Critics fear more tailings pond waste at gold mine could spell disaster for Nova Scotia
An impending decision by the Nova Scotia Department of Environment could allow a controversial gold mine to pump more sewage into its tailings ponds, sounding the alarm over what some critics call a lack of control environment in the approval process.
The company behind the Touquoy open-pit gold mine in Moose River has applied to the province for permission to raise the height of the dam wall surrounding its tailings ponds, which are made up of diluted waste from from the mining process and contain heavy metal by-products. This could allow Touquoy to store more mine waste and increase the likelihood of an accident, said Karen McKendry, wilderness outreach coordinator for the Ecology Action Center.
She recalls the Mount Polley disaster in British Columbia in 2014, when an estimated 25 billion liters of mining waste spilled into water sources near the copper and gold mine. Contaminants from the spill are still documented in local invertebrates like mayflies.
There have already been compliance issues at the mine, which exacerbate McKendry’s concerns.
Atlantic Mining NS Inc., which operates as Atlantic Gold in the province and owns the Touquoy surface mine, pleaded guilty in February to two counts: failing to test water quality runoff in Touquoy and failed to report these findings to authorities. Initially, 32 environmental violations were filed against the company, but this number was reduced during the advocacy process. The company was ordered to pay $250,000 to the provincial and federal governments.
No date for decision, says province
Approval for some mining activities, such as increasing tailings, does not need to go through an environmental approval process or public comment period – which McKendry says is a huge flaw in the process.
“The application and its respective review process raise major security and lack of transparency concerns,” McKendry said.
“There are many examples of failing tailings dams. These breaches result in the dumping of toxic mine waste into nearby areas, leading to the obliteration and contamination of waterways, groundwater and wildlife, while endangering human health and safety.
The office of Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change Minister Tim Halman confirmed that Atlantic Gold has an application under review, but said there was no date for a decision.
Atlantic Mining NS Inc., which operates as Atlantic Gold in the province and owns the Touquoy surface mine, pleaded guilty in February to two counts: failing to test water quality runoff at Touquoy and failing to report these discoveries.
“The role of Environment and Climate Change is that of an environmental regulator. As a neutral steward of the environmental regulatory process, we use science and data to make decisions within the framework of environmental law and its regulations, with the aim of protecting our environment and promoting sustainable development. the office said in an emailed statement.
As reported in the Guysborough Diary In late June, Atlantic Mining said that if the height request is not approved, it could shut down operations and move to site maintenance as early as mid-August. The company said its original plan had always been to make Touquoy a disposal site for tailings from other operations planned nearby, including Beaver Dam, a project opposed by the local Mi’kmaq chief.
However, in Australia’s St. Barbara (Atlantic Mining’s parent company) quarterly report released this week, the company noted “the senior management relationships established with [the government]which improved the clearance pathways for operations in the Atlantic. »
“The science and recommendations on which Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change will base its decision are unclear,” McKendry said.
“The tailings dam was not originally designed to withstand the volume of mine waste currently proposed, and the initial 2008 environmental assessment for the mine did not assess or solicit public comment on these plans. Nova Scotians need the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to do the right thing and protect Nova Scotians and our nature, and not bow to pressure from the gold mining industry.