A non-governmental watchdog of Canada’s mining industry is “shocked” no charges were laid in the Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach.
MiningWatch Canada released a statement following the Dec. 17 report by British Columbia’s Chief Inspector of Mines Al Hoffman who investigated the collapse of the tailings storage facility at Mount Polley Mine in August 2014.
The “catastrophic” spill of mining waste from the gold and copper mine operated by Imperial Metals into Polley Lake and the nearby water system received national attention as a major environmental disaster.
Hoffman decided not to forward charges to Crown counsel against the mining company. He says the investigation determined the mine did not contravene any existing regulatory requirements, but its management and operational practices “failed in a number of areas.”
“How can so many things be done so poorly, sloppily, or haphazardly, and result in massive damage, without someone being ‘at fault,” says Ugo Lapointe, Canadian program co-ordinator for MiningWatch Canada. “It was not an ‘act of God’. The report makes it clear that it was poor design, poor practices, poor oversight, and misconduct on the part of Mount Polley Mine Corporation (MPMC).”
The investigation and analysis was the largest and most-complex ever in B.C., according to the provincial government, which accepted all 19 recommendations made in the report to prevent such incidents from recurring in the future and make B.C. “a national and international leader in safety standards for tailings storage facilities.”
The report determined the dam failed because the strength and location of a layer of clay underneath the dam was not taken into account in the design or in subsequent dam raises.
“Other factors including the slope of the perimeter embankment, inadequate water management, insufficient beaches and a sub-excavation at the outside toe of the dam exacerbated the collapse of the dam and the ensuing environmental damage.”
The report also notes the mining company “ignored or discounted” multiple opportunities to review the foundation soils, did not fully recognize and manage geotechnical and water management risks associated with the design of the tailings storage facility, and did not have an adequate water management plan in place.
Lapointe says the situation doesn’t add up: the chief inspector concluded there’s no ground to lay charges, but at the same time, makes dozens of “incriminating statements” in his report.
“It makes no sense. Either there were political reasons for the chief inspector to not lay charges against MPMC, or the regulatory system is even more broken then we all thought. Either way, it’s not reassuring for any of the mines currently operating in B.C.”