Archive | Mining Environmental Accidents, Pollution and Abandoned Mines

Environmentalism: A Slippery Slope of Ignorance and Hypocrisy – by Saurabh Malkar (Modern Diplomacy – August 13, 2017)

Perusing through my morning news digest, I came across an article from The Daily Mail featuring a story on the employment of child labor in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

While I can be chillingly apathetic to social plight, especially, when it doesn’t concern my loved ones: something I impute to my upbringing in a third world country; I was deeply moved by this story, which shed light on the horrors of artisanal cobalt mining, employing children, working in dangerous conditions, with no safety measures, and being paid a pittance. The kicker, though, of this story was that much of this cobalt would go into battery packs that would be installed in electric cars marketed to gullible, do-gooders around the world.

But, why would one want to buy cars that take hours to refuel and can only be refueled at specific points, thus, imposing a massive time cost on their usage? These contraptions don’t match in utility to gasoline-powered cars, let alone surpassing them. No wonder governments around the world are trying to get consumers to buy electric cars through purchase subsidies and tax exemptions of all sorts. Continue Reading →

No provincial charges for Mount Polley mining disaster, but possibility of federal charges remain – by Gordon Hoekstra (August 3, 2017)

The disclosure Wednesday that there will be no charges laid under B.C.’s environmental laws for Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley tailings dam failure in 2014 has environmentalists questioning whether the province’s laws are strong enough.

There remains the possibility of federal charges under the Fisheries Act, but the B.C. Conservation Officer Service has said a B.C.-federal investigation will not be complete by Friday — when the three-year time limit to lay charges under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act ends.

The B.C. conservation service-led investigation — involving a dedicated team of officers and several federal investigators — started almost immediately after the Aug. 4, 2014, failure of the earth-and-rock dam at the gold-and-copper mine northeast of Williams Lake. Continue Reading →

No provincial charges in 2014 Mount Polley dam collapse in B.C. – by Camille Bains (Globe and Mail – August 2, 2017)

VANCOUVER — Canadian Press – There will be no provincial charges for a tailings dam collapse in British Columbia but the province’s new environment minister says a mining company may still be held responsible through federal laws.

George Heyman said Wednesday the August 2014 disaster has had tremendous economic and environmental consequences and British Columbians deserve to know what went wrong at the Mount Polley mine located in the province’s Interior.

“A disaster like this should never have happened in B.C., and it must never happen again,” Heyman said in a statement, adding that charges under the federal Fisheries Act“ remain very much in play and, in fact, potential penalties are more significant.” Continue Reading →

UN Singles Out Tycoon German Larrea’s Grupo Mexico For Unfulfilled Pledge In Ecological Disaster – by Dolia Estevez (Forbes Magazine – July 28, 2017)

Three years after a mine belonging to Grupo México caused the worst ecological disaster in Mexican history, the mining giant owned by Mexico’s second richest person, German Larrea Mota Velasco, has failed to fulfill its obligations with the victims, a new UN report said.

“Business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights independent of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfill their own human rights obligations,” the UN said after a special Working Group visited Mexico to review how business practices affect human rights.

In August 2014, Buenavista del Cobre, a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, spilled 10 million gallons (40,000 cubic meters) of copper sulphate and heavy metals into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers. This environmental disaster affected approximately 24,000 people directly and 250,000 people indirectly in seven municipalities on the banks of the Sonora River, 25 miles south of the Arizona border. Continue Reading →

BHP-Vale JV Excused From Paying $6.3 Billion Legal Guarantee – by R.T. Watson (Bloomberg News – July 19, 2017)

(Bloomberg) — A Brazilian judge denied a request by prosecutors for companies and individuals facing criminal charges related to a dam spill to pay financial guarantees, according to court documents obtained by Bloomberg.

The stalled Samarco Mineracao SA joint venture and its owners BHP Billiton Ltd. and Vale SA won’t have to pay a 20 billion-real ($6.3 billion) guarantee while the case is being tried and final damages calculated, the documents show. The judge also ruled that the individuals aren’t required to pay any financial guarantees or be subjected to travel restrictions such as passport seizure.

Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges including homicide against 21 people linked to the operators and owners of the iron-ore mine, while also accusing defendants of a series of environmental crimes. A November 2015 tailings dam collapse killed as many as 19 people and polluted waterways in two states. Among the accused individuals are Vale’s head of iron ore, Peter Poppinga, and Samarco chief executive officer at the time of the incident, Ricardo Vescovi. The case could go before a jury. Continue Reading →

Who cleans up the mess when oil and mining companies go bankrupt? – by Tim Gray (Globe and Mail – July 14, 2017)

Tim Gray is the executive director of Environmental Defence.

Last week, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) announced it would appeal a judge’s ruling that gave creditors priority access to a bankrupt oil company’s assets over its financial obligations to clean up abandoned wells. The AER is right to appeal because cleaning up environmental damage should take precedent over financial obligations. This appeal highlights a broader problem in Canada and the need for legislative action both provincially and federally.

The broader problem is that Canadians are burdened by the accumulating financial liability associated with cleaning up the environmental messes made by abandoned oil wells, closed mines and decaying tailings dams.

For example, in Alberta, the oil sands have been producing a vast and growing legacy of tailings ponds. These ponds contain leftover toxic hydrocarbons, heavy metals, water and sand. They now cover an area larger than the preamalgamation city of Toronto and Vancouver combined and are growing at a rate of 25 million litres a day. Continue Reading →

Potential rare-earths industry in the US must avoid China’s mistakes – by Carly O’Connell (Asia Times – July 8, 2017)

As of 2016, the United States’ demand for rare-earth elements depended on imports, mostly from China. Rare earths are a class of critical minerals, 17 in number, that are used in many technologies such as smartphones, medical treatments, wind turbines and high-performance defense-industry equipment.

Recently, politicians from America’s coal country with the help of researchers, have moved to break that dependency. They hope to re-purpose old mines to produce rare earths, thus stimulating new economic growth in places like West Virginia. But we must learn from China’s example and avoid devastating environmental consequences, which are costing China billions of dollars to correct.

The US uses about 15,000 tonnes of rare-earth elements every year, more than 700 tonnes of which go to defense. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin recently told the Washington Examiner that America’s reliance on foreign sources for such a vital material is “a national security concern that must be addressed.” Continue Reading →

Activists warn against more uranium mining in the Black Hills – by Kelsey Sinclair (Rapid City Journal – July 8, 2017)

Let’s clean up one mess before making another. That was the message from members of two local groups opposed to uranium mining on Saturday, when volunteers gathered at the Outdoor Campus West in Rapid City to set up public information and outreach booths to speak to visitors about the importance of clean water and the impact of uranium mining.

In the wake of Azarga Uranium proposing a uranium mine in South Dakota, the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance and Dakota Rural Action have opposed the idea, saying that uranium mining would bring only short-term economical benefits while harming tourism and land, water and cultural resources.

“The vast majority of the mines have not been cleaned up. They put radioactive materials into the rivers and into the soil sediment,” Lilias Jarding said. “The main thing we want is to clean up the old uranium mines and not start any new uranium mines in the Black Hills.” Continue Reading →

Conservationists call on new B.C. gov’t to act on Tulsequah Chief mine cleanup – by Derrick Penner (Vancouver Sun – July 4, 2017)

Conservation and indigenous groups in Alaska are pushing B.C.’s new government to act on cleaning up the dormant Tulsequah Chief mine site near the border in Alaska’s southeastern panhandle.

The mine site has sat dormant since September 2016, when owner Chieftain Metals Corp. was pushed into receivership. But rather than allow the mine to be sold out of bankruptcy, the Alaskan groups are asking B.C. to just clean it up and shut it down.

Chieftain is now the second company that has fallen into bankruptcy trying to resurrect the Tulsequah Chief since it was shut down in 1957 by its original owner, and Chris Zimmer of the Alaska group Rivers Without Borders doesn’t want another replay of the scenario without a serious cleanup of acid-rock drainage that has poured out of the mine and into the Taku River for decades. Continue Reading →

Court gives BHP, Vale until October 30 to settle $47 billion Samarco claim (Reuters U.S. – June 30, 2017)

BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) (BLT.L) and Vale (VALE5.SA) have won a four-month extension from a Brazilian court to negotiate a settlement to a $47 billion claim stemming from the Samarco mine disaster in 2015, BHP said on Friday.

Brazilian federal prosecutors in May last year served the joint partners in the Samarco iron ore mine with a 155 billion Brazilian real ($47 billion) claim to pay for the social, environmental and economic costs of cleaning up the country’s worst environmental disaster.

“The Court has extended the final date for negotiation of a settlement until 30 October 2017,” BHP said in a statement. Nineteen people died and nearby towns were inundated with flood waters after a dam designed to hold back mine waste burst on Nov. 5, 2015. Continue Reading →

CANADA 150: Yellowknife’s toxic history through the eyes of the Betsina family – by Hilary Bird (CBC News North – June 28, 2017)

This story is part of a series from CBC North looking at Canada 150 through the eyes of northern families.

‘The government spoiled our lives,’ says Muriel Betsina. ‘Giant Mine spoiled our lives’

Muriel Betsina’s voice is soft and nurturing as she explains, step by step, how she makes the perfect piece of bannock. But ask her about the old mine site you can see out of her kitchen window in N’Dilo, N.W.T., and her voice drops. Her fists clench.

This tiny Dene elder has a rage that boils deep. “The government spoiled our lives,” says Betsina. “Giant Mine spoiled our lives.”

During more than half a century of mining, 19,000 tonnes of toxic arsenic trioxide dust went up the stacks of smelters at the Giant and Con mines and settled on the once-pristine land and lakes in and around Yellowknife. The gold mining industry began in the late 1930s. Giant Mine closed in 2004, leaving a toxic legacy that has deeply changed the lives of people in N’Dilo. Continue Reading →

Arsenic to be removed from Sudbury’s Long Lake – by Jim Moodie (Sudbury Star – June 24, 2017)

Residents of Long Lake will notice some extra activity around their shores in coming months — and next year, especially — but chances are they’ll welcome the temporary annoyance of noisy equipment over the lingering presence of a deadly poison.

A tender is going out this summer for reclamation work on the former Long Lake Gold site, which has been leaching arsenic into the southwest corner of the lake for years, with a contract to be awarded in the fall and the work apt to commence in earnest early in the new year.

Stephen Butcher, chair of Long Lake Stewardship, said it’s been a long wait for a remediation project to get the go-ahead but “we’re ecstatic it’s finally getting done.” It was Butcher’s stewardship group that first detected elevated levels of arsenic, which has been filtering down from old tailings deposits, through water testing done back in 2011. Continue Reading →

Failure of Water Treatment Plant at B.C. Coal Mine Raises Downstream Concerns – by Tristan Scott (Flathead Beacon – June 20, 2017)

As British Columbia’s downstream neighbour, Montana has long been concerned about mining pollution spilling across the international border and into its world-class watersheds — fears that a growing body of research and evidence confirms are well founded.

Most recently, conservation groups and scientists on both sides of the border have renewed their calls for Teck Resources to halt new coal mines in the Elk River Valley, a step they say gained urgency when an experimental water treatment facility designed to stem the flow of a mining contaminant called selenium was taken offline because it was releasing an even more biologically toxic form of the heavy metal.

The trouble brewing in the Elk River is equally worrisome for Montana, where the upstream waterways of British Columbia flow into two shared bodies of water straddling the international boundary — Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River. Continue Reading →

Three-year deadline to lay charges for Mt. Polley dam failure approaching fast – by Gordon Hoekstra (June 20, 2017)

A deadline looms for provincial charges to be laid in the failure of the tailings dam at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine, but the B.C. Conservation Officer Service says the investigation has not finished.

There is a three-year time limit to lay charges under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act. The deadline is less than two months away, on Aug. 4. The conservation service has been leading a joint investigation with the federal Environment and Fisheries departments.

Chris Doyle, deputy chief of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, said Tuesday that when the investigation is complete, the findings will be forwarded to Crown counsel for review and to determine what charges will be laid, if any. Continue Reading →

Exclusive: Barrick’s Argentina mine may be allowed full operations in June – by Maximiliano Rizzi (Reuters U.S. – May 22, 2017)

BUENOS AIRES – The government of Argentina’s San Juan province has approved a plan for improving Barrick Gold Corp’s Veladero mine following its third spill of cyanide solution in 18 months and could allow full operations to resume in early June, a government official said.

Eduardo Machuca, the province’s secretary of environmental management and mining control, told Reuters in a phone interview that local authorities had reviewed and discussed Barrick’s improvement plan and improvements to the mine were well under way.

“I think that around June 10 there will be conditions to enable the mine, once the pneumatic, hydraulic and all engineering tests are done,” Machuca said on Monday. Continue Reading →