Environmental group asks to suspend Baffinland mine's approval process

Baffinland’s Mary River mine is facing a motion from the environmental group Oceans North to suspend the approval process underway to double its iron ore production. 

Oceans North claims mining company withheld full picture of expansion plans

The Nunavut Impact Review Board is reviewing Baffinland's phase two project plan starting Saturday in Iqaluit at Cadet Hall. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Baffinland's Mary River mine is facing a motion from the environmental group Oceans North to suspend the approval process underway to double its iron ore production. 

The Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) is scheduled to begin hearings Saturday on Baffinland Iron Mines' plan to move from producing six million tonnes of iron ore to 12 million tonnes a year.

The mine is seeking approval to build a railway to bring more iron ore from the mine to Milne Inlet, near Pond Inlet, Nunavut, where it will ship the ore internationally. 

The review board is looking at the volume increase and the additional infrastructure as phase two of the mining project. 

Oceans North filed a notice of motion along with an affidavit from one of its researchers to the NIRB on Oct. 28. It plans to introduce the motion to the NIRB hearings as soon as possible on Saturday. 

The motion will ask for the hearings to be suspended or additional hearing dates to review information it has found. 

The affidavit of Oceans North researcher Georgia MacDonald says there are "major inconsistencies" between what Baffinland is telling potential investors and what it is telling the review board, and by extension, the public. 

The affidavit cites investment documents shared with potential investors in 2018, which talk about plans to go beyond the 12 million tonnes currently being considered by NIRB for phase two. 

"Potential investors and creditors are told that [Baffinland] intends to ship 18 million tonnes of ore through Milne Inlet annually, as early as 2021," the affidavit states.

Christopher Debicki, vice-president of Policy Development and Counsel for Oceans North, filed the motion with the Nunavut Impact Review Board on behalf of Oceans North. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

While NIRB is aware of Baffinland's plan to eventually ship 18 million tonnes through Steensby Inlet — on the opposite side of Baffin Island from Milne Inlet — Oceans North says NIRB was not aware of the additional six million tonnes to go through Milne Inlet. 

"Oceans North is concerned that [Baffinland] may be 'project splitting' — intentionally breaking a project up into its component parts in order to avoid analysis at the appropriate production scale and subverts a public discussion about the potential impacts of the project as a whole," the affidavit said. 

The environmental group says the increased number of ships that Baffinland is proposing in phase two — to move the iron ore — will endanger narwhal and the marine environment more generally. 

Baffinland's response

The mining company has asked for Oceans North's motion to be dismissed. 

Baffinland says the "preliminary offering circular" — the financial document meant for investors that Oceans North obtained — is a confidential document. 

"We question how Oceans North obtained this document and what representations they made to obtain it. We object to Oceans North presenting this document on the record," Baffinland's response said. 

The company has asked for the document not to be shared publicly and in a separate motion proposes to share a summary of its financials — and asked that document also not be made public. 

Oceans North's motion is based on a technical report attached to the document for investors. That report looks at two cases — the one being reviewed by NIRB now and the proposal for a potentially larger iron ore volume, Baffinland said. 

Baffinland argues that the 12 million tonnes of ore is the only one under consideration by NIRB at this time, therefore the motion on documents not submitted for review — related to the scenario of transporting 18 million tonnes — had no basis at the hearings. 

In a filing to NIRB, the government of Canada commented on the motions and agreed with Baffinland that there was no need to suspend the hearings. 

"Canada submits there's no merit to suspend the review of [Baffinland's] phase two project." 

The federal government said it was up to the review board to decide whether splitting the project into phases was a reasonable way to scale up, or whether Baffinland didn't allow regulators to consider the whole project.

If this was the case, the government said, phases could be considered a waste of "scarce" government resources.

Oceans North's motion will likely be discussed Saturday morning by the parties attending the hearings


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