UBC mine engineering professor Dirk van Zyl (left) is appointed to review the Mt. Polley mine tailings dam failure by Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett

New rules in effect for mine tailings ponds

Permits will specify dam construction, water level, motion detection and independent review, Mines Minister Bill Bennett says

The latest changes to B.C. mine regulations bring the province closer to its goal of preventing another tailings pond failure, says an independent expert who investigated the 2014 dam breach at Mt. Polley Mine.

Dirk van Zyl, professor of mining and the environment at the University of B.C. and one of three outside reviewers of the Mt. Polley failure, said the changes to B.C.’s Mining Code meet the recommendations made by engineers who examined the failure.

“These changes put B.C. in a leadership position and clearly set the groundwork for a more comprehensive approach to consistent tailings management in the province,” van Zyl said in a statement Wednesday. “It is another step towards the overall goal of moving to zero tailings storage facility failures.”

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the changes to construction, water management and inspection can’t be expected to prevent every small release of water from a mine tailings pond in heavy rainfall. But he is confident the new regime will prevent major failures, even when unknown factors such as the weak layer under the Mt. Polley dam exist.

“Now we are prescribing a factor of safety that I think will account for the things you don’t know,” Bennett said.

Al Hoffman, B.C.’s Chief Inspector of Mines, said the new code has specific requirements for inside “beaches” to reduce pressure on the base of a tailings dam, the height of water allowed, the number of motion detectors on the dam and the frequency of inspections.

The new code requires every existing B.C. mine with a tailings pond to have an independent tailings review board in place by the end of 2016, with annual reports to be posted online.

That falls short of a recent recommendation by B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer that mine oversight should be independent of the ministry that issues permits and promotes mining investment. Bennett said he remains convinced that the technical nature of permits with hundreds of conditions makes the people who issue them the best qualified to enforce them.

NDP energy and mines critic Norm Macdonald said Mt. Polley was required to have supporting beaches and went for years without them, and also reported its water levels incorrectly before the dam failure. New rules will only make a difference if they are enforced, Macdonald said.

The Mt. Polley independent report concluded that a a layer of glacial till material at the base of the dam near Williams Lake wasn’t understood in enough detail when the dam was designed and built in 1997. Later raising of the dam to hold more water and tailings put pressure on the base layer and led to the failure.

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service continues its investigation of the Mt. Polley incident, and has authority to recommend charges for the environmental damage done by the failure.

The Mt. Polley dam has been repaired by owner Imperial Metals and the mine reopened, with work continuing to rebuild Hazeltine Creek and the shore of Quesnel Lake where a torrent of water and tailings poured down on Aug. 4, 2014.

 

Just Posted

Vancouver measles outbreak prompts vaccine vigilance on Island

No cases here yet, but Island health authorities push measles vaccinations - and not just for kids

The long winding road to Tofino-Ucluelet—then and now

If you are feeling frustrated about the Highway 4 closures, sit back read about what came before.

B.C. BUDGET: Surplus $374 million after bailouts of BC Hydro, ICBC

Growth projected stronger in 2020, Finance Minister Carole James says

Farm and Garden Show coming to Tofino

Greenthumbs unite at the Tofino Botanical Gardens from Feb. 22-24.

Steelhead LNG stops work on Kwispaa LNG project near Bamfield

Huu-ay-aht First Nations ‘deeply disappointed; Steelhead says funding is the problem

70% of Canadians agree with mandatory vaccines for children: poll

The debate for pro and anti vaccinations has heated up after a measles outbreak in Vancouver

Vancouver Island petition to decriminalize all drugs continues to collect signatures

A Courtenay couple is collecting signatures for their petition to decriminalize drugs in Canada

UPDATE: Woman, off-duty cop in critical condition after stabbing outside B.C. elementary school

The officer was interceding in an alleged assault when he and the woman were stabbed

‘A little baloney’ in PM’s claim about solicitor-client privilege on SNC-Lavalin

The Conservatives and NDP want Trudeau to waive that privilege so Wilson-Raybould can offer her side of the story

Proposed edible pot rules are wasteful, would leave products tasteless: critics

When Canada legalized weed last fall, it only allowed fresh or dried bud, oil, plants and seeds

Samsung folding phone is different – but also almost $2,000

But most analysts see a limited market for foldable-screen phones

Most Read