British Columbia

B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett commits to inspector's Mt. Polley recommendations

"While the mine did not contravene any existing regulatory requirements, its management and operational practices failed in a number of areas," chief inspector of mines Al Hoffman said.

Chief inspector of mines says no rules broken, but best practises not followed

Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. on August, 5, 2014. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

B.C.'s chief mine inspector has released his latest review of what caused the tailings pond breach of the Mt. Polley Mine in August 2014.

Chief inspector of mines Al Hoffman concluded that the failure was due to the mine's design and other geotechnical factors, but he said the damage was compounded by poor safety practices.

For example, the report said the company assumed that the foundation soils were strong without doing the proper studies, and site investigations were substandard.

"We determined that while the mine did not contravene any existing regulatory requirements, its management and operational practices failed in a number of areas such as water management and misplaced confidence in the tailings storage facility (TSF) design," Hoffman said in a statement.

Hoffman had 19 recommendations, including more mine staff to ensure dam safety and to oversee the mine's water balance and water management plan, and independent technical review boards requirements for all mines with TSFs.

He also called for more staff within the Ministry of Energy and Mines to provide additional support and oversight of the ministry's investigation, compliance and enforcement functions, and for government to establish a formal documentation management system for all TSFs from development to post-closure.

Bennett agrees to recommendations

In an interview with On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko, Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett said his ministry would accept and implement all of Hoffman's recommendations.

He said government inspectors often relied on the word of the mine operator when it came to safety, and regulations were unclear as to how much safety testing a mine needs to do to operate safely.

He said clearer regulations would be developed.

"The independent expert panel that reported out in January stated the quality of the personnel at the Ministry was as good as they've ever encountered. They also said that no amount of extra inspections would ever have revealed this under-surface unstable material. That was confirmed today by the chief mine inspector's report," Bennett said.

"No one knew that this was there. The point that I take away from this is, they should have."

Bennett expressed frustration that the mine operator didn't do further investigations, and said he also wants engineers and mine operators to keep up with best practices as well.

Bennett said changes will come as the ongoing review of the province's mining code wraps up.

The chief inspector of mines declined to recommend charges in the Mount Polley disaster, but Bennett said a Conservation Service review could lead to charges.

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Mine inspector issues 19 recommendations after Mt. Polley