to other conventional processes.”

While the researchers are currently looking to extract lithium in North America, this process would work for brines with higher levels of lithium as well, such as those found in the salars, salt-basins, of South America.

“Those are the things we’re actively working on as well,” said Alessi, “It’s not that this technology is only applicable in Western Canada.”

The pair said the development of this technology — a combination of nanotechnology and chemistry — started when they conducted a survey of previously existing technologies and honed into what worked. 

“It’s just like any similar scientific endeavor,” Safari said. “You experiment a lot of times, and in our case we tried thousands of times. We tried different materials, we tried different conditions, until we fine-tuned the process.” 

Alessi and Safari said they’re now ready to test their product in the field. According to the researchers, a single lithium extraction plant can produce 1,000 tonnes of lithium, sometimes more. Recion expects to achieve similar results for their process, relative to the size of the plant. 

“The idea is that we could then replicate that module many times if we wanted to,” said Alessi. “You can adapt the size [of the operation] to the site that it’s [working] on.” 

Currently, the researchers are limited in how much lithium they can extract in the lab. They said they are seeking an industry partner in Alberta and beyond to use their technology in processing plants. 

“In the lab, we’re really limited to [processing] a dozen litres [of brine] per day,” said Alessi. “That’s a gap that we need to step through right now so we’re scaling up our entire process and working out the speed bumps that come when you scale things up. [We’re looking for] someone with access to brine that can support us in doing that.”

From there, Alessi hopes they can start a demonstration plant and then full operations. 

“We’re also thinking about developing other technology that we can [use to] extract ions other than lithium,” Safari added.

Looking even further ahead, the two researchers are poised to take advantage of an opportunity that they said can help change Alberta’s oil and gas industry for the better. 

“There’s clearly a major pivot now,” said Alessi. “When I was a kid, I heard ‘We’re going to get away from oil and gas.’ It seems like now, the pivot is really happening, and one great evidence of that is the move towards electric vehicles and transportation in a really serious way around the world.” 

UNESCO says industry, poor governance ‘likely’ endanger Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park

May meet criteria to be listed with World Heritage sites in danger, agency says

(Source: CBC News) Canada’s largest national park is now so threatened by upstream development and divided governance that it likely meets the criteria to be placed on the list of World Heritage sites in danger.

UNESCO released the draft finding on Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park this week. The agency has been concerned about the park— the world’s second-largest freshwater delta — since 2017, when it found 15 of 17 of the parks’ ecological benchmarks were deteriorating.

Despite welcoming federal moves that include $60 million for water management and monitoring, the latest report says the park’s main challenges remain unaddressed.

“The World Heritage Centre … considers it likely that the property now meets the criteria for inscription on the list of world heritage in danger,” the finding says.

UNESCO applauded Canada’s efforts to improve water levels in the park, which have been in long-term decline through climate change and developments such as British Columbia’s Site C dam, upstream of the park.

But it said no governments have taken long-term measures to ensure enough water reaches the delta, despite concerns expressed in a previous report.

“It is of serious concern that mechanisms to determine and agree on environmental flow regulation … are still not in place five years after the mission.”

The report notes the oilsands tailings ponds upstream from the park continue to grow.

It points out other studies have concluded those ponds are already leaching into the Athabasca River through groundwater and that governments are now studying how water could be released into it.

Meanwhile, Alberta has made no progress on a promised risk assessment of the ponds, says the report.

“It is of high concern that the risk assessment of the tailings ponds … has not started.”

UNESCO says the park’s real problem is that the threats it faces come from outside its borders and that B.C., Alberta and Ottawa haven’t worked together on an overall plan for the watershed.

“Overarching governance challenges remain,” it says.

A spokesperson for the Mikisew Cree, who live near the park and depend on it to practise their treaty rights, welcomed UNESCO’s conclusion that Wood Buffalo’s problems can’t be solved by a three-year Parks Canada action plan.

“To get to the root of the problem is to solve the governance issue,” said Melody Lepine. “Work as a nation to come to some sort of agreement.

“They can throw some money at Parks Canada, but the big issue is water governance.”

Lepine said the Mikisew don’t want any treated tailings pond water in the Athabasca.

“It’s almost like you give your head a shake — What? Are they actually considering that?

“We do not support any releases into the river.”

‘Progress has been made,’ Parks Canada says

In a statement, Parks Canada said more than $87 million has been earmarked for the park and that enhanced research, monitoring and management has already begun.

“Since the action plan was finalized in 2019, notable progress has been made, with more than half of the identified actions completed or underway.”

Neither the Alberta nor B.C. governments were immediately available to comment on the report.

UNESCO has asked Canada to invite an investigation team to visit and assess the park.

The team would confirm whether Wood Buffalo should join the 51 other sites on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites and recommend measures to address the threats it faces.

Created in 1922, Wood Buffalo contains nearly 45,000 square kilometres of boreal forest, wetlands, lakes, rivers and plains.

Millions of migratory birds make it their breeding ground. It is home to one of the largest remaining and most genetically diverse herds of wood bison, and boasts the world’s last remaining natural breeding colony of whooping cranes.

Audit of B.C.’s tailings pond regulations casts shadow on government’s ‘world class’ mining claims

(Source: The Narwhal) B.C. positions itself as a world leader in responsible mining, but an internal review of the province’s tailings management regime, designed to avoid another Mount Polley-style disaster, sheds a disconcerting light on the work yet to be done.

British Columbia’s efforts to ensure the safety of tailings storage facilities (TSFs) at the province’s dams have not lived up to government’s ‘world class’ ambitions, according to an internal audit conducted within the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation and made public Friday.

The audit, designed to assess whether or not the province is doing enough to prevent a repeat of the 2014 Mount Polley tailings dam collapse, which sent 24 million cubic metres of mine waste into Quesnel Lake and surrounding waterways, found a lack of data, incomplete record and ambiguous regulations are undermining best practices when it comes to ensuring tailings facilities are effectively monitored and kept safe.

Tailings refer to waste rock and processing chemicals produced at mines that are often mixed with water and stored in enormous ponds or pits, created with manufactured dams. Tailings dams can be impressive and imposing structures. The Copper Mountain mine near Princeton, B.C., is currently seeking permission from the province to increase the height of its tailings dam to 255 metres, potentially taller than Vancouver’s tallest skyscrapers and over six times the height of the Mount Polley dam.

B.C. lists 70 tailings storage facilities at metal and coal mines across the province that are operating, closed or undergoing care and maintenance. 

The audit found the ministry of mines is “inconsistent in its approach” to enforcing specific provisions of B.C.’s Health, Safety and Reclamation Code, which was updated in 2016 to incorporate recommendations from the expert panel which investigated the Mount Polley dam collapse.

The audit, conducted by Chief Auditor Andrew Rollo and a team within the ministry’s Mine Audits and Effectiveness Unit, found that overall the 2016 changes to the code have had a “positive impact” on the management of tailings facilities in B.C. But the report found that gaps in the regulation and “vague definitions” can “introduce confusion and present challenges for compliance verification and enforcement.”

The audit report adds that the ministry is inconsistent in enforcing some code provisions and in its approach to dealing with tailings facilities at mines which are not operating.

Although the ministry sets out expectations for mining companies, it has not “clearly documented how and under what authority these expectations may be enforced,” the audit says.

The audit puts forward seven recommendations to resolve inconsistencies and put a plan in place to ensure B.C.’s regulatory framework upholds best practices. Energy and Mines Minister Bruce Ralston said the ministry is “committed to implementing all seven recommendations put forward by the chief auditor and will continue our work to build a world-leading regulatory framework for TSFs here in B.C.”

The timing of this report is significant, Alan Young, director of the Materials Efficiency Research Group, told The Narwhal, because “B.C. has expressed strong ambitions to provide responsibly sourced metals to fuel electric vehicle batteries, to fuel the windmills of the future.”

As part of the province’s post-pandemic recovery, Ralston said he wants B.C. to be seen as an environmentally responsible jurisdiction for mining investment. At a Mining Day at the B.C. legislature in March, Ralston announced that the province’s improvements to mine permitting have made B.C. a leader “in the growing global environmental, social and governance investment movement.” 

But the findings of the audit cast Ralston’s claims into question, potentially undermining B.C. ‘s positioning with investors and mineral buyers who want to source ethical and environmentally sound materials. 

Young, who is also a B.C. Mining Jobs Task Force member, said B.C., because of its clean energy supply, stable government and respectful dealings with Indigenous communities, is well-positioned to supply the world with “responsibly sourced metals.”

The world needs resource metals right now,” Young said.

“At the same time we’ve heard from the auditor that there are significant areas of concern where B.C. needs to clean up its act. So we have a big challenge — if we want to meet our ambitions we have to act on the auditor’s recommendations because until we do we will fail.”

Increasing global concern about the danger of mine tailings

Following the Mount Polley tailings collapse, the danger of tailings dams came into even sharper focus in 2019 when a massive dam failure in Brumadinho, Brazil killed 270 people. The catastrophe resulted in 16 criminal charges for murder and the mine’s owner, Vale, paying $7 billion USD in compensation.

Globally, there have been two to four tailings pond ruptures a year. Studies completed in the wake of the Brumadinho failure found that, under current rules, more dam collapses could be expected. The Mount Polley expert panel concluded that, if mining companies continue with business as usual, B.C. could face an average of two dam collapses every 10 years. 

The Brazilian disaster was a catalyst for the 2020 creation of the Global Tailings Standard, which, according to an international group of 142 scientists, communities and environment organizations, are needed to put an end to the deaths and environmental destruction caused by tailings dam failures. 

The Brazil disaster also sparked warnings from international organizations that investors will avoid countries that do not have tight safety and ethical standards with assurances that mine waste is safely stored.

Francis Sullivan of ResponsibleSteel, which has developed international certification standards for responsible steelmaking, said the organization looks for mine certification programs that are able to identify high-risk mines likely to create social and environmental problems — such as those with poor mine tailings management.

“As buyers and investors become more knowledgeable about the specific issues relating to mining, there will be increased pressure on mining companies to demonstrate that they have identified and are managing these risks,” Sullivan told The Narwhal.

The push for new standards is significant for Canada, home to about 60 per cent of global mining companies, and in particular for B.C. where many companies are headquartered.

Mining is a foundational part of the province’s economy, employing more than 30,000 people, with a production value of $9 billion a year and “will play a large part in the province’s economic recovery following COVID-19 and in the global transition to a low-carbon economy,” according to a statement from the ministry provided to The Narwhal.

In 2020, B.C. amended the Mines Act to create a chief permitting officer position, separate from the chief inspector of mines, and created an investigative unit. But critics say more changes are needed and, unless the regulations are improved, investment is likely to be affected.

Bev Sellars, the former chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation, told The Narwhal that right now, “nothing works well” when it comes to B.C.’s mining regulatory regime.

Sellars — in whose territory the Mount Polley mine is located — said the current rules don’t protect people and the environment.

“If B.C. thinks their regulations are world class then we better be prepared to say goodbye to more animals, birds and the finned who depend on the environment. Also, we better be prepared to have more humans get sick,” she said.

Stronger penalties needed to incentivize tailings safety in B.C.: mining watchdog

Ugo Lapointe, Canadian program coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, does not believe B.C. can claim to have globally competitive mining regulations, especially when it comes to overseeing tailings storage facilities.

The overriding concern is that, despite a recommendation from the panel that public safety must be emphasized, the province’s regulations do not specify that safety must come above economic considerations, Lapointe said.

“When they address the safety design considerations, they list economic factors as being one consideration to mix into the decision. This should be removed,” he said.

A MiningWatch report, Safety First: Guidelines for responsible Mine Tailings Management, recommends the ultimate goal of tailings management must be zero tolerance for human fatalities and harm to the environment.

That means that, if a company cannot afford to build a safe dam using best available technology or pay for more expensive dry stack tailings, cannot put up an adequate bond, is unwilling to prepare for worst-case scenario extreme events and cannot ensure full cleanup costs are readily available, the project should not be approved, Lapointe said.

“If it’s more costly than you are able to pay for, then don’t build it. As a company, you need to redesign your project or you need to wait for the metal prices to be higher. This is what we mean by safety first,” said Lapointe, who is also pushing for boards of directors to be held accountable for failures.

“If one of your facilities fails, there should be a direct consequence and, if you are a board member, you should be banned from any other board member position in Canada. … The fines are pitiful and there’s no real sanctions to the corporation or the board of directors,” Lapointe said, pointing to the recent $60 million penalty under the federal Fisheries Act levied against a subsidiary of Teck Resources for discharging selenium and calcite into Elk Valley waterways in 2012.

The fine is the largest issued against a company in Canada, but pales beside the company’s revenue of $4.5 billion from coal in 2012.

Much larger fines, in the range of billions of dollars, are often issued in the U.S. and companies do change their behaviour if the deterrents are high enough, Lapointe said.

In the wake of the Mount Polley disaster, B.C. laid no charges against the company. Sellars launched a private prosecution against Mount Polley, arguing the company violated 15 environmental and mining laws that resulted in the tailings pond collapse, but that case was eventually quashed in the courts.

Sellars said she believes it is just a matter of time until another tailings pond disaster happens in B.C.

“The environment has to be put ahead of industry making money. The government allows short cuts so the companies can rake in more money. That has to stop,” she said.

Sellars said she’d also like to see an independent organization set up to monitor mining. “Governments push mining by providing incentives and then supposedly are also the ‘watchdogs’ of the industry,” she said. “That does not work.”

Even after Mount Polley, B.C. still allows risky wet tailings

The audit points to a lack of cooperation between B.C. ministries responsible for safeguarding the environment and also noted the presence of confusing rules that are difficult for the province’s mine monitors to enforce.

These issues were among the many problems documented in 2016 when then-auditor-general Carol Bellringer issued a scathing report on compliance and enforcement in B.C.’s mining sector.

Concerns about the ministry’s geotechnical team also surfaced both in Bellringer’s report and the new audit, which concludes there are continuing problems with targets and priorities. The audit recommends that the ministry should have written policies for the lifecycle of a mine, including document reviews and inspections.

“There is a lack of documented priorities, policies or procedures for most of the work that the geotechnical engineering team routinely performs with respect to TSFs (including inspections, managing annual reporting and review of permit applications) and a lack of formal strategy for addressing compliance issues at non-operating TSFs,” the audit says.

The Mount Polley review panel found that the disaster was caused by a design flaw that did not recognize a weak layer of glacial soil beneath the dam foundation and, although ministry staff were not responsible for the design of the Mount Polley dam, Bellringer pointed out in her report that ministry staff failed to perform geotechnical inspections at the mine for several years, even though the policy is for a minimum of at least one inspection a year.

That has changed, according to the ministry and a spokesperson said geotechnical inspections are now conducted annually province-wide.

“Sites are prioritized each year based on whether they have active TSFs or other higher-risk infrastructure, site operational status and compliance history,” said an emailed statement from the ministry in answer to questions from The Narwhal.

The audit noted that 72 per cent of mine sites inspected are found to be in compliance with B.C.’s four code requirements, which include completing a 2018 Dam Safety Inspection report, having an Engineer of Record, having a tailings storage facility qualified person and having an independent tailings review board. For the 28 per cent of mines that did not meet those code requirements, seven mines were identified as representing high or very high consequence rating when it comes to tailings safety. Another four were listed as presenting significant consequence.

The audit elicited a response from the mine’s ministry, that outlines steps already being taken to improve the safety of tailings facilities, including better collaboration with B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. An action plan from the ministry outlines efforts to analyse B.C.’s safety code for clarity and establishing a team of safety inspectors, including those with geotechnical expertise.

Tailings safety expert Dave Chambers, a geophysicist at the Montana-based Center for Science in Public Participation, agrees that there should be more emphasis on safety and he is disappointed the ministry’s audit did not use broader criteria to look at tailings regulations.

“I would like to see something in the regulatory guidance that says ‘we really want to make safety paramount.’ The B.C. regulation doesn’t say that. You can assume that’s the guiding principle, but it’s not clearly stated,” he said.

“If you don’t clearly state it, it becomes only one of the considerations. If you put safety on an equal level with cost, cost is going to win every time and that’s the way it works right now.”

Chambers is encouraged that B.C. is looking at the regulations, but said many questions are left unaddressed.

For example, some jurisdictions, such as Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru, are banning upstream tailings dams — structures where new levels of the dam are built on top of previously deposited tailings — but B.C. regulations are silent on the issue even though upstream dams are known to be the most risky design, especially in wet climates or areas prone to earthquakes.

“I think, if you are going to do an evaluation, you at least need to ask the question of whether we need to consider this,” Chambers said.

One of the biggest controversies is wet versus dry mine closures.

The expert panel recommended that filtered tailings, or dry stack, be used instead of storing mine waste underwater behind dams, but most mines, including those still in the provincial approval process, continue to use tailings ponds.

However, wet closures are usually cheaper, so are favoured by mining companies and B.C. is avoiding the question by saying each application is site specific, Chambers said.

“To me that’s just a copout. The way I would like to see jurisdictions approach this is to start with an assumption of a dry closure. Then, if you can demonstrate through a risk-assessment process that a wet closure poses less long-term risk to the public — not to the mining company — it could be justified. Otherwise it should be a dry closure because it minimizes the potential for a catastrophic failure,” Chambers said.

A ministry background statement says every mine is different, so each facility demands a unique solution.

“Dry-stacking is one example of best available technologies, but it is not the only method for tailings management,” it says, emphasizing that proponents must demonstrate they are using the best available technology for the site.

Dry storage has been approved for the Silvertip Mine in northern B.C., but almost all other mines continue to use wet tailings storage.

B.C. mine tailings, weak rules causing tensions with U.S. neighbours

In the months leading up to the audit’s release, claims that B.C. has world-class regulations have come under increasing fire from the province’s closest neighbours in the U.S.

Tailings dams in the northwest of the province, near the border with Southeast Alaska and close to vital salmon-bearing rivers such as the Taku, Unuk and Stikine, are an ongoing worry for Alaskans and 25 Washington state legislators have written to Premier John Horgan calling for policy reforms to protect transboundary watersheds and downstream communities.

An additional concern for Southeast Alaska residents is the absence of commitments of financial help in the case of a disaster and Chambers questions why B.C. has not ensured that there would be adequate compensation for those affected if there is another failure, similar to Mount Polley.

“There’s really no mechanism to assure financial compensation for those that would be impacted downstream,” he said.

The effects of B.C.’s mines on transboundary rivers is now under scrutiny by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has agreed to consider a petition submitted by the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, a coalition of 15 tribes, claiming that B.C. mines close to the border are violating their rights because of threats to fish, wildlife and plants from acid mine drainage and fears that there could be another tailings dam collapse.

The application from the Copper Mountain mine to increase the height of its tailings dam in southern B.C. in the wake of the Mount Polley disaster has also elicited letters of concern from U.S. politicians downstream. 

In May, Washington State senator Jesse Salomon wrote a letter to Horgan and Ralston, noting B.C. policy “falls short of holding mining interests accountable for their impacts, exemplified by the costs of the Mount Polley disaster falling on taxpayers.”

“Mining companies have clearly demonstrated their willingness to gamble while playing with house money,” the senator wrote. “My hope is that your forthcoming policy would correct that, such that the burden of liability and therefore incentive to avoid disaster rests with the mining company.”

“This concern is not pedantic or hypothetical,” the letter goes on. “Tailings storage at the Copper Mountain mine poses substantial risk to Washington residents and resources.”

Calvin Sandborn, legal director at the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, challenges claims that B.C.’s mining standards are among the best in the world and points to a March letter to B.C. from 25 U.S. representatives and senators who are worried about the downstream effects of coal and metal mines close to the border.

“Any statement about British Columbia’s standards being some of the best in the world does have to be questioned. Talk to the Americans that are downstream of the coal mines in the Elk Valley. … Our standards are way weaker than American standards,” Sandborn said.

Canada and B.C. have been dragging their feet over matching U.S. selenium-pollution standards, instead, allowing concentrations of the pollutant at two-and-a-half times what is permitted in the U.S., Sandborn pointed out.

“How does that make us world class?” he asked.

“There are a lot of Americans that are really P.O.ed with the Canadian and B.C. governments because they’re finding high levels of selenium in their fish because our levels are so inadequate.”

Selenium, which washes out of piles of waste rock from the mines, can cause fish deformities and affect reproduction.

In February the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved selenium levels below 0.8 parts per billion for Lake Koocanusa, the lake which straddles the border downstream from the Elk Valley’s coal mines, while B.C. standards are not to exceed two parts per billion.

“They were negotiating for years trying to set a common standard for that lake and finally the Amercians just got frustrated after years of negotiation and just went ahead,” Sandborn said.

The province is working to determine selenium water quality objectives for Lake Koocanusa “that would be protective of all designated uses, in accordance with B.C. science-based policies and procedures,” according to the ministry.

Meanwhile, local governments in Skagit County, Washington and more than 200 conservation, recreation and wildlife groups, together with Tribes and First Nations, are upping the fight against an application by Imperial Metals — owners of Mount Polley — for a mining permit in the headwaters of the Skagit River, an area known as the Donut Hole.

“This is an unacceptable risk to the lives and livelihoods of an entire region,” said Laurie Gere, Mayor of Anacortes.

Sandborn believes the mining industry continues to have a disproportionate say in regulating the industry, which reinforces the ongoing problem with enforcement.

“They need to put some resources into it,” said Sandborn, who wants to see the B.C. government bring in help from the Indigenous Guardians.

“Mining has not been a priority for this government and it needs to move to a number one priority. If you kill a watershed, you are killing it for thousands of years,” he said.

Then there is the question of taxpayers picking up the cost of mine cleanups because the province does not demand adequate bonding from companies to cover the cost of reclamation or ensure there are hefty — and enforceable — financial penalties for breaking the rules.

“B.C. is still far, far, short of getting adequate bonding on their mining operations. They are still not requiring full bonding from companies,” Sandborn said.

A report from B.C.’s Chief Inspector of Mines says that, in 2019, there was $1.9 billion of bonding in place — up from $1.6 billion the previous year — for an estimated liability of $2.8 billion.

“We’re working to ensure owners of large industrial projects are bonded, moving forward, so that they — not British Columbians — pay the full costs of environmental cleanup if their projects are abandoned,” according to the ministry background statement.

But, for those living and working downstream of B.C. mines, those assurances are not yet sufficient and there are continuing concerns that B.C.-based mining companies are reaping the profits, while downstream neighbours shoulder the risks.

 

Most provinces didn’t come close to meeting 2020 conservation targets, report says

Quebec and federal government the only jurisdictions to approach target, says report

(Source: CBC News) Quebec and the federal government are the only jurisdictions to come close to meeting Canada’s 10-year-old international promise to conserve 17 per cent of its land mass by 2020, a new report says.

Nationally, Canada met and exceeded its goal to conserve 10 per cent of its oceans, but fell short by more than three percentage points on the goal to conserve 17 per cent of its land mass, according to the report released Tuesday by the  Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The society says Alberta performed the worst, cancelling previously planned protections, delisting parks and attempting to open the Rocky Mountains to coal mining.

“A lot of it has to do with political will,” said society spokeswoman Alison Woodley. 

The group chose to examine how close different Canadian jurisdictions came to meeting its Aichi targets, an international agreement signed by Canada in 2010. The idea, said Woodley, was to learn how to better meet the next set of conservation goals — 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030.

Report looked at international standards

The report used internationally recognized standards of what constitutes protection and federal data on the amount of land covered.

“They [the federal government] can take action on conservation in the ocean,” Woodley told CBC Radio’s The Current, “On land, it’s primarily the provinces and territories that have the responsibility.” 

A decade ago, Canada set conservation targets for land and sea, as a way to protect our natural environment. Alison Woodley, senior strategic advisor at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, discusses a new report grading the country’s progress — and tells us which provinces got an “F.” 9:08

The report credits funding — the 2021 federal budget included $2.3 billion for conservation — as well as a willingness to work with Indigenous groups for Ottawa’s progress.

Quebec nearly met its land conservation goals, conserving 16.7 per cent of its territory.

“The province worked with communities and First Nations to identify and deliver on new protected areas,” said Woodley.

‘Going backwards in many ways’

Alberta, not so much. Although the province has more than 15 per cent of its land mass protected, the report points out Alberta has attempted to delist parks and open its Rocky Mountains to coal mining, and has walked away from plans that would have created some of the biggest protected areas in the country.

“It’s not just about areas of protections,” said report author Anna Pidgorna. “Alberta’s going backwards in many ways.”

Alberta’s Ministry of Environment and Parks did not immediately respond to a request to outline conservation measures taken by the United Conservative government.

Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador share Alberta’s F grade. Ontario has protected less than one per cent of its lands over the last decade, with a similar story in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the percentage of protected land is among the lowest in Canada.

Other Atlantic provinces such as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick respectively scored a B and a B minus. Prince Edward Island and Nunavut were not a part of the study, so they were not awarded a grade. 

“We need them to step up and we need everybody to work together,” said Woodley. “Supporting Indigenous leadership and conservation is a key way that we can find a path to success over the next decade.” 

Most provinces have positives and negatives

The rest of the country is a mix, said Woodley.

Saskatchewan is criticized for protecting less than 10 per cent of its land and weakening protections on native grasslands, but praised for working with Indigenous groups and granting interim protection to one new area.

Manitoba made early progress, the report says, but has lately discussed selling off park land.

British Columbia has almost 20 per cent of its land under protection. But the province is criticized for no recent progress and underfunding the parks it does have.

‘Conservation takes time’

“We really did the report card as a way to look back and kind of learn some lessons from the past decade to set us up to do better over the next decade,” Woodley told The Current

The Northwest Territories received a B-plus for creating large new protected areas and working with Indigenous groups to define and manage them.

Woodley said the study shows that funding makes a big difference to creating protected areas. So does time and patience.

“Conservation takes time,” she said. 

“A major barrier to delivering on the 17-per cent target was a lack of time. If we’re going to meet the 30-per cent target, we need to start now.”

Woodley said conserving land is the best way to address the loss of species and shrinking biodiversity around the world.

“Habitat loss is the primary driver of nature’s decline,” she said. “Protecting habitat has to be a core part of the solution.”


 Upcoming Events


 

RemTech 2021

October 13-15, 2021
Fairmont Banff Springs

Registration Now Open

 
ESAA is pleased to announce that RemTech is back and (assuming restrictions also) will be in-person at the Fairmont Banff Springs, October 13-15th.  We hope you will join us to celebrate being together, along with RemTech‘s 20th Birthday.
 
  • Registration is now open and includes very special pricing for the first 100 delegate passes. (30 remaining)  Once those passes are sold, early bird pricing will take effect until August 20th.
 
 
 Really Early Bird Special
First 100 passes (*)
30 remaining
Early Bird
(ends August 20th)
Regular Price
(after August 20th)
Member Price Fee$750$875$995
Non-Member Price Fee$995$1,225$1,395
Student / Unemployed Feen/an/a$325
Presenter Feen/an/a$495
  • (*)  First 100 registrations are for new registrations only.  Sponsors/Exhibitors and those with credits will be handled separately.  Do not register for this offer.
  • Cancellation deadline is September 15th.  After September 15th, no cancellations will be accepted and no refunds will issued. Passes can be transferred to another individual.
  • Registration fees includes access to the entire conference including keynotes, technical sessions, pre-conference workshops or sessions, 2 receptions, 2 breakfasts, 3 lunches.
  • Registration fees do not include taxes, hotel or travel.
  • GST number – R123692360 
 
 
  • Sponsors / Exhibitors – Previous sponsors and exhibitors will be contacted in the coming weeks to secure your previous sponsorship level and exhibit space. 
  • Call for Abstracts – Deadline to submit an abstract is July 23rd.  Full details at: https://esaa.org/remtech/agenda/call-for-abstracts/
  • Hotel Reservations – Early bird hotel rates of $232 (plus taxes and fees) are available until August 11th.  Rate after August 11th increases to $262 (plus taxes and fees).  Full details at: https://esaa.org/remtech/hotel-travel/

We look forward to welcoming everyone back, safely.

ESAA 

 

 

Alberta Wetland Classification System Field Guide Training Event

 

We’re excited to announce the first iteration of the Alberta Wetland Classification System Field Guide is now publicly available for download here and would like to share with you an upcoming training event in hopes that you will share it with your network.

This no-cost, online training event will provide an introduction to wetland identification and classification of Alberta’s wetlands in accordance with the Alberta Wetland Classification System (AWCS), present the newly released AWCS Field Guide and review key aspects of the guide such as the vegetation-based classification decision key in an engaging and interactive format.

More information and registration information can be found here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/o/ducks-unlimited-canada-8506973873

 


ESAA Job Board

Check out the new improved ESAA Job Board.  Members can post ads for free.


Current Listings:
  • Intermediate Reclamation/Remediation Specialist – NorthWind Land Resources
  • Environmental Geologist, Hydrogeologist, Engineer or Scientist – Langan Engineering and Environmental Services
  • Environmental Engineer, Scientist, Geologist or Hydrogeologist – 5 to 10 Years Experience – Langan Engineering and Environmental Services
  • Environmental Scientist, Engineer, Geologist or Hydrogeologist – 10 to 15 Years Experience – Langan Engineering and Environmental Services
  • Intermediate to Senior Biophysical Specialist/Terrestrial Ecologist – NorthWind Land Resources
  • Intermediate/Senior Wildlife Biologist – North Shore Environmental Consultants Inc.
  • Junior Data Entry Consultant – North Shore Environmental Consultants Inc.
  • Intermediate Hydrogeologist – North Shore Environmental Consultants Inc.
  • CAD Technician – North Shore Environmental Consultants Inc.
  • Junior Environmental Consultant – North Shore Environmental Consultants Inc.
  • Intermediate Environmental Consultant – North Shore Environmental Consultants Inc.
  • Senior Environmental Remediation Technologist – Jacobs Consultancy Canada
  • Intermediate Environmental Scientist – NorthWind Land Resources
  • Project Manager / Business Development – Delta Remediation
  • Jr. Environmental Scientist – Arletta Environmental Consulting Corp
  • Junior Environmental Professional- H3M Environmental
  • Senior Environmental Scientist- Reporting Lead – Arletta Environmental Consulting Corp
  • ontract Remediation and Reclamation Professionals – Trace Associates
  • Project Technologist, Environmental Due Diligence & Remediation – Pinchin
  • Engineering Program Manager, Environmental and Energy Strategies (Job #40744) – City of Edmonton
  • Remediation Specialist/ Supervisor – Trium Environmental
  • Remediation Engineer/ Scientist – Trium Environmental
  • Intermediate/Senior Environmental Specialist – Summit Liability Solutions
  • Senior Project Manager – Summit, An Earth Services Company
  • Intermediate/Senior Environmental Specialist – Summit, An Earth Services Company
  • Environmental Specialist  – Summit, An Earth Services Company

 

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