SkeenaWild works closely with coalitions on mining reform. One BC-based coalition is defining a set of mining law reforms and the second is a coalition of scientists from BC, Alaska, Washington and Montana working on transboundary mining issues to improve science, monitoring and decision-making.
SkeenaWild, in collaboration with the BC Mining Law Reform network produced an interactive online map of mine sites with tailings facilities in BC The map provides communities with critical information about the risks posed by billions of cubic metres of toxic wet mine waste, called tailings, stored behind some of the highest dams in the world.
Alongside the map, we commissioned Dr. Steven Emerman, a respected geophysicist and international expert specializing in groundwater and mining, to review the 86 existing and proposed mines with tailings facilities in BC.
Climate change-related extreme weather, such as the atmospheric rivers BC experienced in 2021, is exacerbating the risk that tailings dams could fail. A dam failure could result in serious consequences, including loss of life, damage to roads and infrastructure, and destruction of ecosystems, including salmon watersheds, worse than what happened at Mount Polley in 2014.
SkeenaWild is working to reduce these risks by urging BC to follow expert recommendations to reduce the size, scale, and water content of its mine tailings facilities.
The Dirty Dozen Report, is a biennial report produced in collaboration with Northern Confluence and the BC Mining Law Reform network. First released in 2021, and again in 2023, the reports profile 12 cases—the “Dirty Dozen”—that highlight the risks and shortcomings in BC’s mining regulatory regime, and their associated threats to the health and safety of communities and the environment. The reports include examples of mines leaking toxic runoff into waterways, threatening sensitive and endangered species, putting taxpayers at risk of paying for cleanup, and proposing massive tailings dams that could have devastating consequences if they fail – sometimes without undergoing any environmental assessment.
The report points to solutions for improving mining regulation and enforcement to prevent these problems from recurring, many of which are echoed by scientists, engineers, organizations, Indigenous Nations, and political leaders. These include following expert recommendations to safely manage toxic mine waste, reducing pollution released into watersheds, resolving loopholes in the Environmental Assessment Act, implementing a strategy to close and cleanup abandoned mines, and reforming the Mineral Tenure Act to move away from a free-entry system.
Related: The Dirty Dozen represent a small portion of the over 100 polluting or potentially contaminating mine sites across the province. See the map of contaminated mine sites in BC that SkeenaWild produced in collaboration with the BC Mining Law Reform network.
Tenas Coal Project is proposing an open pit coal mine just south of Telkwa, BC, that would extract approximately 750,000 tonnes of metallurgical coal per year for an expected lifespan of 25 years. This project has major implications for communities, salmon habitat, groundwater and the dwindling Telkwa caribou herd.
SkeenaWild is providing thorough technical reviews during the Tenas Coal Environmental Assessment process. Topics covered include water quality, aquatic resources, fish and fish habitat, groundwater, water quantity, disasters, and cumulative effects. Our technical experts are bringing to attention ways that Telkwa Coal has underestimated potential significant environmental impacts of the mine (e.g., to surface water quality and fish), and has proposed inadequate mitigations/environmental protections.
Our goal is to ensure the renewable energy revolution does not happen on the back of dirty mining in British Columbia. Increasingly, British Columbia’s mining regulators are promoting the province as a responsible jurisdiction for mining investment. As we transition to a low carbon future, supply chains and investors are demanding better mining practices for sourced materials. Indeed, protecting environmental and social values and respecting Indigenous rights is essential if BC hopes to participate as a leader in the shift to a greener future. SkeenaWild published a report specifying what responsible (salmon-friendly) mining is and how it can be achieved (see links below). The criteria in the report are based on existing standards, such as the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), and past research SkeenaWild has undertaken on heavy metal and selenium contamination on salmonids.
SkeenaWild will continue to use our technical and scientific expertise to push back on risky mining projects and to improve overall mining practices and oversight. Recent mine projects we’ve engaged on include: KSM, Telkwa Coal, and Eskay Creek. Other recent topics of engagement include: BC mine reclamation bonding policy, integration of mining into BC land use planning, BC tailings dam safety, and federal effluent discharge regulations for coal mines.
We’ve compiled and analyzed water quality and fish health data for mine projects that operate in sensitive salmon systems in northwest British Columbia. SkeenaWild has been working with our partners to understand and raise awareness about mining issues in the region. Selenium contamination is an area of particular concern. Selenium has significant effects on salmon and no treatment procedures for removing selenium from contaminated water have been effectively implemented at an operational scale in British Columbia.
Lack of adequate monitoring of mine effects to salmon is another major issue. SkeenaWild, with our Indigenous and academic partners, is advocating for more robust, science-based aquatic effects monitoring.
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