mining

Six Natural Resource Projects That Got it Right in 2017

 Sandvik DD422iE for underground all electric mine

Being an environmental journalist at this point in history can be a bit, well, depressing. It often means bringing negative stories to light: stories about government failing to balance development with environmental protection, or about companies getting away with harmful practices, or about Indigenous peoples’ rights being set aside in the name of progress.

But it’s not all bad news out there.

And DeSmog Canada wants to celebrate those people and organizations that go out of their way to do development right — those that build their plans around meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples, minimize environmental harms even at a cost to their business and raise the bar for their industries.

We’ve gathered a list of some of the projects we want to fist-bump this year. We’re not suggesting they’re perfect; any large extractive project comes with an environmental cost. But these are projects that rise above the rest in their efforts to minimize that cost.

What the Heck Is Acid Drainage, and Why Is It Such a Big Deal?

What is that yellow goop in the water? Acid rock drainage–metal leaching, or just “acid drainage”, is usually associated with mining but also happens during large building projects, like the Site C dam — basically any time a large amount of rock has been crushed, blasted, or otherwise made to have a lot of new surface area open to the air. It’s a result of sulphur-containing compounds in the rock reacting with air and water, causing the formation of sulphuric acid.

Canada Has Second-Worst Mining Record in World: UN

Mount Polley mine spill

Canada has more mine tailings spills than most other countries in the world, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which urges governments and the mining industry to improve safety, accountability and oversight.

During the last decade there have been seven known mine tailings spills in Canada, only one less than reported in China, which tops the list, says the report.

The UNEP assessment “Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident” looks at 40 tailings accidents, including the 2014 Mount Polley disaster that saw 24 million cubic metres of sludge and mine waste flooding into nearby waterways.

Why A Canadian Mining Company Is Suing Romania for $4.4 Billion

Geamana village Romania

Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources is suing Romania for $4.4 billion through a secretive tribunal after the country denied permits for the largest open-pit gold and silver mine in Europe — a project Canadian officials advocated for, according to documents obtained by DeSmog Canada.

Since 1997, the Canadian mining company (fun fact: it was founded by a man convicted twice of heroin possession), has pressured Romania to allow the construction of the proposed mine in northwest Romania.

The mine would destroy three villages, level four mountains and displace 2,000 people.

Tens of thousands of people marched against the Roșia Montană project in 2013 — the same year the Romanian parliament rejected permits for the mine’s construction. Since then, Romania has applied for the site to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

That Time Trudeau Announced $360 Million for Roads to Yukon Mines That Haven't Been Approved Yet

Justin Trudeau Yukon Gateway Resources Announcement

In early September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more than $360 million in funding for roads to service mining operations in two remote regions of the Yukon.

There’s just one catch: most of those mines haven’t even been approved yet.  

Some worry the influx of investment — $247 million from the federal government and $112 million from the territory — handcuffs the region to mining development that hasn’t been demonstrated to serve the community’s long-term interests.

Don Reid, conservation zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada, said the timing of the announcement is problematic and calls the objectivity of the mine review process into question.

B.C. Coal Mine Company Teck Fined $1.4 Million for Polluting B.C. River

Elk Valley coal mine

Teck Resources pled guilty Thursday to three violations of the federal Fisheries Act for polluting a tributary of the Elk River and was sentenced to pay a $1,425,000 penalty into the federal Environmental Damages Fund, which will help restore fish habitat in British Columbia’s Elk Valley.

On October 16, 2014, 45 dead fish were found in Line Creek near one of Teck’s five coal mines in the region. The following day, Environment Canada investigators found waste water from a Teck water treatment plant, put in place to deal with selenium pollution, was entering Line Creek, a tributary of Elk River.

Selenium is a naturally occurring chemical element, but it can be harmful in even very tiny amounts. Selenium pollution is produced by coal, uranium and bitumen extraction and is of growing concern in Canada.

The dead fish found by Environment Canada investigators included bull trout, a species of special concern in the region. The Fisheries Act  prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances into water frequented by fish.

After the Mining Rush: A Visit to Faro Mine, One of Canada’s Costliest, Most Contaminated Sites

Faro Mine

The Yukon's giant Faro Mine was once the world’s largest open-pit lead and zinc mine.

In operation from 1969 to 1998, when its last owner declared bankruptcy, the mine once generated more than 30 per cent of the Yukon's economic activity.

Now, Faro Mine is considered the second-worst contaminated site in Canada.

Canada’s Environmental Fines are Tiny Compared to the U.S.

Mount Polley mine disaster

This week marks the three-year anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster, which sent 24 million cubic metres of mining waste into Quesnel Lake, making it one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history.

It’ll be a stinging reminder of the tailings pond collapse for local residents, especially considering no charges have been laid against Imperial Metals, owner and operator of Mount Polley.

Come August 5 it will be too late for B.C. to lay charges, given a three-year statute of limitations — however federal charges can be laid for another two years.

But here’s the thing: under the federal Fisheries Act, Mount Polley can receive a maximum of $12 million in fines: $6 million for causing harm to fish and fish habitat and $6 million for dumping deleterious substances without a permit into fish bearing waters.

Why We Need to Clean Up Mining if We Want a Renewable Energy Economy

Solar panels mining

A massive open-pit copper mine might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about solar power.

But the construction of photovoltaic panels actually require a wide range of metals and minerals to build. Nineteen, to be exact, including silica, indium, silver, selenium and lead. Most can be found or produced in Canada.

And as demand for solar panels continues to rapidly increase in coming years — up to a 17-fold global increase between 2015 and 2050, according to the International Energy Agency — significant quantities of these metals and minerals will be required.

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