by Greg Klein | February 26, 2016
Delinquent miners in British Columbia could face up to $1 million in fines and three years in jail under a Mines Act amendment introduced February 25. The province vowed to impose stricter enforcement and heavier penalties in response to the collapse of a nearly 40-metre-high tailings dam at Imperial Metals’ (TSX:III) Mount Polley copper-gold mine in August 2014.
Currently, court-imposed penalties can range up to $100,000 and a year’s imprisonment. The government can also issue a stop-work order or cancel a mine permit. But in addition to the stronger court deterrent, the new regs will allow B.C. to fine companies without prosecution.
The amendment will bring the Mines Act “in line with other provincial natural resource legislation, including the Environmental Management Act, the Forest and Range Practices Act and the Oil and Gas Activities Act, all of which include administrative monetary penalties and more severe penalties for court convictions,” according to a government statement.
The legislation results from investigations by B.C.’s chief mines inspector and an independent panel of three engineering experts into the Mount Polley disaster. Twenty-six recommendations called for stronger regulation, as well as better corporate governance and engineering practices.
In January 2015 the panel attributed the collapse to a deposit of glacial till eight metres below the base of the dam, which the designers didn’t properly understand. A review of other mines this year found “no immediate risks or safety concerns” with other tailings dam foundations, the province stated.
The government noted that the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia will introduce improved guidelines for dam site assessments and that the Mining Association of Canada has issued recommendations following a review of its own tailings management requirements.
B.C. also plans to require all operating mines to establish independent boards to provide “third-party advice on the design, construction, operation and closure” of tailings facilities.
Speaking to the Vancouver Sun, B.C. NDP mining critic Norm Macdonald charged the governing B.C. Liberals are “deeply beholden to these mining interests and their record over time has been a record of leniency and a lack of proper oversight.”
Macdonald told the paper B.C. hadn’t been using enforcement tools already in place. “He added that not using a $1-million fine is no different than not using a $100,000 fine,” the Sun stated.
Indeed, a Sun investigation last year “found that no fines had been levied in the courts under the Mines Act since 1989. Instead, the mines ministry issued orders in an effort to remedy workplace and safety violations: 2,712 between 2005 and 2013. The Sun’s investigation also showed that inspections by geo-technical engineers fell dramatically after the Liberals came to power in 2001. While inspections had increased in recent years, none were carried out at Mount Polley in 2009, 2010 and 2011.”
Another Mount Polley outcome could be participation by Alaskan natives and government in B.C. environmental reviews, under a memorandum of understanding signed by the two governments in November.
Mount Polley resumed operations in August 2015, a year after the disaster.