Environmental safeguards at BC mines being eroded by amendments, study finds

According to new academic research, some environmental safeguards built into BC mine approvals are being phased out without sufficient public or scientific oversight.

A recently published article researchers from Dalhousie University’s School of Resource and Environmental Studies conclude that mining companies may have altered their original operating conditions in ways that can have serious resource effects in water.

These amendments, he says, are often granted with little apparent scientific justification or follow-up.

“We express our concern that the amendment process is being used as a loophole, intentionally or not, to escape the rigor and scrutiny of the full EA process,” said lead author Ben Collison. of the article published in the journal. facets.

Collison said that while his research was limited to British Columbia, the same could happen across the country.

“It could be part of a bigger picture,” he said.

Disputed study

David Karn, spokesperson for British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, disputed the paper’s conclusions.

“The Environmental Assessment Office has a robust process for reviewing any request to amend an environmental assessment certificate,” he said in an email.

Collison and his colleagues looked at 23 mines in British Columbia that were approved between 2002 and 2020 after undergoing an environmental assessment.

Of these mines, 15 have requested a total of 49 amendments to their original operating license conditions, most within three years of opening.

Almost all of the amendments—98%—were granted.

The researchers concluded that 20 of these approved amendments were likely to damage water resources. The amendments altered effluent discharges, increased water withdrawals and damaged fish habitat. One of them allowed a mine to increase its production by 50%.

Collison said these changes came with little scientific rationale, oversight or oversight.

“It was very, very difficult to find information in these amendment documents that gave us numerical and quantitative descriptions of the proposed changes,” he said.

“Often these were approved without any follow-up follow-up studies, enforcement action, or compliance checks after the fact.”

Information gaps

The report includes examples of amendments granted even though the BC Environmental Assessment Office acknowledged that information on their effects was lacking.

In 2017, one mine was given permission to modify its tailings storage on the understanding that a water treatment plant would be operational – a plant that Collison said was still not operating at the start of this year.

“There have been changes that could have potentially serious impacts,” he said.

But Karn said the newspaper did not review the whole story.

“This research project was conducted using only materials posted on the [assessment office’s] project information website, which does not provide a full account [its] a rigorous evaluation process and project information,” he said.

Karn said all amendments are carefully evaluated. First Nations are consulted and public participation may be sought.

“The Amendments do not weaken the requirements for proponents to protect environmental values, conditions and actions, which are part of their environmental assessment certificates, and in many cases will result in enhanced requirements,” said Karn.

Collison said the situation has improved in the province since his new environmental assessment legislation took effect in 2019, as it made information more accessible to the public.

But he warned his study was narrowly focused. It only dealt with mines, water impacts and one province. And the amendments it considered remain in force.

“It’s just a small piece of the puzzle,” Collison said. “The results call into question the credibility of the whole environmental assessment process. I think there are other impacts that other researchers should look at.”