After two years of review, BC’s Auditor General says BC’s mining sector is severely lacking in enforcement and compliance.
“We concluded that the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of Environment’s compliance and enforcement activities of the mining sector are inadequate to protect the province from significant environmental risk,” says Auditor General Carol Bellringer.
Bellringer says both Ministry’s have “major” gaps in resources and planning regarding the regulation of mining operations in the province. Her office’s audit of the industry looked at planning, permitting procedures, compliance operations and verification and enforcement of standards. Bellringer says the Ministry of Mining and Energy’s culture is “more focused on permitting than on regulatory aspects.”
One particular area of concern is water.
“The most significant risk to the environment from mining activities is water contamination,” Bellringer says. “In some cases, the only solution is water treatment and monitoring, which can cost millions of dollars a year plus monitoring and oversight from government. This can last forever. In British Columbia, 26 coal and metal mines have or will likely require long term or perpetual water treatment.”
To make matters worse, Bellringer says the Ministry of Mines has failed to collect nearly enough financial security deposits to cover the anticipated costs of remediation activities.
“Current estimates put that liability over $2 billion. However, the Ministry of Mines has collected $900,000 – a shortfall of over $1 billion,” says Bellringer. “Such deposits reduce the risk that taxpayers will be left with the financial burden of restoring the land and water courses affected by the mine if the mining company defaults on its reclamation obligations.”
Defaults do happen, as was the case with the Britannia Mine near Vancouver. Until 2005, the Britannia Mine site was the biggest source of metal pollution in the country. Total clean-up costs, including perpetual treatment of the site’s water, are estimated at $75 million – the mine’s owners have contributed less than half of that.
As a result of the audit, the Auditor General has put forward 17 recommendations to improve compliance and enforcement in the province’s mines.
Update: Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett says the government is “well on its way” to implementing the audit’s recommendations, as well as 26 others from the Independent Expert Panel and the Chief Inspector of Mines.
“Government agrees that business as usual is not good enough, says Bennett. “Improvements are necessary and significant improvements are underway.”
You can view the full list of the Auditor General’s recommendations here.
(Files from Shannon Waters with MY PRINCE GEORGE NOW)