SkeenaWild works closely with coalitions on mining reform. One BC-based coalition is defining a set of mining law reforms and the second is a coalition of scientists from BC, Alaska, Washington, and Montana working on transboundary mining issues to improve science, monitoring and decision-making.
SkeenaWild, in collaboration with the BC Mining Law Reform network produced an interactive online map of mine sites with tailings facilities in BC The map provides communities with critical information about the risks posed by billions of cubic metres of toxic wet mine waste, called tailings, stored behind some of the highest dams in the world.
Alongside the map, we commissioned Dr. Steven Emerman, a respected geophysicist and international expert specializing in groundwater and mining, to review the 86 existing and proposed mines with tailings facilities in BC
Climate change-related extreme weather, such as the atmospheric rivers BC experienced in 2021, is exacerbating the risk that tailings dams could fail. A dam failure could result in serious consequences, including loss of life, damage to roads and infrastructure, and destruction of ecosystems, including salmon watersheds, worse than what happened at Mount Polley in 2014.
The Dirty Dozen Report, produced in collaboration with Northern Confluence and the BC Mining Law Reform network, highlights threats to the health and safety of communities and the environment from 12 of BC‘s top polluting and risky mines. The report highlights examples of mines leaking toxic runoff into waterways, putting taxpayers at risk of paying for cleanup, and proposing massive tailings dams that could have devastating consequences if they fail – sometimes without undergoing any environmental assessment. All 12 mines on the list threaten local environments and communities across BC, but are usually operating within BC laws and regulations. The report points to solutions for improving mining regulation and enforcement to prevent these problems from recurring, many of which are echoed by scientists, engineers, organizations, Indigenous Nations, and political leaders. BC Still needs to fully implement the expert recommendations for improving tailings safety that were issued in response to the catastrophic Mount Polley tailings dam collapse. There is yet to be a strategy for closing and cleaning up abandoned mines. A commitment to ensuring the polluter pays has yet to be put into regulation.
Related: The Dirty Dozen represent a small portion of the over 100 polluting or potentially contaminating mine sites across the province. See the map of contaminated mine sites in BC. SkeenaWild produced in collaboration with the BC Mining Law Reform network.
Telkwa Coal Project
Tenas Coal Project is proposing an open pit coal mine just south of Telkwa BC, that would extract approximately 750,000 tonnes of metallurgical coal per year for an expected lifespan of 25 years. This project has major implications for communities, salmon habitat, groundwater and the dwindling Telkwa Caribou herd.
SkeenaWild submitted a thorough technical review of the Tenas Coal Environmental Assessment Application during the public comment period. Topics covered included water quality, aquatic resources, fish and fish habitat, groundwater, water quantity, disasters, and cumulative effects. The conclusion reached by the review was that Telkwa Coal has underestimated potential significant environmental impacts of the mine (e.g., to surface water quality and fish), and has proposed inadequate mitigations/environmental protections. Key review findings include:
Insufficient baseline data has been collected, especially regarding use of the proposed Project area by bull trout, steelhead, and Coho salmon
The proposed water management approach and receiving environment water quality objectives are inconsistent with BC Technical Guidelines and should not be accepted
The project will result in elevations of selenium, nitrite, dissolved cadmium, and sulphate in receiving waters, potentially causing serious impacts to fish and other aquatic species.
Project impacts to steelhead have been underestimated, and could be significant at a population-level
Not all mines are created equal
Salmon Safe Mining
Our goal is to ensure the renewable energy revolution does not happen on the back of dirty mining in British Columbia. Increasingly, British Columbia’s mining regulators are promoting the province as a responsible jurisdiction for mining investment. As we transition to a low carbon future, supply chains and investors are demanding better mining practices for sourced materials. Indeed, protecting environmental and social values and respecting Indigenous rights is essential if BC hopes to participate as a leader in the shift to a greener future. SkeenaWild published a report specifying what responsible (salmon-friendly) mining is and how it can be achieved [LINK]. The criteria in the report is based on existing standards, such as the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), and past research SkeenaWild has undertaken on heavy metal and selenium contamination on salmonids.
SkeenaWild will continue to use our technical and scientific expertise to push back on risky mining projects and to improve overall mining practices and oversight. Recent mine projects we’ve engaged on include: KSM, Telkwa Coal, and Eskay Creek. Other recent topics of engagement include: BC mine reclamation bonding policy, integration of mining into BC land use planning, BC tailings dam safety, and federal effluent discharge regulations for coal mines.
Webinar: Mapping B.C.’s Mine Tailings Threat
Erin Sexton Selenium Presentation
Water Quality and Fish Health Data
We’ve compiled and analyzed water quality and fish health data for mine projects that operate in sensitive salmon systems in northwest British Columbia.
SkeenaWild has been working with our partners to understand and raise awareness about mining issues in the region. Selenium contamination is an area of particular concern. Selenium has significant effects on salmon and no treatment procedures for removing selenium from contaminated water have been effectively implemented at an operational scale in British Columbia.
Lack of adequate monitoring of mine effects to salmon is another major issue. SkeenaWild, with our Indigenous and academic partners, is advocating for more robust, science-based aquatic effects monitoring.