A Zombie EIA process in Quebec ?

The economic downturn which started in 2008 has now lasted for a number of years. To counter the effects of the recession, the recently elected Liberal government in Quebec has decided to take measures to cut so-called redundant spending and create jobs.

With the latter objective in mind, two major projects have recently received approval. The first is the McInnis Cement Plant in Port-Daniel, Gaspésie.

Plan of McInnis Cement Plant, Port-Daniel, Gaspésie

This project, partially funded by the government, will create about 400 permanent jobs [1] in a region with few job opportunities, but will also be a major source of greenhouse gas pollution. This cement plan was a priority for the previous government, and it seems to be a priority for the current government as well. In fact, the Couillard government has introduced Bill 37 to allow the project to be exempted from a review by the BAPE (Bureau d’Audiences Publique en Environnement), because of threats from the proponent to pull out if the project would have to go through this more extensive process [2]. It should be noted that the construction of the plant had already started before the introduction of Bill 37. How then can the BAPE influence the design of the project?  As you will see in this short news coverage (in French only) by Radio-Canada [3], there are a number of legal issues related to this project, but some of the environmental concerns were arguably “dissipated” through mediation between the proponent and environmental organizations. Is that enough considering the lack of transparency in the process?

The second major project is the Arnaud Mine in Sept-Îles, Quebec. This mine will extract apatite, a mineral used in the production of fertilizers and create about 330 permanent jobs [5]. The Couillard government has announced that the Arnaud mine project would go forward (with 10 additional conditions) on March 16, 2015, about one year after a review of the project by the BAPE [6]. In 2014, the BAPE had declared in a report that in its current form, the project was unacceptable, mainly because of risks of groundwater contamination, health, noise, and air quality issues, and a lack of social acceptability of the project (division within the community) [7]. From the information available, since the initial review of the project by the BAPE, the proponent has not submitted a revised version of the project.

Protest against the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-ÎlesProtest to support the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-Îles

These two examples show the little regard the government has towards the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and the little impact EIA reports have on decisions. Are we going back to treating the EIA process as a hindrance to development?

“Je ne sacrifierai pas une seule job dans la forêt pour le caribou”
Phillipe Couillard, Quebec Prime Minister [8]

This quote from the Quebec prime minister demonstrates that the government puts a higher value on job creation and short-term growth than on sustainable development or any environmental concern. This philosophy has led the government to bypass its own legislation, as seen especially in the McInnis cement plant case, and to ignore recommendations by its independent panel of experts in the environmental field (BAPE). This behavior and discourse will likely decrease the confidence citizens have in the EIA process in general and lead to further pessimism towards governments [9].

Maybe it is time for governments to create a long-term plan for the future and to stop opposing economics and environment. We need to have a vision as a society to focus governmental policies. In the meantime, a number of actions should be undertaken to strengthen the EIA process. First, we need to give legislative power to the BAPE, so that they have means to implement their recommendations. Second, we should systematically consider the “no-project” alternative when evaluating projects.

Sources :

[1] Radio-Canada (2014). Port-Daniel aura sa cimenterie. Ici Radio-CanadaLast update: June 2nd, 2014. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2014/06/02/001-cimenterie-port-daniel-gouvernement-couillard.shtml

[2] Shields, Alexandre. (2015). La cimenterie de Port-Daniel échappera définitivement au BAPE. Le Devoir. Actualités sur l’environnement. 19 février 2015. http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/432213/la-cimenterie-de-port-daniel-echappera-definitivement-au-bape

[3] Biron, Martine. (2015). Cimenterie de Port-Daniel-Gascons : Québec veut éliminer toute entrave au projet. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: February 18, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/politique/2015/02/18/005-cimenterie-port-daniel-projet-loi-quebec-eviter-bape.shtml

[4] Corbeil, Michel (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Le Soleil. March 13. 2015. http://www.lapresse.ca/le-soleil/affaires/les-regions/201503/12/01-4851720-feu-vert-a-mine-arnaud.php

[5] (2011). Mine Arnaud: Un projet de diversification économique. http://www.minearnaud.com/fr/benefices/

[6] Radio-Canada (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: March 16, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2015/03/16/002-mine-arnaud-annonce-sept-iles.shtml

[7] Québec Meilleure Mine (2014). Conclusion historique par le BAPE: Projet Mine Arnaud à Sept-Îles jugé “inacceptable”. Mining Watch Canada. Last update: http://www.miningwatch.ca/fr/news/conclusion-historique-par-le-bape-projet-mine-arnaud-sept-les-jug-inacceptable

[8] Côté, Charles (2014). Bras de fer en vue sur le caribou. La Presse. Last update: April 28, 2014. http://www.lapresse.ca/environnement/especes-en-danger/201404/28/01-4761476-bras-de-fer-en-vue-sur-le-caribou.php

[9] Morissette, Samuel. (2013). Les parlementaires de l’Assemblée nationale et le cynisme envers la politique: Entre la réalité politique et l’utopie démocratique. Fondation Jean-Charles-Bonenfant, Assemblée nationale du Québec. 42 pages. Retrieved at: http://www.fondationbonenfant.qc.ca/stages/documents/Essai_SamuelMorrissette.pdf


McInnis Cement Plant: http://argent.canoe.ca/nouvelles/les-desmarais-et-les-beaudoin-saffronteront-dans-le-ciment-17102013

Protest against the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2013/09/20130921-171034.html

Demonstration to support the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2014/03/20140314-202740.html


Sustainability: What’s that supposed to mean?

The Importance of Water

Humankind is entirely dependent on water, including for energy. “Water and energy are strongly interlinked: water is required to produce, transport and use all forms of energy to some degree” (UNESCO, 2014, p.12).

Created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Water Development Report (WWDR) ranked Canada among the richest countries in the world for water (UNESCO, 2014). However, this allows for an energy policy that further permits the production of Canadian oil-sands in Alberta, resulting in large amounts of carbon emissions and water use, a policy of which is unsustainable. See the video below for a short explanation of the Alberta oil sands production process.


According to Environment Canada (2014), sustainability is “about improving the standard of living by protecting human health, conserving the environment, using resources efficiently…It requires the integration of environmental, economic and social priorities into policies and programs and requires action at all levels – citizens, industry, and governments.” It follows that “using resources efficiently” and “action” from citizens are important parts of energy policy development. If this is what is meant by sustainability, though, I have problems understanding the relevance of its emphasis throughout Government documents.

The democratic process ceases to exist at the policy level, for example, in Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) sees SEA as a method to evaluate Canadian Energy Policies (CEAA, 2014). According to the CEAA (2014), there are no SEAs that exist at this time nor have there ever been any, regarding Canada’s energy policy. This is not sustainable, since incorporating citizen action at the policy level, according to Environment Canada’s own definition of sustainable, is virtually non-existent.

Oil-sands development has some of the most adverse effects. According to David Harvey of the University of Toronto: “Tar sands oil entails 5-60% more greenhouse gas emissions on a life-cycle basis than conventional oil” (ForestEthics, 2013, p.6).

According to the Canadian Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP), in 2012, the Alberta oil-sands operations alone produced 50,285,958.95 tons/CO2eq. Comparatively, the entire province of Quebec produced 17,765,573 tons/CO2eq for the same year. Furthermore, in Canada, it takes about 7-10 M3 of water to produce 1 M3 of Bitumen, the raw oil-sand from Alberta that still requires further processing into crude oil, which itself requires more energy (NRCAN, 2014). This is not sustainable, since it takes about 7-10 times the amount of water to produce 1 unit (barrel, gallon, litre, etc.) of oil. This is not using resources efficiently.

Even a Life-Cycle Assessment shows treatment disparity between conventional energy (fossil fuels), nuclear and renewables (Ecolateral, 2014).

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.44.44 PM

Sustainability is more like “sustainability”. It is clear that Canadian energy policies do not live up to Canada’s own definition of sustainability, not only by erosion of the democratic process but also by way of one of the most inefficient uses of one of the most precious resources in the world: water, on which all of humankind depends. This is compounded by the exponentially increasing amount of carbon entering the atmosphere every day, the air you and I breath. In any sense of the definition, how does this sound sustainable and in light of these facts, how can we truly believe that our Government is handling our resources in the most sustainable fashion?

For more information on the current politics of fossil-fuel development, please visit:



Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. 2014. The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. Accessed on January 8th, 2014. Available from: https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=B3186435-1

Environment Canada, 2014. Facility GHG emissions by province/territory.

Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/donnees-data/index.cfm?do=province&lang=En&year=2012.

Environment Canada, 2014. Sustainable Development. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/dd-sd/

ForestEthics Advocacy, 2013. Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Natural Resources Canada, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/oil-sands/water-management/5865.

Oil Sands Information Portal, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from: http://osip.alberta.ca/library/Dataset/Details/443.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2014. The United Nations World Water Development Report: Water and Energy. (1).

New Prosperity – Same Old Result: Revisiting Taseko’s Gold-Copper Mine Proposal

Two years ago, another MEnv student wrote about the Prosperity mine in British Columbia. This was a mining project which was approved in the BC provincial environmental assessment process in 2009 but rejected in the federal process. Within the post, the student writes “an in depth comparison shall be necessary once the environmental impact assessment is officially completed under the CEAA 2012”, and two years later, the results are in! In February 2012, a decision statement was issued by the Canadian Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, stating that Taseko (the proponent) once again would not be granted permission for development [1]. After reviewing and writing a 7000 word paper on the most recent environmental impact statement submitted to the review panel by Taseko, it was not surprising to me why their project was denied approval.

Taseko attempted to deal with the concerns raised in 2009 about fish habitat by implementing new mitigation measures to preserve some of the habitat which originally would have been destroyed, explained through this video.

If you’re pressed for time, skip ahead to 5:40 where Taseko claims that their tailings pond will create suitable habitat for fish. Unfortunately for Taseko, much of the science underpinning this claim came into question during the review process. A study of the project’s tailings storage facility launched by Natural Resources Canada found a seepage rate eleven times higher than the predicted values in the environmental assessment [2].

Taseko have also failed to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from First Nations within the region, something considered to be part of best practice in mining [3]. The mitigation measures implemented by Taseko in their New Prosperity proposal did not do enough to convince the Tsilhqot’in First Nations that the project is safe. This was exemplified by Chief William who stated that “the Tsilhqot’in Nation remains unified in its opposition to this project because of the tremendous destruction it would mean for critical traditional lands and waters and the cultural survival of the Tsilhqot’in people”[4].  The Tsilhqot’in made history in 2014 when the Supreme Court of Canada upheld its land title claim to 1700 square kilometers [5]. Making the matter even more confusing is that the granted land claim shows that the New Prosperity mine is not directly on Tsilhqot’in territory, leading Taseko to believe their project should now move forward [6]. This is an example of how an overarching agreement, such as the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) in Quebec, between government and First Nations, would not only benefit private industry but also help in protecting the traditions and cultures of First Nations.

Tsilhqot’in protest the Prosperity mine

New Prosperity is an example of a project which is a risk to the environment. Questionable science has been used, and I believe the proper decision was made. However, like a child who won’t take no for an answer, Taseko is filing a lawsuit against the federal government. They are seeking damages for the rejection of their project. The legitimacy of EIA might be questioned if a project is rejected and companies receive damages for money spent on projects prior to approval. As Tim Timberg, lawyer for the federal Environment Minister put it, “the real remedy Taseko seeks remains the same – to quash these administrative decisions and allow them to proceed with the construction of the proposed mine” [7]. This mining project is not only important for the area where it will be built, but also will speak volumes about the legitimacy and integrity of environmental assessment in Canada. Will Taseko be granted another chance for approval due to their increasing legal pressures on the federal government? Only time will tell…


[1] Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2014, February 25). Decision Statement Issued under Section 54 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/document-eng.cfm?document=98458

[2] Natural Resources Canada. (2013, July 4). Numerical Modeling of Groundwater Seepage from the Tailings Storage Facility of the Proposed Taseko New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine Project. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p63928/90733E.pdf

[3] International Council on Mining and Metals. (2015). 10 Principles. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.icmm.com/our-work/sustainable-development-framework/10-principles

[4] Zilker, Wolfgang. (2013, June 20). Tsilhqot’in Nation Prepares for Public Hearings for Controversial New Prosperity Mine Proposal as Taseko Mines Ltd. Refuses to Answer Direct Requests from the Panel. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.protectfishlake.ca/letters/2013-06/tsilhqot-146-in-nation-prepares-for-public-hearings-for-controversial-new-prosperity-mine-proposal-as-taseko-mines-ltd-refuses-to-answer-direct-requests-from-the-panel.php

[5] CBC News. (2014, June 26). Tsilhqot’in First Nation granted B.C. title claim in Supreme Court ruling. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tsilhqot-in-first-nation-granted-b-c-title-claim-in-supreme-court-ruling-1.2688332

[6] Klein, Greg. (2014, June 26). Taseko Says Land Claims Ruling Shows New Prosperity Outside Aboriginal Territory. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://resourceclips.com/2014/06/26/taseko-says-land-claims-ruling-shows-new-prosperity-outside-aboriginal-territory/

[7] Moore, Dene. (2014, October 22). Taseko says Environment Minister’s rejection of B.C. mine improper. Retrieved February 8th 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/taseko-says-environment-ministers-rejection-of-bc-mine-improper/article21250492/

Sacrificing the Environment: Effects of the Canadian Environment Assessment Act 2012 on The Enbridge Pipeline 9B Reversal

By Wills Tobin,

Formerly, Enbridge pipeline 9B sent oil from Montreal, Quebec to Sarnia, Ontario. An approval on March 6, 2014 has allowed Enbridge Pipelines to reverse oil direction and capacity towards Montreal, QC. The National Energy Board’s approval is a fundamental example of the extent to which EIA processes in Canada have eroded because of the Bill C-38 adoption in June 2012. More insight on this:

In bill C-38, The Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012) changed drastically. The Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) facilitated changes in the act through lobbying representatives and members of Government (Forest Ethics, 2013). The EPIC mandate is to “…provide the foundations…for energy and environmental policy”(Forest Ethics, 2013, p. 1). As the conservative Government argued that the CEAA 2012 amendment was simply to streamline and reduce duplication, the effects of legislation have been negatively influential on the line 9B project (EPIC, 2012).

Scoping Line 9B

Due to the CEAA 2012, in the Line 9B reversal, The NEB (National Energy Board) stated that it would not consider environmental or socio-economic effects not directly associated with the reversal of the pipeline (Forest Ethics, 2013; David Suzuki Foundation, 2012; Gage, 2012). This has had a negative effect on the scope of the project. Scoping is critical because its purpose is to identify scientific and public core values so indirect and cumulative impacts are not over-looked, especially when it comes to major oil and gas infrastructure, which should always require comprehensive studies (Noble, 2010).

Monitoring Line 9B

According to Forest Ethics (2013), “once a decision is made for a given project, the NEB will not revoke permits, even if subsequent analyses show adverse environmental effects (p. 7).” The NEB also stated that monitoring should only have to be done at the beginning of the EIA process and not require continued follow-ups (NEB, 2013). The pipeline is 38 years old and it is worrisome that it may rupture if its carrying capacity is increased. There is a fear about pre- and post-, consistent monitoring, as knowledge of bitumen effects on the environment is limited and therefore less capable of being mitigated (CTV News, 2014). See video for more details:

Public Participation Line 9B

Most importantly, public participation now only includes people “directly effected”. (David Suzuki Foundation 2012; Gage 2012; Forest Ethics, 2013) As a result, compared to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (11,111 public participants), Enbridge line 9B only had 172 participants (Forest Ethics, 2013). This legislation has meant the loss of democracy in Canadian EIA. This is most important because participant input as to what is important in EIA has formerly always been taken into consideration. Keep in mind that what constitutes an impact or effect is frequently defined by social value. This diminution of public participation also defeats the purpose of important cornerstones in the development of EIA in Canada, like the signing of the Rio Declaration in 1992, the UN global environmental assessment agreement (UNEP, 1992). The effects of the CEAA 2012 have had repercussions that need to be noticed and hopefully acted upon very soon.


Canadian Environmental Law Association. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.cela.ca/blog/2013-08-13/ontario’s-greenhouse-gas-reduction-program-–-carbon-tax.

CBC News. (2014). Enbridge Line 9 pipeline reversal approved by energy board. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/enbridge-line-9-pipeline-reversal-approved-by-energy-board-1.2562169

CTV News. (2014). Leonardo DiCaprio visits Alberta oilsands to research documentary. Retrieved from://www.ctvnews.ca/entertainment/leonardo-dicaprio-visits-alberta-oilsands-to-research-documentary-1.1971656.

David Suzuki Foundation. (2012). Bill C-38: What you need to know. Retrieved from: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/downloads/2012/C-38%20factsheet.pdf

Energy Policy Institute of Canada. (2012). A Canadian Energy Strategy Framework: A guide to building Canada’s future as a global energy leader. Retrieved from: http://www.canadasenergy.ca/canadian-energy-strategy/

Environment Canada. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/donnees-data/index.cfm?do=province&lang=En&year=2012.

ForestEthics Advocacy. (2013). Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Gage, A. (2012). Who is silenced under Canada’s new environmental assessment law? West Coast Environmental Law. Retrieved from: wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/who-silenced-under-canada’s-new-environmental-assessment-act

Green World Rising. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.greenworldrising.org/#!ep2-carbon/clzn

Line 9: It’s coming for you. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z0sc-rSB1s

National Energy Board. (2013). Hearing Order OH-002-2013. https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/lleng/llisapi.dll/fetch 2000/90464/90552/92263/790736/890819/918701/918444/A3%2D1_%2D_Hearing_Order_OH%2D002%2D2013_%2D_A3F4W7.pdf?


Natural Resources Canada. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/oil-sands/water-management/5865.

Oil Sands Information Portal, (2014). Retrieved from: http://osip.alberta.ca/library/Dataset/Details/443.

Opposing Enbridge’s Line 9. (2014). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfHl-N1qxY8.

Stewart, K. (2014). Approval of Enbridge Line 9 good for oil companies, not communities: Greenpeace. Toronto. Retrieved from:http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/Global/canada/pr/2014/03/NEBLine9Ruling.pdf

UNEP. (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Retrieved From: https://www.unep.com/

If there’s ever been a time to get it right… Strategic Assessment and Ontario’s ‘Ring of Fire’

The name ‘Ring of Fire’ conjures up daunting images, but when it comes to extracting enormous deposits of chromite, nickel, platinum, copper and gold in a centralized area, and a frequent comparison to the economic potential of Alberta’s oil sands, perhaps the destructive connotations that are associated with such a name are well-suited.


The collection of some 30,000 staked claims from 35 different prospecting companies illustrates how vast the mineral deposits are in the region [1]. Spanning 5,100 km2 of James Bay Lowlands, the ‘Ring of Fire’ is remotely situated 500 km northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario [2]. Due to the region’s mineral riches, especially in highly sought-after chromite, recent projections suggest that the ‘Ring of Fire’ has the capacity to generate upwards of $60 billion in mineral resources, and approximately $6.7 billion in tax revenue [3,4]. Clearly there is economic incentive to put shovel to ground, but there are barriers demanding consideration before construction begins.

Due to the region’s inaccessibility, the Government of Ontario has been weighing its options for obtaining an estimated $2 billion required for infrastructure investment [2]. This has caused delays to operations, and has brought criticism from opposition parties and industry stakeholders [2]. The potential roadway would cut a 200 km long route through Ontario’s boreal forest and would bring unprecedented access to some of Northern Ontario’s most remote communities [5].

Dotted within and around the ‘Ring of Fire’ are nine First Nations communities. These Nations share similar circumstances to most Aboriginal communities in Canada’s North: a history of exploitation and exclusion; severe economic underdevelopment; a lack of educational capacity; housing shortages; limited access to electricity and internet; and social ills such as substance abuse [6]. Despite these limitations, the communities have unified under Matawa First Nations Tribal Council, and are in a position of power. The provincial and federal governments are required to fulfill their fiduciary duty to consult, and accommodate these communities if their constitutional rights are under threat [7]. Recognizing this, the Tribal Council has hired former Liberal MP, Bob Rae, as their lead negotiator.

Video: http://on.aol.com/video/bob-rae–mining-projects-no-magic-bullet-for-first-nations-517959040

Due to the environmental and social complexity of the region, and the tremendous economic stakes, the obvious question to ask is: ‘Will the government get it right this time?’ The economic potential of the ‘Ring of Fire’ is regularly compared to that of Alberta’s oil sands, but the environmental and social risks of the region seem hauntingly similar as well. Evidence of environmental destruction and negative health impacts on Albertan Aboriginal communities points to an ignorance of cumulative impacts and strategic planning during the early stages of the region’s development. Have governments learned any lessons from the missteps of the oil sands? The Matawa First Nations Tribal Council is taking a stand to ensure they do not suffer the same fate of many Aboriginal communities before them. Will governments follow suit and ensure development is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable? This question remains hypothetical, but the answer will soon be apparent when approvals begin to trickle in and construction begins in the ‘Ring of Fire.’


[1] Ontario Business Report. (n.d.). Ring of Fire lights up Northern Ontario’s mining industry. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from http://www.mri.gov.on.ca/obr/?p=1529

[2] Flavelle, D. (2014, February 14). Minister “disappointed” federal budget made no mention of region. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/business/2014/02/14/ontario_seeks_advice_on_ring_of_fire.html

[3] CBC. (2014, February 14). Deloitte to help establish Ring of Fire development corporation. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/1.2537643

[4] Ontario Chamber of Commerce. (2014). Beneath the Surface: Uncovering the Economic Potential of Ontario’s Ring of Fire. Retrieved from http://www.occ.ca/portfolio/beneath-the-surface-uncovering-the-economic-potential-of-ontarios-ring-of-fire/

[5] Ontario Nature. (n.d.). Ring of Fire Mining. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from http://www.ontarionature.org/protect/campaigns/ring_of_fire.php

[6] Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. (2013, February 4). Action Plan for Supporting Community Participation in the Ring of Fire. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/717490/aborigiunal-affairs-ring-of-fire-briefing-note-a.pdf

[7] Booth, A. L., & Skelton, N. W. (2010). First Nations’ access and rights to resources. Uncertainty and Conflict: Resource and Environmental Management in Canada, 80–103.

Digging for Answers: Are We Ready for Deep-Sea Mining?

Modern society has long-depended on extracting minerals from the Earth’s crust to manufacture a broad array of widely used products such as textiles, medical equipment, construction materials, automobiles, and computers [1]. The increase in demand for minerals has seen traditional mineral deposits slowly become depleted [2]. As a response, experts have begun searching for ore deposits in previously unmined areas, propelling the mining sector into a new era of development: deep sea mining (DSM).

Since the 1970s, ocean mining has progressively developed into an economically feasible industry and is now purported to be cheaper than on-land mining [3] [4]. It is estimated that there is more than $150 trillion worth of gold buried in the seabed globally [5]. One of the businesses looking to explore the ocean floor metal-rich mineral deposits is Nautilus Minerals Inc. – commonly referred to as Nautilus. The Canadian company is the runaway leader in this field and is close to launching its pilot project off the coast of Papua New Guinea in a bid to exploit polymetallic seafloor massive sulphide deposits. Figure 1 shows the marine areas where private companies and government organizations are staking claims. Included are the Clarion-Clipperton fracture zones, where more than 34 thousand million tons of polymetallic nodules have been reported [6].

Figure 1: Main Areas of Interest for DSM [12]

Scientists, NGOs, and governments are concerned about the potential environmental and social impacts associated with DSM. Major impacts are summarized in Table 1. It is important to remember, however, that these impacts are hypothetical: DSM has not yet been fully carried out, and the deep-sea floor is poorly understood in comparison to other marine ecosystems [7] [8]. The lack of existing knowledge on the impacts of DSM complicates the EIA process, and was highlighted in the EIS report developed by Nautilus [9]: “[…] a true matrix-type assessment of risk, likelihood and consequence for the deep seabed environment is difficult given the limits of prior experience (p.132).” Mining companies are therefore recommended to apply the precautionary principle throughout the exploitation and extraction phases.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 11.26.46 PM

Poor governance of marine areas is another critical issue associated with DSM. The exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of developing countries with large mineral-rich deposits but deficient environmental policies, such as Papua New Guinea and Tonga, are usually the targets of DSM. This is believed to be a result of the International Seabed Authority’s (ISA) strict regulations and policies regarding activities in international waters in comparison to the weaker regulations within the national EEZs of developing countries [2][10]. To help fill policy gaps at national and transnational levels, some international organizations have created voluntary instruments calling for “prudent and environmentally responsible development of marine mineral resources” through specific guidelines [11].

Given the poor understanding of deep-sea ecosystems and the environmental impacts of DSM on these areas, as well as the weak regulatory framework of many developing countries, a global moratorium on seabed mining should be considered. This would allow concerned countries to establish limits to this nascent industry, develop more efficient and proactive environmental planning and development strategy, and acquire the tools necessary to ensure compliance of ocean mining projects with domestic laws and regulations.


[1] NMA. (n. d.). 40 Common Minerals and Their Uses. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from National Mining Association: http://www.nma.org/index.php/minerals-publications/40-common-minerals-and-their-uses

[2] Hoagland, P., Beaulieu, S., Tivey, M. A., Eggert, R. G., German, C., Glowka, L., & Lin, J. (2010). Deep-sea mining of seafloor massive sulfides. Marine Policy, 34(3), 728-732.

[3] Rona, P. A. (2002). Marine minerals for the 21st century. Episodes, 25(1), 2-12.

[4] Sarmiento, P. (2013, Jan. 14). Should deep-sea mining go ahead in Papua New Guinea? Retrieved March 10, 2014, from SciDev.Net: http://www.scidev.net/global/fisheries/feature/should-deep-sea-mining-go-ahead-in-papua-new-guinea-.html

[5] The Daily Catch. (2013, June 21). Is Deep Sea Mining Worth the Risk? Retrieved March. 10, 2014, from The Terramar Project: http://theterramarproject.org/thedailycatch/is-deep-sea-mining-worth-the-risk

[6] Rona, P. A. (2008). The changing vision of marine minerals. Ore Geology Reviews, 33(3), 618-666.

[7] Glover, A. G., & Smith, C. R. (2003). The deep-sea floor ecosystem: current status and prospects of anthropogenic change by the year 2025. Environmental Conservation, 30(3), 219-241.

[8] Van Dover, C. L. (2011). Mining seafloor massive sulphides and biodiversity: what is at risk?. ICES Journal of Marine Science: Journal du Conseil, 68(2), 341-348.

[9] Environmental Impact Statement, Solwara 1 Project, vol. A. Brisbane: Coffey Natural Systems Pty. Ltd. /http://www.cares.nautilusminerals.com/S; 2008.

[10] Halfar, J., & Fujita, R. M. (2002). Precautionary management of deep-sea mining. Marine Policy, 26(2), 103-106.

[11] Verlaan, P. A. (2010). The International Marine Minerals Society’s Code for Environmental Management of Marine Mining . International Marine Minerals Society . ISBA.

[12] Broad, W. (2012, July 9). The New York Times. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from A Gold Rush in the Abyss: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/10/science/vast-deposits-of-gold-and-other-ores-lure-seabed-miners.html

Saving Mes Aynak: The Perils of Development

Behind the visceral violence and chaos of armed conflict, Afghanistan’s economy is on a precipice. The majority of the Afghan economy—approximately 95% of its GDP—is dependent on foreign aid [3]. But with aid setting to decline in the post-occupation period, Afghanistan will need a new source of economic growth [8]. Natural resources may be the key for the beleaguered country.

Extractive industries are expected to become Afghanistan’s largest economic asset and its gateway to stability, security, and development. Current estimates place the value of Afghanistan’s mineral reserve at more than $3 trillion USD [4]. With the support of the World Bank and foreign investment, Afghanistan is poised to become a regional “Resource Corridor” in Central Asia [3, 4]. This would induce multi-sectorial growth, expanding extractive industries, infrastructure, services, and trade, boosting Afghanistan’s domestic revenue [8].

   Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 12.11.54 AM

Map of Afghanistan’s Mineral Wealth (Global Witness, 2012).

In 2008, Afghanistan signed its first large-scale mining contract with Chinese state-backed consortium, China Metallurgical Group Corporation and Jiangxi Copper (MCC‐JCL), to mine the country’s largest-known copper mine in Logar province—the Aynak concession [8]. Aynak has the potential to anchor Afghanistan’s “Resource Corridor.” MCC-JCL estimates the deposit contains $100 billion USD worth of copper. The benefits of such an investment are significant. According to the World Bank, with an estimate of 4,500 direct, 7,600 indirect, and 62,500 induced jobs, and $250 million annually for 250,000 tons of copper per year [10].


MCC-JCL Aynak Camp in Logar Province—Afghanistan’s Largest Copper Deposit (Starkey, 2013).

However, the viability of Afghanistan’s future threatens its past. Nested atop Aynak is one of Afghanistan’s most prolific archeological sites—Mes Aynak [7]. Mes Aynak is a spectacular collection of Buddhist monasteries, residential and commercial areas, Bronze Age remnants, and ancient fortifications that surrounded a once prosperous city [1]. It is a treasure trove of art and architecture [6]. Archaeologists regard it as potentially comparable to Pompeii, if properly preserved and excavated [2].


An archeologist examines the remains of a Buddah status at Mes Aynak (The Guardian, 2013). 

Even though it was discovered in 1963, and has immense cultural and historical importance to the country, strangely, the Aynak concession between the Afghan government and MCC-JCL makes no reference to the existence of the archeological site [8]. Further, the final results of the environmental and social impact assessment remain inaccessible to the public; therefore, it is unknown how the impacts of mining on Mes Aynak will be mitigated. What is known is that the copper deposit cannot be accessed without destroying not just the ruins, but the entire hill. Thus, efforts to develop the mine have often been cast as a battle between the miners and archaeologists [3, 5, 6, 11].

Pressure from the worldwide cultural heritage community forced MCC‐JCL and the government of Afghanistan to allow a group of “rescue” archeologists to conduct salvage work, which is completely inappropriate for an archaeological site of this magnitude [2]. Further, the archeologists were told they had six months to complete their work before blasting would commence in the “Red-Zone,” the core area of Mes Aynak, blasting would cause severe damage, either directly or as a consequence of the powerful underground vibrations from mining detonations [2]. Unfortunately, in the rush to develop Aynak, Afghanistan is jeopardizing its unique heritage.

The significance of the Aynak concession is pivotal for Afghanistan’s future. However, Mes Aynak could become a model example with a win-win outcome, developing methods to extract resources in a way that is culturally and historically responsible while meeting development needs [2, 3, 8]. Afghanistan’s National Environmental Impact Assessment law is nascent and untested to a project of this grandeur; therefore, it is pertinent that MCC-JCL and the government of Afghanistan agree that a feasibility study should take into account the potential impacts of the Aynak concession and the cost of properly relocating the archeological finds [3]. Further, the process must become transparent and collaborative, ensuring that management plans take account of the need to minimize and mitigate impacts on Mes Aynak. In addition, clear operational procedures must be established in the event that other archeological findings are identified during the lifetime of the project [8]. Ultimately, for future concessions, the Afghan government must consider potential cultural and historical risks relevant to proposed projects from the outset, enabling and regulating extractive industries and associated infrastructure, while avoiding impacts on archaeological resources [3]. For now, Mes Aynak is safe, but for how long?


[1] Benard, Cheryl, and Eli Sugarman. 2012. “Afghanistan’s Copper Conundrum.” Caucasus International 2 (3).

[2] Benard, Cheryl, Eli Sugarman, and Holly Rehm. 2012. “Cultural Heritage Vs. Mining on the New Silk Road?: Finding Technical Solutions for Mes Aynak and Beyond.” Stockholm: Silk Road Studies Program, Institute for Security and Development Policy.

[3] Global Witness. 2012. “Copper Bottomed? Bolstering the Aynak Contract: Afghanistan’s First Major Mining Deal.” Global Witness.

[4] GIRoA Media and Information Center. 2011. “30 Per Cent of Afghanistan’s Soil Mineral Reserves Worth Three Trillion USD, [press release]. Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. http://www.gmic.gov.af/english/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=174:30-percent-of-afghanistans-soil- mineral-resources-worth-three-trillion-usd-&catid=38:news&Itemid=87.

[5] Glasse, Jennifer. 2013. “Afghan Archaeology Site Faces Rocky Future.” Aljazeera, May 20. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/05/201352071040948543.html.

[6] Graham-Harrison, Emma. 2013. “Mes Aynak Highlights Afghanistan’s Dilemma over Protecting Heritage.” The Guardian, May 23. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/23/mes-aynak-ruins-afghanistan-copper.

[7] Lawler A., 2010, “Copper Mine Threatens Ancient Monastery in Afghanistan”, Science Magazine, July, 30.

[8] Noorani, Javed. 2013. “Aynak: A Consession for Change.” Integrity Watch Afghanistan.

[9] Peters, S.G., King, T.V.V, Mack, T.J., and Chornack, M.P., (eds.), and the U.S. Geological Survey Afghanistan Mineral Assessment Team. 2011. “Summaries of Important Areas for Mineral Investment and Production Opportunities of Nonfuel Minerals in Afghanistan: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2011–1204.” U.S. Geological Survey. http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2011/1204/pdf/02C. pdf.

[10] World Bank. 2014. “Q&A: Aynak and Mining in Afghanistan. World Bank. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/04/02/qa-aynak-mining-afghanistan.

[11] Yavazi, Ferhad. 2013. “Mes Aynak Archeological Project”. Islamic Republic of Afghanistan—Ministry of Mines and Petroleum.