Yukon's CO2 emissions will jump about 31% with Faro mine cleanup
Remediation at the contaminated Faro mine site will come with an environmental cost, says territory
It's a toxic mess so nasty, even the clean-up job will be a big polluter.
Remediation of Yukon's abandoned Faro mine site is expected to boost the territory's total annual carbon emissions by an estimated 31 per cent — a "significant effect," according to territorial officials.
"There are no known single-projects or facilities within Yukon that have reached this emission level," reads a submission from Yukon's Environment Department to the territory's assessment board.
The Faro mine, about 200 kilometres northeast of Whitehorse, was once the world's largest open-pit lead-zinc mine. It operated for 29 years before being abandoned in 1998. The federal government is now responsible for dealing with what's considered one of Canada's biggest toxic messes.
It's taken more than 20 years to come up with a cleanup plan. That plan, hefty as a brick of lead, was submitted by Ottawa to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) earlier this year. It's still under review.
Last week, the Yukon government, the nearby Selkirk First Nation, and some federal departments all submitted their thoughts on the plan to YESAB.
Remediation work likely won't begin for at least 3 more years, and then take about 15 years to complete. Testing and monitoring will continue for decades after that.
According to the plan, the project will generate about 194 kilotonnes CO² equivalent each year — that's about 31 per cent of the most recent estimate of Yukon's annual emissions (about 616 kt CO²e/year in 2016, according to Yukon's Environment department).
The federal government's plan put the increase at 46 per cent, but Environment Yukon said that was based on an underestimate of Yukon's current emissions.
Most of the remediation project's emissions — about 89 per cent — are expected to come from land-clearing and vehicles. There's an estimated 70 million tonnes of toxic tailings and 320 million tonnes of waste rock on site.
Lewis Rifkind, mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, says the amount of material to be moved as part of the cleanup "is almost beyond human comprehension."
'Has to be done'
The cleanup plan is under review as more governments — including the Yukon government and the City of Whitehorse — declare "climate change emergencies."
Still, Rifkind sees no way around it — amping up Yukon's greenhouse gas emissions is just "the price that we pay."
"It's part of the legacy of the Faro mine, basically, disaster," he said.
"The cleanup has to be done ... I mean, the mine site went into receivership about 20 years ago or thereabouts, and there's been groundwater and surface water contamination ever since then.
"We can't keep going on as we are."
The project plan does include some proposals to limits emissions, including a no-idling policy in winter. Another is to minimize the distances material is hauled.
Overall though, the Faro mine cleanup won't be a major contributor to Canada's total emissions. Yukon as a whole contributed less than 0.1 per cent of Canada's total emissions in 2016.
"The project is expected to have a negligible residual effect on global climate change," the plan submitted to YESAB reads.
Still, in their submission to YESAB, Environment Yukon officials are suggesting the plan be revised to highlight the local perspective.
"It will have a significant effect on Yukon's emissions. Language needs to be added to recognize this point," it reads.
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