Before the dust had even settled on Mount Polley, mine owner Imperial Metals was active again in Clayoquot Sound. This finding was announced in Who’s Knocking?, a report on mineral tenures in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The report, released by Clayoquot Action in partnership with Fair Mining Collaborative, details who is looking for minerals in Clayoquot Sound, and what types of minerals they are looking for.
Twenty years ago when someone said “Clayoquot,” protests against clearcutting of old growth forests came to mind. At that time nobody thought anybody was crazy enough to propose an open-pit copper mine in the heart of Clayoquot Sound.
Fast-forward twenty years, and somebody is crazy enough to make such a proposal: Imperial Metals. That’s right, Imperial Metals, which operates Mount Polley Mine, home to one of the largest mining disasters in the world, has been exploring for two mines in Clayoquot Sound, in unceded Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations territories.
Who’s Knocking? shows that 5.8% of Clayoquot Sound is under some form of mineral title, with a total of 257 claims held by 23 licensees.
This January Premier Clark announced millions of dollars in funding to fast track the permitting and approval of new mines. Since the Mount Polley disaster, her government has approved several new mines, including Red Chris, a contentious Imperial Metals mine in the Sacred Headwaters region of Tahltan First Nations territory.
The BC government appointed the Mount Polley Review Panel to determine why the dam failed. Their January 2015 report firmly rejected “any notion that business as usual can continue.” They called for an end to underwater storage of toxic tailings behind dams that could fail, causing irreparable environmental damage. They recommended shifting to “best available technology” (BAT) such as dry-stacking tailings. The Panel acknowledged that while safer technologies might be more expensive, cost estimates for conventional tailings dams do not include the costs associated with failures like Mount Polley.
Despite committing in January to fully implement their recommendations, in May BC’s Minister of Mines, Bill Bennett, reneged on that promise, saying “I don’t think that’s in the cards … to adopt a policy where all you can use to manage tailings is dry-stack tailings.”
Storage of toxic tailings is a challenge that will not go away. With the world’s best ore bodies already mined out, we are scraping the barrel to get the last bits of valuable metals out of the ground. This translates into much larger quantities of mine tailings than were produced in the past.
A common-sense approach to best practices would begin by acknowledging that some areas, such as Clayoquot Sound, or the headwaters of the Adams River in Neskonlith territory – world famous for its sockeye salmon run – are just too special to mine. The government needs to designate “no-go” zones which are off-limits to all mining activities including exploration.
As BC’s retired Director of Wildlife, Jim Walker, wrote in 2011, “… as more and more of the province is developed, the ecological, societal and economic value of undeveloped areas increases dramatically … British Columbians do not want all the few remaining pristine areas accessed, no matter what the economic benefits or technical assurances.”
It’s time to ensure that any mining which does occur in British Columbia does not put at risk “The Best Place on Earth.”
Dan Lewis is executive director of Clayoquot Action in Tofino BC. Thank you to Glasswaters Foundation for helping fund the Who’s Knocking? report