Massive Canada mine-waste spill casts doubt on resource projects

Fri Aug 8, 2014 3:40pm EDT
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By Julie Gordon and Nicole Mordant

VANCOUVER Aug 8 (Reuters) - A massive waste spill at a gold and copper mine in British Columbia could delay, or even derail, other energy and mining projects planned in the famously "green" West Coast Canadian province.

The breach of a dam holding back a huge pond of tailings, or waste materials, at Imperial Metals Corp's Mount Polley mine in the province's Interior region sent billions of gallons of gray sludge containing metals and minerals coursing into waterways early this week. On Tuesday, the miner's stock plunged 40 percent in reaction.

The disastrous spill comes as a raft of government and industry-backed resource developments already face increased scrutiny from aboriginal groups and environmentalists, who worry that their risks may outweigh their rewards.

It also comes after a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling on land titles, which is likely to give aboriginal groups more influence over developments in huge swathes of the province.

Besides Imperial Metal's own upcoming Red Chris copper-gold mine project, Enbridge Inc and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners are both planning major pipeline projects to move crude from Alberta's oil sands to the Pacific Coast. There are also major hydroelectric and liquefied natural gas (LNG) developments in the works.

"Clearly the existing regulations and legal framework were not sufficient to prevent this disaster, so how can we be assured that other major projects proposed for British Columbia will not produce similar results?" asked Dave Porter, chief executive of the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council.

"The disaster at the Mount Polley mine will have an effect on the conversation with respect to Site C (hydroelectric dam), the proposed LNG projects and oil pipelines."

The cause of the dam breach is still being investigated by government authorities and Imperial Metals. The company said in a statement it was working to limit negative impact on the environment and community.   Continued...