Nova Scotia

Mineral exploration companies in N.S. not always playing by the rules

Documents show some mineral exploration companies in Nova Scotia are drilling without authorization from the province and sometimes outside their licensed areas.

Documents show some companies drilling without authorization and outside licensed area

Atlantic Gold cleared a path to Rocky Lake near Upper Musquodoboit, N.S., violating several provincial rules. An inspector raised concerns that sediment could run down the path into the lake. (N.S. Department of Energy and Mines)

Some mineral exploration companies in Nova Scotia are failing to abide by the province's regulations, drilling without approval, excavating outside their licence areas and in two cases, cutting trees right down to a lakefront.

The violations are revealed in documents released to CBC News by the provincial Energy and Mines Department under access-to-information laws.

"Why can't people just follow the regulations?" lamented one department staff member to another in an email sent in December 2018.

Atlantic Gold, which operates one mine near Moose River, N.S., and has three other proposed mines, cut a swath of trees and shrubs about 4.5 metres wide and 86 metres long right down to the water's edge around Rocky Lake near Upper Musquodoboit.

"This was an infraction of the required 30-metre buffer, no cutting zone around a watercourse as well as cutting the trees on Crown land without a permit," reads a remediation report from the company.

Drilling lubricant was removed from a ditch near Rocky Lake in Upper Musquodoboit, N.S., and was taken back to Atlantic Gold's Moose River site for disposal. (N.S. Department of Energy and Mines)

An investigation by the Environment Department found the project created ruts that allowed unmitigated runoff from the company's drill site and left drilling lubricant spilled in the ditch and running down the slope.

The company also made an unauthorized cut of 57 metres at nearby Otter Lake and drilled a hole without authorization, while one authorized drill was not done in the permitted location.

After an inspector with the Energy and Mines Department discovered the violations, the company was ordered to remediate the sites and pay fines.

In its remediation report, the company said the site supervisor did not know about restrictions on cutting around a watercourse.

Unauthorized drilling

Several companies, including some of the most active mining companies in the province, were found to have drilled holes without notifying the province first.

Atlantic Gold subsidiary D.D.V. Gold conducted unauthorized drilling at an exploration licence at its Cochrane Hill site, and another subsidiary, Annapolis Properties Corp., also drilled holes near East Chezzetcook without proper notification.

Anaconda Mining, which wants to open a 125-hectare gold mine outside Goldboro, drilled nine unauthorized holes — "an oversight on our part as we had multiple people filing [notifications] and these holes were missed along the way," the company said in a letter to the department.

Finders Keepers USA dug a trench in New Ross outside its licensed area, but it was found to have been adequately remediated.

The province said this trench dug by John F. Wightman in Larder River, Lunenburg County, N.S., should be filled in, as required by the regulations. (N.S. Department of Energy and Mines)

Inspection reports filed by a provincial geologist also found issues with site remediation, including:

  • Many instances of drillholes that were not sealed properly, including some that had water flowing from them.
  • Trenches up to a few metres deep that were not filled in and could pose a hazard to wildlife, hunters, ATV riders or snowmobilers.
  • One site with "newly exposed radioactive till and boulders" due to uranium brought to the surface.
  • A site with a mine shaft cover that "appears unsecure and accessible for those reckless individuals who would dare to enter."

However, those problems were flagged by the inspectors before the companies' exploration licences expired, so companies had time to remediate the issues.

A tree planter walks toward Rocky Lake after the site was remediated by Atlantic Gold. (N.S. Department of Energy and Mines)

Sean Kirby, spokesperson for the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, said companies must post reclamation bonds before they get exploration permits. If they don't reclaim sites properly, that can affect the success of future permit applications or lead to higher reclamation bonds.

"Companies take care of the environment first and foremost because it's the right thing to do, but they also do proper reclamation, including sealing holes as required, to get the bond back since it's a considerable expense," he said in a statement.

Donald James, the province's executive director of geoscience and mines, said there have been no instances of the province withholding a company's reclamation security, which is required for all work on Crown land. Work on private land must be reclaimed to the satisfaction of the landowner.

"We think that they're quite minor," James said of the issues flagged during inspections, "especially when the companies are quite co-operative in reclaiming the sites to our satisfaction."

Inspection regime 'at a good level,' says province

Nova Scotia has experienced a boom in exploration activity in recent years, with more than 1,100 exploration licences currently issued across the province, up from 495 five years ago.

Despite the uptick, the number of provincial staff enforcing the rules has remained the same.

James said the province's inspection regime is "at a good level now."

"We're busy, let me just say that," he said.

Ugo Lapointe of Mining Watch Canada said although some of the issues flagged in inspections are "troubling," Nova Scotia's monitoring system is decent compared with other provinces, some of which do not conduct any.

"It's important that regulators have the capacity to do the inspections on the one hand, but then they also need to be able to enforce after they witness non-compliant activities. And we find that this is often a challenge found across Canada."

About the Author

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

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