Nova Scotia

Province to spend $15K to cap arsenic-leaking drillhole

Government staff knew about the issue last year but decided not to fix the hole.

Government staff knew about the issue last year but decided not to fix it

A hole drilled by a mineral exploration company seven years ago is leaking water with high iron and arsenic levels. (Department of Energy and Mines)

The province is planning to seal a mineral exploration drillhole that's been leaking high-arsenic water for more than seven years.

The decision comes after a CBC News investigation found that Energy and Mines Department staffers knew about the leak last year and decided not to cap the hole.

A spokesperson for the department said Wednesday staff recently discussed the issue with the landowner and offered to seal the hole.

The province will cover the cost, which is expected to be about $15,000. The exact method and timeline for the work hasn't yet been decided, the department said.

The hole was drilled in 2011 on private property on Warwick Mountain in Colchester County by a contractor for a now-defunct gold exploration company.

A provincial geologist conducting routine fieldwork discovered water spewing from the site last year, and water tests ordered by the department found arsenic levels that were 10 times higher than drinking water quality guidelines and 25 times the recommended limits for freshwater aquatic life.

Water flows from the hole into a ditch along an unpaved road. (Robert Short/CBC)

The owner of the land declined to comment when he was contacted by CBC News on Tuesday. Last week, he said he was not concerned about the leak.

John Perkins, a member of the environmental group Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia, said the decision to fix the leak is "a step in the right direction," but it highlights problems with the province's oversight of the mining industry.

"It's unfortunate that the people of Nova Scotia have to actually incur costs that are foisted on us by mining companies and exploration companies that aren't operating to the standards that they should be and aren't regulated and monitored by the government department," he said. "And so because of the breakdown of that system, we end up paying."

Perkins said additional inspectors would help catch problems after the fact, but if the province required significant deposits or bonds before work began, or issued steep fines to companies that fail to meet regulations, it would ensure holes are capped properly in the first place.

Cement appears to have been poured on the ground in an attempt to stop the water from flowing. The orange stains are a result of iron precipitate in the water. (Robert Short/CBC)

The department inspects exploration holes on Crown land to make sure they're sealed at least three metres into the bedrock. But it doesn't inspect all drillholes on private land.

In fact, when the government revamped its mineral resources regulations last month, it added a new clause allowing landowners to request that a drillhole not be sealed.

Perkins said that's not acceptable.

"The idea of the provincial government saying to anybody that it's OK to leave a leaking well of toxic arsenic-laden water into our watershed is just beyond belief."

Perkins said SuNNS believes the department should now check the condition of all previous drillholes, and report any problems publicly.

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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