Cumulative Environmental Effects and the British Columbia Mining Boom

Mining is an extractive industry that can cause considerable negative environmental effects, and is therefore often subject to the process of environmental impact assessment (EIA) in order to minimize those impacts while encouraging social and economic benefits.  These economic benefits can clearly be seen in British Columbia, where over the past 8 years, the mining industry’s revenues have doubled to $9.9 billion [1]. The mining boom occurring in BC brings with it lots of jobs, subsurface exploration, profit, but also environmental damage. See figure 1 below for some statistics on mining in BC.

An overview of the mining industry in British Columbia. Source: http://bc.ctvnews.ca/more/the-big-dig.

Figure 1. An overview of the mining industry in British Columbia. Source: http://bc.ctvnews.ca/more/the-big-dig.

The recent mining boom is courtesy of both an increasing worldwide demand for metals [2], as well as the construction of the Northwest Transmission Line (NTL) [1]. The NTL is a 344 km long transmission line that will carry electricity northwards, starting near Terrace and ending near Bob Quinn Lake in northern British Columbia [1]. The video below gives a fly-by of the NTL in all its glory.

An overview of the Northwest Transmission Line. Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0yJmmNMqIQ.

That creative use of Google Earth certainly makes the NTL seem like an impressive project, except for the fact that BC Hydro will be using taxpayers money to build it when it will be used by industry. Looking at the map below of the NTL, we can see the locations of the numerous potential mines in northwest BC. Eight of these mines will be in operation by 2015 [2].

Map of the area covered by the Northwest Transmission Line. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bcgovphotos/5694167407/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Figure 2. Map of the area surrounding the Northwest Transmission Line. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bcgovphotos/5694167407/sizes/m/in/photostream/.

A major issue when multiple projects take place in the same geographical location is that of cumulative environmental effects.

Cumulative environmental effects are defined as “changes to the environment caused by an action in combination with other past, present, and future actions” [3].

Mining can have considerable negative effects including leachate from waste rock and tailing ponds, to the blasting of solid rock [4]. Water quality often suffers as a result of these releases of chemicals. In addition to these effects, one must also consider those of the accompanying infrastructure such as access roads and transmission lines. Under the BC Environmental Assessment Act (BCEAA), there is no requirement for cumulative effects assessments [5]. This is a major deficiency of the BCEAA. When examined separately, these mines may be mitigated to a sufficient degree, but when you consider all the potential impacts from all the potential mines, the environmental degradation could be insurmountable. The BC Environmental Assessment Office is being flooded with applications from this area [6] and will be under a lot of pressure from both industry and individuals seeking a new “gold rush”.

Major reforms to the EIA system in BC are required in order to minimize impacts on the environment, while providing opportunities for the population of BC, including First Nations communities. The creation of legislative requirements for cumulative environmental effects is just one step that needs to be taken to improve the EIA process in BC.

For more information on the mining boom in British Columbia and the impacts it can cause, have a look at CTV News’ series the big dig.

References

[1] Watson, E. (2012). “B.C. mining boom triggers new gold rush.” Retrieved from <http://bc.ctvnews.ca/b-c-mining-boom-triggers-new-gold-rush-1.956886> on January 21st, 2013.

[2] Findlay, A. (2011). “Critics claim mineral exploration in B.C. needs more accountability.” Retrieved from <http://www.straight.com/news/critics-claim-mineral-exploration-bc-needs-more-accountability> on January 20th, 2013.

[3] Noble, B. (2010). Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: Guide to Principles and Practice (2nd edition). Toronto: Oxford University Press.

[4] Environment Canada. (2012), “Mining.” Retrieved from <http://www.ec.gc.ca/pollution/default.asp?lang=En&n=C6A98427-1> on January 20th, 2013.

[5] Booth, A., and N. Skelton. (2011). “Industry and government perspectives on First Nations’ participation in the British Columbia environmental assessment process.” Environmental Impact Assessment Review 31: 216-225.

[6] Pollon, C. (2012). “Reinvent Environmental Assessment in BC, Say Critics.” Retrieved from <http://thetyee.ca/News/2012/11/08/Reinvent-Environmental-Assessment-in-BC/> on January 19th, 2013.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s