WEDNESDAY MORNING EDITORIAL — Even if one interprets the words of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council in its statement on the Mount Polley Mine tailings-pond situation less literally than they appear on paper, they are not good news for B.C.’s mining industry or the Christy Clark government.
The tribal council stated Tuesday, quoting Adams Lake Band Chief Nelson Leon, “We must demand a moratorium on mining and exploration activities in our province before it’s too late.”
Depending on what meaning is assigned to the word “activities,” that sounds like a call to bring the mining industry to a grinding halt until assurances can be given that a situation like Mount Polley won’t ever happen again.
Even if the call was for a moratorium only on new mining development, it would be a very strong position to take. B.C. relies on mining for much of its wealth. Premier Clark went on record during the last provincial election campaign as wanting to open several new mines in short order.
The tribal council’s reaction came barely 24 hours after the breach that left politicians, bureaucrats and mine owners scrambling to figure out what went wrong and what to do about it.
Imperial Metals, which owns the mine, was a little slow to react in an age in which Twitter carries bad news around the world almost instantly, but it did issue a couple of statements and then held a news conference.
Company president Brian Kynoch said there was no advance indication the dam on the tailings pond might break, and that water from the pond is almost good enough to drink.
“The solids at Mount Polley are relatively benign — low mercury, very low arsenic, low metal content,” the Canadian Press quoted him as saying. “I apologize for what happened. If you asked me two weeks ago if it could happen, I would have said it couldn’t.”
Some of the company’s response came after the tribal council’s own angry reaction, but it’s not likely anything Imperial Metals has to say in the immediate aftermath is going to assuage concerns. The government itself isn’t offering much solace. Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the incident “shouldn’t have happened,” and the Environment Ministry told CBC News it had warned Imperial Metals about levels in the tailings pond several weeks ago.
(A story on the CBC News website provides some FAQs on tailings ponds.)
If the depth of the tribal council’s anger proves to reflect any breadth of general public opinion, there could be tough days ahead for B.C.’s mining industry.