The B.C. Liberal government recently ordered independent third-party reviews of all 2014 dam safety inspections for every tailings pond at a permitted mine in British Columbia.
All information obtained under this order will be provided to First Nations and then made public.
Taseko president and chief executive officer Russ Hallbauer says this review will be helpful in clearing the air for these mine operations.
“We welcome that review; we think that it’s important to bring confidence back to dam safety for the general public.
“I think, as the review follows through, we’ll find that the dam safety in the province is of the highest standard. Certainly we believe that [is so] at Gibraltar.”
With his background as a mining engineer during the formative years of his career, Hallbauer adds he knows firsthand that dam safety has been a “very important part” of anything Taseko does at Gibraltar.
He agrees that public opinion toward Taseko’s proposed New Prosperity Mine project, and other new mine projects, has likely experienced a negative shift in the wake of the Mount Polley tailings pond breach.
“Certainly, it’s a terrible thing that has happened, and it has [affected] public perception and confidence on the mining process and the dam failure.
“Having said that, for years and years and years we have maintained, as an industry, that these facilities that store ground up sand and water are not toxic.
“That has been clearly evidenced by what’s gone on, with respect to the water sampling and the early results of the investigation by the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Mines in terms of ongoing issues. I think that’s pretty evident to people.”
Initial water tests taken three days after the breach already showed drinking water standards have been met, Hallbauer notes.
“That says a lot, and it should convince people that these things are not the ‘bogey man’ that people think they are, if managed and controlled properly.”
Hallbauer explains the whole issue with tailing pond safety comes down to proper management of the water balance and discharge.
There is more work to be done on this issue, particularly at the government level, he adds.
The Taseko CEO notes all water, including snow and rain, is currently classified as “mine effluent” – so if Gibraltar (or Mount Polley) gets five feet of snow runoff into the tailings pond, it must contain it.
“This water has to be discharged somewhere, and primarily, it has not been allowed to be discharged, for whatever reason the government sees fit….”
That will likely be spelled out in the risk evaluations to take place in the upcoming months, he says.
“The water has got to get off these mountains. And, that’s what it is, it’s water … and needs to be discharged into the environment.”
That said, Hallbauer adds he does not in any way make light of the seriousness of the Mount Polley breach near Likely.
“A lot of these dams are designed differently. Our New Prosperity dam is not designed the same way as the Mount Polley dam, and so is the Gibraltar dam. It’s quite a bit different.”