On March 26, 2015 we wrote about Alberta’s new tailings management framework in our blog post, “Two New Environmental Management Frameworks for Oil Sands Operations.” Readers may be interested to hear that Alberta is not alone in this regard. British Columbia has also introduced changes relating to the assessment of mines with proposed tailing ponds.
On March 19, 2015, British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Office (“EAO”) announced the EAO’s response to the recommendations of the independent review panel appointed to investigate the breach last summer of the tailings storage facility at the Mount Polley Mine. The review panel’s recommendations were delivered on January 30, 2015. In response to the panel’s recommendations, the EAO has established additional information requirements for proposed mines in British Columbia with tailings ponds.
The EAO issued the new information requirements in separate letters to proponents who are currently undergoing environmental assessment in British Columbia and whose proposed projects include tailings ponds. The new information requirements set out in the EAO letters are identical, suggesting that the EAO will make these information requirements standard for all environmental assessment applications for mines in British Columbia with tailings ponds.
Under the new information requirements, proponents will be required to provide a description and an assessment of alternative means for the proposed project with options for tailings management that consider technology, siting and water-balance management. The assessment must present and compare best practices and best available options for managing tailings. Specifically, the proponent must provide options for managing water balance to enhance safety and reduce the risk of tailings dam failure during all phases of the mine’s life cycle.
The assessment must transparently evaluate the factors that supported the selection of the most suitable option for tailings management. Proponents are required to consider safety, technical and financial concerns and the implications for environmental, health, social, heritage and economic values in their evaluations of tailings management options. Life cycle cost assumptions must also be included in the analysis.
The new information requirements announced by the EAO signal that proposed mining projects with tailings facilities in British Columbia will be subject to additional regulatory scrutiny after the Mount Polley incident; however, the impact of the new requirements remains to be seen.