VICTORIA—British Columbia’s Mines Minister Bill Bennett says mining code revisions introduced July 20 include risk-protection requirements to ensure a disaster like the Mount Polley tailings pond collapse never happens again.
In August 2014, a massive tailings dam breached at the mine in B.C.’s Cariboo region, sending 24 million cubic meters of mine waste and water into nearby rivers and lakes.
“What we have done here, and what we’ll do in the next few months will prevent a major accident from happening with a tailings storage facility here in B.C.,” Bennett said at a news conference July 20. “I’m absolutely convinced of that.”
He said the changes include design standards for tailings storage facilities tailored to conditions within the province and emphasize public and worker protection.
An independent review of the disaster last year concluded that the tailings dam collapsed because the strength and location of clay underneath the dam was not taken into account during original designs.
Bennett said the mining code updates can’t guarantee small leaks or spills from tailings facilities, but the changes include conditions and requirements that go beyond normal industry standards.
B.C.’s chief inspector of mines Al Hoffman said the changes include seven mining code revisions.
Among the changes are requirements in mine permit applications to declare performance objectives that include programs for prediction, identification and management of physical, chemical and other risks associated with tailings facilities and dams.
“We’ve worked very hard on these code revisions and I think we’ve filled in a lot of those cracks,” said Hoffman. “So, it’s very unlikely it will happen again.”
But Opposition New Democrat mines critic Norm Macdonald said he remains skeptical about the government’s intentions to monitor the mining industry.
“Until we see some intent from government to hold companies to account for failures, we are exactly in the same place we’re been since the B.C. Liberals came to power,” he said. “What are the consequences for the company to date, nothing.”
The Mount Polley gold and copper mine, owned by Imperial Metals Corp., was cleared to resume full operations last month.
B.C.’s Conservation Service, which has the power to recommend criminal charges, is conducting a review of the Mount Polley disaster.
B.C. Mining Association president Karina Brino said there are always risk factors in industrial operations, but the goal to work towards a zero failure rate.