Last week I posted this diary:
Massive Toxic sludge spilled into pristine wilderness
There were questions in the comments like "how could this happen?" and "what are the people of BC saying about this?" I began this diary as a follow-up with some answers to those questions. However, as I started to research the follow-up I hit more and more information on the Pebble Mine, proposed in beautiful Bristol Bay. A mine that will be 10 times the size of the Mount Polley Mine. The mining company for Pebble Mine has hired the same designers that built the toxic pond for the Mount Polley strip mine shown above This diary hopes to answer the questions about how this disaster could happen and what the people are saying about it in British Columbia, Canada. At the same time, I'm hoping to alert people that the same thing could happen to the tailings pond in the proposed Pebble Mine, Alaska. There is still time to stop that mine. Links below.
Aerial video of the spill - 37 minutes. Watch the est. 2.6 billion gallons of toxic waste
Let's go back in recent history to First Nations Chiefs who spoke out in early 2013 against federal bills C-38 and C-45 that included environmental deregulations.
Chief Steve Courtoreille in the bands’ statement. "Changes to the Fisheries Act, the Environmental Protection Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act embodied in these omnibus bills dangerously reduce federal environmental protection for Canadian lands and waters, and have diminished or eliminated federal environmental assessment of resource development."
"The Harper government has systematically conceived, designed and implemented a policy to reduce federal environmental protection and assessment in the territory of Frog Lake and elsewhere in Canada," said [Chief Clifford] Stanley. "We could not stand by and watch that happen to Canadians."
Reaction from First Nations in BC
Grand Chief compares Mount Polley disaster to Exxon Valdez
Like the Exxon Valdez, Mount Polley will be synonymous with one of the most disastrous environmental events in British Columbia," he said, adding that both events were preventable.
The collapse of the Mount Polley dam Monday morning caused 5 million cubic metres of fine sediment and toxic effluent to flow into the Hazeltine Creek and connecting waterways. The surrounding area, the STNC confirms, is in a state of emergency and in need of immediate action.
STNC said it had, over years, criticized Imperial Metals for a lack of adequate safety procedures, and that the company ignored its agreement to contact surrounding First nation communities when the disaster did strike.
Reaction from Dr. Andrew Weaver, MLA, BC Green Party & Climate Scientist
Mount Polley Tailings Pond Breach
The breach appeared to catch the president of Imperial Metals by surprise, as he denied any indication that the dam would burst. In a town hall, Brian Kynoch said “if you asked me two weeks ago if it could happen, I would have said it couldn’t.”
However, this dam has been the subject of at least one review commissioned by the Williams Lake First Nation and Imperial Metals in 2009 and published in 2011. In the report, Brian Olding, operator of Brian Olding and Associates Ltd. (the environmental consultant that was retained for the report), said the tailings pond was accumulating water so quickly that it would have needed to discharge about 1.4 million cubic metres of water a year to keep its levels stable. This would require the dam to find a sustainable means of discharging water to prevent excessive build up. Oldings assessment found the pond levels were already getting too high five years ago.
Testing and Cleanup is the Priority for Mount Polley Mine Breach
“The problem now is not what we do know, but what we don’t know” said Andrew Weaver. “I have asked the Minister of Environment to consider independent testing of the water and sediment mixture to reassure local residents, and everyone potentially affected downstream, that the information is complete and impartial”
BC Minister of Mines
[This is the ignorance of government officials that the people of BC are faced with.
BC Mines Minister Bill Bennett compares this toxic spill to an avalanche. Except for the difference between snow pack and toxic sludge!]
“Get up in a helicopter and go and look at the avalanches that happen in this province — there are probably 10,000 or 15,000 avalanches that happen every single year. Get up in a helicopter and go and look at what happened last spring with the events in the Rockies with water coming down and doing exactly what happened in Hazeltine Creek. The difference is that snow melts, (but) you are left with exactly the same (result) — it looks exactly the same as what happened in Hazeltine Creek,”
Reaction from people of BC
An advocate for environmentally safe mining in British Columbia
Understaffing, deregulation to blame for Mount Polley tailings pond disaster: critics
Deregulation and staffing cutbacks to BC government regulators may be to blame to Imperial Metals' Mount Polley tailings pond disaster, which dumped five million cubic metres of toxic waste near the Quesnel and Cariboo Rivers.
“The government isn't inspecting the mines, and the mining companies know it,” said Glenda Ferris, a longtime advocate for environmentally safe mining in British Columbia who has previously consulted with government and First Nations on mining issues. A landowner near Houston, BC, she lives beside the now-closed Equity Silver mine, which dumped acid-generating tailings waste into the environment in 1982.
Ferris said the BC government has relied excessively on the mining industry to self-regulate itself as ministries underwent budget cuts in the 1990s, meaning that the problem could be systemic.
David Suzuki, scientist, environmentalist & broadcaster
Time for a hold on new B.C. mine proposals
While we wait for answers on how this environmental disaster was allowed to happen, questions are being raised about just how our mines are being operated and regulated.
Years ago, the mining company raised concerns about its ability to manage tailings from this mine. Despite this, production was ramped up, placing even greater strain on an already-stressed structure. Daily production of ore was increased from 18,000 tonnes per day in 2009 to more than 23,000 tonnes by 2014.
While structural assessments and contingency plans were called for, none were forthcoming. This event may just be the tip of the structural-failure iceberg when it comes to containing toxic mine waste. From 2009 to 2012, there were 12 "dangerous occurrences" reported at tailings ponds across B.C.
From a foreman at the mine
Foreman warned of tailings pond disaster
From a senior executive in mining investment
What the Mount Polley disaster means for mining companies
We are already seeing the expected outcry that mining companies shouldn’t be allowed to mine near where people live, or near wildlife or fish habitats, unless they can guarantee that this kind of accident will never happen again. But you have to recognize that we need to balance the risk of damage to the environment against the risk of a shortage of materials needed to sustain modern civilization.
Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay Alaska
While the EPA has taken measures to restrict waste from the Pebble Mine, it has not denied the permit for the mine. Public meetings start today and continue until August 15.
Take action to oppose Pebble Mine, public comments are being taken till September 19,2014. Pebble Mine will be the world's largest open pit copper mine and it is planned to be TEN times larger than the Polley Mountain Mine.
The company That Designed BC Tailings Pond Hired by Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay
"It's Bristol Bay's worst nightmare," Woody told The Cordova Times. "It's exactly what we don't want to have happen. It's about Canada's premium salmon system, and it's occurring now when the run is just beginning.”
As noted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pebble dwarfs Polley.
“The Pebble project would be bigger—a lot bigger,” wrote Joel Reynolds, western director and senior attorney for the NRDC in Los Angeles, on Huffington Post. “While Imperial Metals has been mining about 20,000 tons per day at its Mount Polley mine, Northern Dynasty has anticipated about ten times that at Pebble, with a tailings pond many times larger in footprint and scale.”
The EPA can save Bristol Bay
WHAT IS THE TIMELINE?
In February 2011, the EPA announced that it initiated a watershed assessment to evaluate the suitability of large-scale mining in Bristol Bay. The results of this study formed the basis of an EPA decision, released February 28, 2014, to initiate the 404c process.
"The Bristol Bay watershed is essential to the health,environment and economy of Alaska." -- EPA Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran. On July 18, 2014 the proposed determination was released, which limits the scope of mining in the Bristol Bay region in order to still have healthy salmon habitat. The announcement launched a 60-day public comment period, where everyone who cares about wild salmon is encouraged to contact the EPA to tell them to finalize this process and protect Bristol Bay. Click the "take action" tab above to weigh in today! Click here to view a description of the EPA's 404(c) process.
On May 18, 2012, the EPA released its draft Watershed Assessment of Bristol Bay. This 339-page scientific report -- more than a year in the making -- concludes that even without a major accident or catastrophe, a mine the size of the Pebble deposit will eliminate or block up to 87 miles of salmon streams and remove or bury up to 4200 acres of wetlands that are part of salmon habitat.From that 339 page report, the EPA requests comment on EPA Region 10 proposal to protect the Bristol Bay Watershed.
At minimum size, mining the Pebble deposit would create a more than 1300 acre mine pit, a 3600 acre tailings compound behind a 685-foot high earthen dam and another 2300 acre waste rock pile.
Other key findings from the assessment include:
• Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fishery and other natural resources provide at least 14,000 full and part-time jobs and is valued at about $480 million annually.
• The average annual run of sockeye salmon is about 37.5 million fish.
• EPA evaluated four types of large-scale mine failures, and found that even though precise estimates of failure probabilities cannot be made, evidence from other large mines suggest that “at least one or more accidents of failures could occur, potentially resulting in immediate, severe impacts on salmon and detrimental
Here is the EPA's proposal EPA Region 10 in PDF's
Proposed Determination Pursuant to Section 404c of the Clean Water Act for Pebble Deposit Area, Southwest Alaska
From the PDF:
The mine including pit, tailings, waste rock piles would cover an area larger than Manhattan. Then there are the support facilities, like transportation corridor, housing for workers, offices etc. So the EPA is proposing restricting the dredging material and the fill that would damage rivers and streams. It is not banning the mine itself.
It looks like the restrictions that the EPA is imposing would end up blocking the development of the mine.
Here are satellite images from USGS via Sky Truth showing the before the spill and after the spill of Mt. Polley mine.
Environmentalists watching Mt. Polley and Pebble Mine Project
There were fears expressed by locals over the yearly salmon run in Queznel Lake, and those concerns may bear watching because dead fish are now turning up. The spill could create an environmental disaster, not only damaging the animals and aquatic life in the lake, but local tourism as well. This is one reason why environmental groups across North America are watching this story so closely. It has many similarities to the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed off Alaska.
At the present time, the Pebble Mine Project is subject to public opinion until September 19, 2014. On Friday, July 18, the EPA issued a proposal, using the Clean Water Act that would limit mining activity in the Bristol Bay Watershed. If the mine is allowed to be finished, it will be the largest open-pit copper and gold mine in the world. If you ask the local Native American tribes and commercial fisheries about the project, they will tell you no, they don't want it.
Now this is a good reason to be concerned over the outcome of the Mt. Polley environmental mess in British Columbia, and a very good reason to be concerned about the Pebble Mine Project.