British Columbia

B.C. mining code strengthened to prevent disasters like Mount Polley

Changes to B.C.'s mining code will prevent another disaster like the Mount Polley tailings pond collapse, British Columbia's Mines Minister Bill Bennett is promising.

'What we have done here... will prevent a major accident from happening ... in B.C.,' says mines minister

Investigators say the dam that breached in 2014 was built on a weak layer of glacial deposits.

Changes to B.C.'s mining code will prevent another disaster like the Mount Polley tailings pond collapse, British Columbia's Mines Minister Bill Bennett is promising.

In August 2014, a massive tailings dam failed at the mine in B.C.'s Cariboo region, sending 24 million cubic metres of mine waste and water into nearby waterways.

Critics called it one of the biggest environmental disasters in modern Canadian history, and still warn the recent changes still do not go after companies responsible.

But Bennett said the latest revision to the mining code should put many concerns about tailings dams to rest.

What are the consequences for the company to date, nothing.- Norm Macdonald, NDP mine critic

"What we have done here, and what we'll do in the next few months will prevent a major accident from happening with a tailings storage facility here in B.C.," Bennett said at a news conference Wednesday.

 "I'm absolutely convinced of that."

Higher standards

He said the changes include design standards for tailings storage facilities tailored to conditions within the province and emphasize public and worker protection.

An independent review of the disaster last year concluded that the tailings dam collapsed because the strength and location of clay underneath the dam was not taken into account during original designs.

Bennett said the mining code updates can't guarantee small leaks or spills from tailings facilities, but the changes include conditions and requirements that go beyond normal industry standards.

"What we have done here, and what we'll do in the next few months will prevent a major accident [in future]," said Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett. (B.C. Government/Flickr)

B.C.'s Chief Inspector of Mines Al Hoffman said the changes include seven mining code revisions.

Among the changes are requirements in mine permit applications to declare performance objectives that include programs for prediction, identification and management of physical, chemical and other risks associated with tailings facilities and dams.

"We've worked very hard on these code revisions and I think we've filled in a lot of those cracks," said Hoffman.

"So, it's very unlikely it will happen again."

Promise of safety questioned

Opposition New Democrat Mines Critic Norm Macdonald remains skeptical about the government's intentions to monitor the mining industry.

"Until we see some intent from government to hold companies to account for failures, we are exactly in the same place we're been since the B.C. Liberals came to power," he said.

"What are the consequences for the company to date? Nothing."

Local residents photograph damage after Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach (Lawna Bourassa)

The Mount Polley gold and copper mine — owned by Imperial Metals Corp. — was cleared to resume full operations last month.

B.C.'s Conservation Service, which has the power to recommend criminal charges, is conducting a review of the Mount Polley disaster.

B.C. Mining Association president Karina Brino said there are always risk factors in industrial operations, but the goal to work towards a zero failure rate.

The breach of the Mount Polley copper and gold mine tailings pond in central British Columbia has been called one of the biggest environmental disasters in modern Canadian history. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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