B.C. auditor issues scathing report on mining developments
B.C. Auditor General says Ministry of Energy and Mines not providing enough oversight or enforcement for safe mine design and operations. After Mount Polley, "Business as usual cannot continue."
“Inadequate” was one of the less harsh conclusions reached by the Auditor General of British Columbia in her report on how the mining industry in the province is being regulated.
Auditor General Carol Bellringer issued her report, “The Audit of Compliance and Enforcement of the Mining Sector,” on May 3.
It did not help that the Mount Polley mine tailings pond breached during the period Bellringer [appropriate name] was doing the long and complex audit. She did not mince words in saying that she found a lack of oversight and enforcement of rules was partly to blame for that disaster that resulted in 25 million cubic metres of wastewater and tailings being released into the water system and lakes.
“The risks are real as evidenced by the Mount Polley tailings dam failure which occurred during this audit,” she wrote in a press release. “To avoid such failures, business as usual cannot continue.”
One of her recommendations is that the province should remove the responsibility for overseeing compliance of safety and design rules from the Ministry of Energy and Mines. She says the Ministry’s role to promote mining development is “diametrically opposed” to its role to enforce the safety rules. It “creates an irreconcilable conflict,” she says.
She also found that some mining companies are not providing enough in financial security deposits to cover the potential costs of reclamation and environmental remediation. She found $1 billion lacking in the fund and pointed out the shortfall could eventually be laid on the taxpayer.
She found that “monitoring and inspections of mines were inadequate to ensure mine operators complied with requirements.”
Voluntary compliance and guidelines were not enough. The Ministry of Energy Mines “has adopted a collaborative approach to compliance and enforcement that emphasizes cooperation and negotiation. In the case of Mount Polley, this approach failed to produce the desired results.” She identifies a “lack of enforcement culture.”
She also takes issue with the Ministry of Environment. For example, it is criticized for not publicly disclosing risks associated with permits for coal mines in the Elk Valley. “For 20 years, MoE has been monitoring selenium levels in the Elk Valley and over that time has noted dramatic annual increases of selenium in the watershed’s tributaries. MoE tracked this worsening trend, but took no substantive action to change it. Only recently, has the ministry attempted to control this pollution through permits granted under the Environmental Management Act.”
“Given the sheer scale of mining in B.C.,” she writes, “and because the environmental impacts of mining can last forever, the report emphasizes the critical need for regulatory enforcement. In B.C., the environmental risks of mining are increasing, but compliance and enforcement are decreasing.”
To read the Auditor General’s report, click here.