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Updated tailings code after Mount Polley disaster an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

June 18, 2021   by The Canadian Press

Tailings pond dam breaks spilling content into river

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VICTORIA – A new report says changes to British Columbia’s requirements for tailings storage after the Mount Polley disaster have generally improved the management of mining waste.

The mines chief auditor found many of the revisions made in 2016 to how tailings are managed align the province’s regulatory framework with the industry’s best practices, “with a few exceptions.”

It says changes to the province’s code on tailings storage facilities stemmed from recommendations by an independent engineering investigation into the 2014 failure of the tailings dam at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine in B.C., which sent more than 20 million cubic metres of mining wastewater into the surrounding waterways.

The audit focused on the clarity, enforceability and consistency of the code revisions with best practices, as well as on industry compliance and government enforcement, finding they have helped but there is room for improvement.

The auditor recommends that the Mines Ministry develop a process to determine when and how B.C.’s regulatory framework for tailings storage will be updated to reflect new standards.

Mines Minister Bruce Ralston says in a statement the government is committed to implementing all seven recommendations, which also include ridding the code of vague language and clarifying the roles of the Mines, Environment and Natural Resources ministries on dam safety regulation.

Chief auditor Andrew Rollo says the tailings code revisions were selected as the new unit’s first audit because of the high level of interest from the public, Indigenous communities and industry after the Mount Polley disaster.

The B.C. government has been revising its mining policies, including creating the independent chief auditor position last year, following a 2016 auditor general’s report that found the monitoring and inspections of mines were inadequate.

In addition to updating the tailings code, the province says it has also established a standing committee to ensure the technical regulation of mining in B.C. is kept up-to-date, separated the permitting process for mining projects from compliance and enforcement, and implemented fines for non-compliance.


Feature image: Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. The pond which stores toxic waste from the Mount Polley Mine had its dam break on Monday spilling its contents into the Hazeltine Creek causing a wide water-use ban in the area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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