Bennett: Government taking action on Mount Polley

Energy and Mines Minister announces slew of recommendations in response to Mount Polley disaster.

The B.C. government announced it will introduce new regulations and requirements stemming from recommendations that came out of an investigation into a tailings facility failure at Mount Polley in August 2014.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett made the announcement on Friday, noting that the action comes from a report from the Chief Inspector of Mine, which highlighted 19 recommendations in seven categories.

“We’ve learned from this investigation that in the case of Mount Polley, the allowable margin of risk around the design, construction and management of the tailings storage facility was too narrow to allow for an unknown factor, the labor of unstable soils below the dam embankment,” Bennett said in a press release.

“We’ve also learned that weak practices on the mine site increased the risk of dam failure and exacerbated environmental consequences from the breach.”

Bennett hopes to work with various industry groups such as the Mining Association of B.C. (MABC), Mining Association of Canada (MAC), Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. (APEGBC), and the Canadian Dam Association (CDA) to implement the regulations.

“This is unacceptable. My commitment is to implement all recommendations, work with the MABC and MAC, the APEGBC and the CDA to ensure that risk of dam failure is reduced by better regulations, better policies and better professional guidelines,” Bennett said.

The recommendations themselves are directed towards the mining operator, mining industry, professional organizations, and the government regulator to prevent further incidents in the future.

A few key points include:

• All mines with tailings storage facilities must have a mine dam safety manager and designated individual to oversee the water balance and water management plan.

• Establishing a dedicated investigation, compliance and enforcement team within the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

• Establishing a formal documentation management system for all tailings storage facilities from development to post-closure.

“We conducted a very thorough and in-depth examination of the Mount Polley Mining Corporation’s actions from its initial site investigations 26 years ago to present,” said Al Hoffman, the B.C. Chief Inspector of Mines.

“Through our investigation, we determined that while the mine did not contravene any existing regulatory requirements, its management and operational practices failed in a number of areas such as water management and misplaced confidence in the TSF design.”

Many recommendations will be addressed through the review of the Heath, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in B.C. with the hope of being completed by 2017.

Bennett is also planning to introduce legislation next year to add administrative penalties under the Mines Act. Currently, compliance and enforcement tools are limited to shutting down a mine through the cancellation of a permit, issuing stop-work orders or pursuing prosecutions.

Hoffman’s report, with advice from the Ministry of Justice, did not find enough evidence that Mount Polley Mining Corporation contravened existing regulatory requirements.

However, the Conservation Officer Service is still conducting its investigation into Mount Polley accident, which is based on compliance under Ministry of Environment legislation.

It may be possible that the investigation finds non-compliance that could warrant a report to Crown Counsel.

A tailings storage facility at Mount Polley failed in August 2014, sending millions of cubic metres of toxic mining waste into Polley Lake, which flowed down a nearby creek into Quesnel Lake.

The tailings story facility failed because the strength and location of a layer of clay underneath the dam was not taken into account in the design or in subsequent dam raises. Other factors exacerbated the dam breach, including the slope of the perimeter embankment and inadequate water management.