UBC mine engineering professor Dirk van Zyl (left) is appointed to review the Mt. Polley mine tailings dam failure by Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett

New rules in effect for mine tailings ponds

Permits will specify dam construction, water level, motion detection and independent review, Mines Minister Bill Bennett says

The latest changes to B.C. mine regulations bring the province closer to its goal of preventing another tailings pond failure, says an independent expert who investigated the 2014 dam breach at Mt. Polley Mine.

Dirk van Zyl, professor of mining and the environment at the University of B.C. and one of three outside reviewers of the Mt. Polley failure, said the changes to B.C.’s Mining Code meet the recommendations made by engineers who examined the failure.

“These changes put B.C. in a leadership position and clearly set the groundwork for a more comprehensive approach to consistent tailings management in the province,” van Zyl said in a statement Wednesday. “It is another step towards the overall goal of moving to zero tailings storage facility failures.”

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the changes to construction, water management and inspection can’t be expected to prevent every small release of water from a mine tailings pond in heavy rainfall. But he is confident the new regime will prevent major failures, even when unknown factors such as the weak layer under the Mt. Polley dam exist.

“Now we are prescribing a factor of safety that I think will account for the things you don’t know,” Bennett said.

Al Hoffman, B.C.’s Chief Inspector of Mines, said the new code has specific requirements for inside “beaches” to reduce pressure on the base of a tailings dam, the height of water allowed, the number of motion detectors on the dam and the frequency of inspections.

The new code requires every existing B.C. mine with a tailings pond to have an independent tailings review board in place by the end of 2016, with annual reports to be posted online.

That falls short of a recent recommendation by B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer that mine oversight should be independent of the ministry that issues permits and promotes mining investment. Bennett said he remains convinced that the technical nature of permits with hundreds of conditions makes the people who issue them the best qualified to enforce them.

NDP energy and mines critic Norm Macdonald said Mt. Polley was required to have supporting beaches and went for years without them, and also reported its water levels incorrectly before the dam failure. New rules will only make a difference if they are enforced, Macdonald said.

The Mt. Polley independent report concluded that a a layer of glacial till material at the base of the dam near Williams Lake wasn’t understood in enough detail when the dam was designed and built in 1997. Later raising of the dam to hold more water and tailings put pressure on the base layer and led to the failure.

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service continues its investigation of the Mt. Polley incident, and has authority to recommend charges for the environmental damage done by the failure.

The Mt. Polley dam has been repaired by owner Imperial Metals and the mine reopened, with work continuing to rebuild Hazeltine Creek and the shore of Quesnel Lake where a torrent of water and tailings poured down on Aug. 4, 2014.


Just Posted

Partnerships are key for Peninsula youth clinic

The clinic has a new home and some funding for a year, but there is more to do

Victoria painter splashes some colour on a dreary situation

Six-week long James Bay construction project gives Teresa Waclawik an impromptu canvas

Pages Books in Brentwood Bay falls on hard times

Store has been closed for several weeks, GoFundMe started by a fan

Brentwood Bay hosts 24-hour cancer fundraiser

Monster and Sea 24-hour Paddle is grassroots fundraiser

Central Saanich Police training a drug recognition expert

Role needed as Canada nears cannabis legalization this year

Victoria airport terminal expansion under way

Videos posted showing work in progress over the next 27 months

Central Saanich fire causes ‘extensive damage’ to home

All three Saanich Peninsula fire departments responded to a structure fire on… Continue reading

Golden Knights win 4-1, remain undefeated against Canucks

Vegas gets points from 12 players in dominating effort versus Vancouver

City of Victoria seeks artists to contribute to upcoming public exhibitions

Submissions for Commercial Alley gallery, bus shelter project due by April 9

Alberta budget plans for Trans Mountain expansion

Finance Minister Joe Ceci says expected revenues will be factored into budget forecasts

Plane filled with smoke lands at Nanaimo Airport

WestJet flight came in from Vancouver

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of March 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Rescued Comox canoer credits those ‘at the right place, at the right time’

James Milne was rescued in a hypothermic state Sunday near Goose Spit

Most Read