Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett says the B.C. government is setting up two separate reviews following the Mount Polley tailings pond failure earlier this month.

Bennett said Monday that:

  • The first review by three independent experts will investigate the failure of the tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine. 
  • The second review will require all mines in British Columbia that have tailings dams to have independent experts conduct a review of their facilities and submit them to the government.

The first review will be completed and submitted to the government and the Soda Creek and Williams Lake Indian bands by Jan. 31, 2015, and the recommendations will be implemented by the government "where needed," Bennett promised.

The minister said the reviews were necessary to restore public confidence in the mining industry.

"We have a responsibility, as the jurisdiction where this failure took place, to find out exactly why it happened, ensure it never happens again and take a leadership role internationally in learning from this serious incident," Bennett said.

When asked what might have caused the dam to fail on Aug. 4, Bennett said there is no "leading theory" yet.

Independent experts appointed

The three experts appointed to review the dam failure are:

  • Norbert Morgenstern, an adviser to consulting engineers.
  • Steven Vick, a geotechnical engineer from Colorado.
  • Dirk Van Zyl, a professor at the University of British Columbia's Normal B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering.

Zyl called the the failure of the tailings facility at Mount Polley " a dark day for the mining industry not only here in British Columbia, but worldwide."

"It’s extremely important for us to understand how this breach happened and why so that we can move forward with the best possible practices in ongoing and future mining operations," he said.

Bennett said the Soda Creek and Williams Lake Indians Bands were consulted on the terms of reference for the review.

The second review is being led by B.C.'s chief inspector of mines, who has ordered all mining companies to conduct a dam safety inspection of every tailings pond in the province by Dec. 1, 2014. Those inspections will be reviewed by a independent professional engineer and made public.

There are currently 98 permitted tailings ponds at 60 operating and closed metal and coal mines in B.C.

Tailings pond burst

Earlier this month, 10 million cubic metres of waste water plus more than four million cubic metres of sediment spilled into Hazeltine Creek after the dam at the Mount Polley mine's tailings pond failed.

Hundreds of people were ordered not to drink or bathe in their water after the dam burst two weeks ago.

Test results prompted the local health authority to later lift the water ban, but further test results released last week show that while the discharged sediment is still not toxic for humans, it may harm aquatic life.

The province says sediment samples collected Aug. 10 from the mouth of Hazeltine Creek and near Raft Creek in Quesnel Lake exceed guidelines and contaminated sites regulation standards for copper and iron.

BEFORE/AFTER: Slide your cursor to see the image change

These two images from the NASA Earth Observatory show the Mount Polley tailings dam on July 29, before the spill, and Aug. 5, the day after the spill.

"In the aftermath of the flood, a layer of brown sediment coated forests and stream valleys affected by the spill. Notice how much forest immediately north of the retention basin was levelled. Debris, mainly downed trees, are visible floating on Quesnel Lake," the website says.

(Editor's note: Some of the variations in colours between the two images are caused by different lighting conditions and viewing angles.)

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