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…

References

[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/

Can stakeholder engagement bring sustainability at the core of EIA process?

By David Vilder.

Exactly fifteen years ago, the Voisey’s Bay Mine and Mill Environmental Assessment Panel Report set a new precedent in incorporating sustainability in environmental impact assessment (EIA) practice in Canada. For the first time, the proponent was not only asked to mitigate adverse environmental effects, but also “propose activities that would contribute positively to sustainability, locally and regionally” [1]. The general trend in EIA in the past 40 years has been to gradually move from reactive pollution control toward integrated planning and sustainability [1].

Voisey's Bay port facility by which Quest's rare earths will be shipped to Bécancour

Voisey’s Bay type of port facility by which Quest’s rare earths will be shipped to Bécancour (source: Vale)

Since that groundbreaking step, however, little progress has been made in the direction to sustainability assessment [2]. Some would actually argue that since the current government’s introduction of omnibus bill C-38 there has actually been a regression. Other aspects of EIAs, such as public participation and stakeholder engagement, on the other hand, have made greats steps in the last 20 years.

In the mining sector, in particular, a shift seems to be slowly occurring in risk communications. Mining companies have traditionally engaged their communication in a business-to-business mentality, but this is deemed to evolve [3]. The market shift that has been occurring since 2011 is making the mining sector more and more vulnerable [4]. As a result, mining corporations are slowly embracing modern concepts in risk assessment and communication, which keywords include ‘stakeholder engagement’, transparency and integration [3].

Communication in Mining Industry (source: author)

Communication in Mining Industry (source: author)

A recent example of this changing communications landscape can be seen in Quest Rare Earth’s Lake Strange Project in Quebec. Part of this project implies a processing plant in Bécancour, an already heavily industrialized town. In parallel to the announcement of the future plant, Quest also announced the creation of a follow-up committee that includes city councillors, members of the agricultural sector and aboriginal communities [5]. This is on top of the regular BAPE hearings. It closely follows the main lines of what scholars recommend make best practice in public participation, which is rather encouraging [6]. If legislation toward incorporation of sustainability into EIA practices is stalling, could it be that effective public participation becomes the effective vehicle to put a greater weight on sustainability in EIAs?

Experts in the field suggest that an improved public participation process will benefit society by allowing “better attention to multiple sustainability purposes, better selection among possible options and better design and implementation of the projects that are selected” [2]. This is exactly what new trends in communications in the mining industry aim at: communication is no longer unidirectional but becomes a an exchange between partners [4]. This approach allows a company to better understand its own sustainability agenda by constantly adapting it with stakeholders’ expectations and thereby being able to solve environmental risk challenges faster. In other words, best practice in risk communications is public participation in the EIA process but at the corporate level.

REFERENCES:

[1] Gibson, R. B. (2000). Favouring the Higher Test: Contribution to sustainability as the central criterion for reviews and decisions under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Journal of Environmental Law and Practice, 10(1), 39-54.

[2] Doellea, M., & Sinclair, J. A. (2006). Time for a new approach to public participation in EA: Promoting cooperation and consensus for sustainability. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 26(02), 185–205.

[3] IFC. (2013). CHANGING THE GAME: Communications & sustainability in the mining industry. International Finance Corporation.

[4] Deloitte. (2014). Tracking the trends. Toronto: Deloitte.

[5] La Presse canadienne . (2013, 11 06). Des terres rares transformées à Bécancour. Retrieved 01 21, 2014, from Le Devoir: http://www.ledevoir.com/economie/actualites-economiques/391845/projet-d-extraction-traitement-de-terres-rares-de-1-3-milliard-pour-becancour

[6] O’Faircheallaigh, C. (2010). Public Participation and Environmental Impact Assessment: Purposes, implications, and lessons for public policy making. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 30, 19-27.

EIA Process in Peru: Overlooking Public Participation in the Minas Conga Gold Mine Project

by: Laura Peterson

Conflicts over natural resources are not new to Peru.

Since Inca times and the Spanish Conquistadores of the 1500s, Peru’s gold reserves have been the subject of international fascination, exploration and consequently, to exportation and development.

In understanding the rigorous EIA processes to which proponents must comply to before undertaking their projects in Canada and the USA [1][4], and knowing that one of the foundations of EIA is Public Participation* [6], one would like to be reassured that Canadian and US mining companies in Peru are also subject to the same genre of inclusivity.

This is not the case.

Newmont Mining Corporation is one of the largest gold companies in the world. It is already responsible for the Minera Yanacocha in Cajamarca, Peru, an open-pit gold mine so large that it can be seen from space [7]. Unabashedly, Newmont is seeking to open another gold mine nearby called Minas Conga, a wound to the country which would be three times the Yanacocha mining footprint [7].

Newmont prides themselves on having one of the “most thoroughly studied mining projects in the world”, with 13 years of analysis on the Minas Conga project [5]. However, critical examination suggests that this should be seen less as a source of pride and more as of a glimpse into the inadequacy of Newmont’s EIA itself.

Location of Minas Conga near Cajamarca, Peru

Location of Minas Conga near Cajamarca, Peru

The EIA for Minas Conga was approved in 2010. It faced so much criticism and public backlash that the Peruvian government postponed the mining project until it was submitted to further review

The main public concern? The effects to the water supplied to hundreds of hamlets from the four glacial lakes Newmont planned to drain and replace with artificial reservoirs.

Rightfully so, community leaders are asking for warranted inclusiveness in a huge mining development project which will affect their water supply, their already crumbling transportation network and their livelihoods [2].

The Peruvian government is now forced to act as a mediator between EIA process, international mining companies and local communities [8], adding to the overall ineptitude of the project EIA.  Newmont should have addressed public participation within its EIA process to begin with and ensured full public awareness of its planned course of action concerning the vital resource for the surrounding communities.


Humbly… I don’t know… there are many people who are better educated and who sometimes think or study more, but I think for a good human being, and knowing that water is essential for life, it can never be possible for our natural lake to be replaced with an artificial lake.

– Jose Cruz Rios Izquierdo, Farmer in Paucapampa, Cajamarca [2]


Adding to the national EIA problem, unlike Brazil, Chile and Colombia who’s EIAs are approved by their Ministries of Environment, Peru’s EIAs are approved the Peruvian Ministerio de Energia y Minas (Ministry of Energy and Mines, or MEM) [3].  Since the MEM works closely with the mining companies it is possible to streamline EIAs to get to the construction phase of a project and a direct conflict of interest results.

This compromises independence, objectivity and validity of the Peruvian EIA process to the detriment of its very citizens.

Resonating with Noble’s (2010) warning that the “lack of public involvement during an EIA process […] can be detrimental to the success of an EIA and to project approval”, Newmont has since acknowledged that the debacle has had “a huge impact on its business strategy.” [9]

Thus, overlooking public consultation can even have economic impacts.

And today? The $5 billion project is still stalled and awaiting approval from independent consultation. All the same, to the chagrin of nearby villages, Newmont has already built their first reservoir and plan to drain the first mountain lake by the end of this year [5][7].

Mochica, from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Exhibition, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and Moon

Mochica, from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Exhibition, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and Moon

Social conflicts, international embarrassment, money and time may have been saved if the public had been involved from the very beginning, and if the Newmont Minas Conga EIA had been carried out in a transparent, inclusive manner.

Ultimately, the case of Minas Conga shows that public consultation is essential for large projects, especially those such as gold mines in sensitive ecological areas of a developing country already pockmarked by natural resource exploitation 600-years in the making.


*benefits of involving the public from the beginning of the EIA process include (a) defining the problem more effectively, and (b) the opportunity to access traditional knowledge [6]


Sources

[1]    CEAA 2013, “The Basics of Environmental Assessment”: http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=B053F859-1

[2]    Guarniz 2012, “In the Heart of the Conga”, Independent documentary about the Minas Conga Project from the perspective of local residents, produced by Isabel Guarniz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqDgpY1BQFQ

[3]    Molleda 2011, “Razones para declarar inconstitucional la forma de aprobación de los EIA en el Perú”  (“Reasons to declare EIA approval process as unconstitutional in Peru”): http://www.justiciaviva.org.pe/notihome/notihome01.php?noti=710

[4]    NEPA 2013, about the NEPA process and public participation: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/basics/nepa.html#publicrole

[5]    Newmont 2012. Various documents from the Newmont Mining website about the Minas Conga project: http://www.newmont.com/south-america/ops-minas-conga-peru-details

[6]    Noble, B. F. (2010). Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice: Oxford University Press.

[7]    Sullivan 2012, “Andean Self-determination Struggles against Extractive Capitalism”: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/peru-archives-76/4438-peru-andean-self-determination-struggles-against-extractive-capitalism-

[8]    Sylvester 2013, “Is the Peruvian government becoming more mining friendly?”: http://www.resourceinvestor.com/2013/09/17/is-the-peruvian-government-becoming-more-mining-fr?t=precious-metals

[9]    Trefis Team 2013, “A Closer Look at Newmont’s Mining’s Stalled Conga Project in Peru”: http://www.trefis.com/stock/nem/articles/205942/a-closer-look-at-newmont-minings-stalled-conga-project-in-peru/2013-09-16

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.

Canadian Corporate Social Responsibility and EIA in Developing Countries

Canadian mining firms worst for environment, rights: Report” (Toronto Star, October 19, 2010)

Barrick’s Tanzanian project tests ethical mining policies” (The Globe and Mail, Spetmeber 29, 2011)

Canadian Mining Firm Accused of Complicity in Congo Killings” (The Tyee, November 26, 2010)

Congolese try suing Anvil Mining in Canada” (CBC News, November 8, 2010)

These are some of the headlines that come up when looking up news about Canadian mining companies in the developing world.

The Compliance Advisor Ombudsman of the International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group) declared himself concerned at the treatment of displaced people by one of Barrick Gold’s subsidiaries (Lange, 2011). In addition, Geoffrey York of the Globe and Mail (September 29, 2011) reported that 10,000 people had been displaced by Barrick’s North Mara mine, and that many people live next to waste and mine pits. Barrick is an easy target because of their high profile, but they are not the only Canadian company to have come under the spotlight. Anvil mining and TVI Pacific Inc. are but two others that have made the news in recent times.

Canada subscribes to a number of guidelines including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines for multinational enterprises. However, international guidelines and declarations are voluntary measures, which are not enforced. It seems that these voluntary measures have so far not prevented human rights abuses in the developing world. In fact, the OECD reports that Canada’s institutional and legal frameworks for dealing with violations of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions are “problematic” (OECD, 2011).

If voluntary guidelines are inadequate, then what about enacting laws forcing Canadian companies to comply with Canadian and international law?

Certainly Amnesty Canada thinks this is a good idea:

In fact, the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Development of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade also thinks that it is necessary to “establish clear legal norms in Canada to ensure that Canadian companies and residents are held accountable when there is evidence of environmental and/or human rights violations associated with the activities of Canadian mining companies” (Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 14th report).

The latest effort to codify some form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) law came in the form of private member’s bill C-300, which was defeated in October 2010. The Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries Act would have had provisions for regulating the behaviour of Canadian companies abroad who violate international human rights and environmental laws. The natural resource industries in Canada are opposed to enacting legislation that would restrict their activities overseas, and at the same time argue that their human rights and CSR records are quite good and always improving.

This interview by the CBC highlights some of the contradictions between the official industry position and the reports coming from local communities:

The behaviour of a Canadian company on foreign soil should be of importance to Canadian EIA practitioners because it brings up certain ethical questions regarding standards that are upheld in one country and disregarded in another. This begs the question: Should Canadian EIA standards apply as a minimum to Canadian companies when operating overseas? Public consultation and a thorough EIA process are necessary to ensure that conflicts leading to human rights abuses do not arise. If the process is not well established in the countries where Canadian companies operate, then the responsibility falls on Canada to ensure that a minimum standard is followed.

References:

Bill C-300, the Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries Act. 2009.

CBC News. “Congolese try suing Anvil Mining in Canada”. November 8, 2010.

Lange, S. 2011. Gold and governance: Legal injustices and lost opportunities in Tanzania. African Affairs. 00/00:1-20.

OECD (2011), Report on the application of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officcials in International Business Transactions and the 2009 revised recommendation on combating bribery in international business transactions, OECD Publishing.

Sandborn, Tom. “Canadian mining firm accused of complicity in Congo killings”. In the Tyee. November 26, 2010.

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Fourteenth Report. 2005.

Whittington, Les. “Canadian mining firms worst for environment, rights: Report” In the Toronto Star. October 19, 2010.

York, Geoffrey. “Barrick’s Tanzanian project tests ethical mining policies”. In the Globe and Mail. September 29, 2011.