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EQM awarded $45 million remediation contract by USACE

Environmental Quality Management Inc. (EQM, Cincinnati, Ohio) has been awarded a $45 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District for environmental remediation services at the Callahan Mine site in Maine. The first Task Order will be issued in June for over $6 million.

The former Callahan Mine site was an open-pit mine developed in Goose Pond, a shallow tidal estuary of approximately 75 acres in the town of Brooksville, Maine.  From 1968 through 1972, approximately five million tons of waste rock and 800,000 tons of ore-bearing rock were mined from the open pit.  The waste rock was disposed of on site in three large piles and was also utilized to create a dam for the tailings impoundment.   In summary, the major work elements are remediation of the tailings impoundment; remediation of waste rock pile #3; slope stabilization of the tailings impoundment; consolidation and capping of the tailings impoundment; sediment excavation and disposal in a confined aquatic disposal cell; remediation of residual contamination at waste rock pile #2 and the ore processing area; and site restoration, mitigation, and monitoring.

Mining company working with environmentalists to clean up old mining sites

As reported by the CBC, Calgary-based mining company Margaux Resources has announced a plan to clean up old tailings sites by using new mining technologies to extract the remaining minerals.

Tailings have long been known to cause environmental damage including loss of animal habitats and contamination of soil, groundwater and waterways.

Margaux has partnered with the Salmo Watershed Sreamkeepers Society — a non-profit engaged in protecting and maintaining the Salmo River in southeastern B.C.— for the remediation project.

“What we have here is an industry leader that is sympathetic and realizes the situation that historic mining efforts have left,” said Gerry Nellestijn, the coordinator of the Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society.

Margaux president and CEO Tyler Rice says the benefits are two-fold as the company hopes to profit from the extractions made.

“When this material was mined historically, they didn’t have 100-percent recovery of the elements … with advancements of technology we feel there is an opportunity to potentially extract the materials that weren’t fully recovered,” Rice said.

The first site scheduled for extraction and remediation is the Jersey-Emerald mine, located just outside of Salmo B.C., and once a large producer of tungsten.

Aerial view of the Jersey-Emerald tungsten tailings pile

Margaux has submitted an application to both the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Energy and Mines to take a bulk sample from the Jersey-Emerald site to, “assess the viability of remediating the tailings site and the potential to economically produce a marketable mineral concentrate,” according to a news release issued earlier this month.

Rice admits the site will likely not be fully remediated for a couple of years.

Meanwhile, the Salmo Watershed Society says there are over 40 tailings sites in the area and they are working to assess them.

“It’s an approach to actually go out there and assess tailings, size them, try to figure out what the pollution pathways may be, what the constituents of that tailing might be and look for remediation efforts that would be easy to implement,” said Nellestijn.

And both partners seem to be happy with the current government’s responsiveness to their project.

“We have a strong government that may very well be interested in participating with this kind of movement — it’s been a long time coming,” Nellestijn said.

Arsenic found to control uranium contamination

As reported by World Nuclear News, an international team led by the University of Sheffield has discovered that the toxic element arsenic prevents uranium from an abandoned mine in the UK migrating into rivers and groundwater.  The discovery could help in the remediation of former uranium mines and other radioactively contaminated areas around the world, the scientists believe.

The team of scientists – led by the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield – studied the uranium and arsenic in the topsoil at the abandoned South Terras uranium mine in Cornwall, England.

The researchers used some of the world’s brightest synchrotron X-ray microscopes – the Swiss Light Source and the USA’s National Synchrotron Light Source – to unearth what is believed to be the first example of arsenic controlling uranium migration in the environment.  These microscopes use intense X-ray beams to focus on a spot just one-millionth of a metre in diameter.

“We use synchrotron X-rays to identify and isolate the microscopic uranium particles within the soils and determine their chemical composition and mineral species,” said co-author of the study, Neil Hyatt.  “It’s like being able to find tiny uranium needles in a soil haystack with a very sensitive metal detector.”

Source: © Claire Corkhill
The abandoned South Terras mine in Cornwall where uranium was mined until 1930

According to the study – published on 14 December in Nature Materials Degradation – ore extraction processes and natural weathering of rock at the South Terras mine has led to the proliferation of other elements during degradation, particularly arsenic and beryllium, which were found in significant concentrations.  The arsenic and uranium were found to have formed the highly insoluble secondary mineral metazeunerite.

“Significantly, our data indicate that metazeunerite and metatorbernite were found to occur in solid solution, which has not been previously observed at other uranium-contaminated sites where uranyl-micas are present,” the study says.

Claire Corkhill, lead author of the study, said: “Locking up the uranium in this mineral structure means that it cannot migrate in the environment.”

The researchers concluded that this process at South Terras – which operated between 1873 and 1930, producing a total of 736 tonnes of uranium – is the result of a set of “rather unique” geological conditions.  “To identify this remediation mechanism at other sites, where arsenic and uranium are key co-contaminants, further detailed mineralogical assessments are required,” they said.  “These should be considered as an essential input to understand the ultimate environmental fate of degraded uranium ore.”

“The study has far-reaching implications, from the remediation of abandoned uranium mines across the world, to the environmental clean-up of nuclear accidents and historic nuclear weapons test sites,” according to the scientists.  “It also shows the importance of local geology on uranium behavior, which can be applied to develop efficient clean-up strategies.”

Ontario MOECC Issues Draft Order to Mining Company in Northern Ontario

Ontario MOECC recently issued a draft Director’s Order to Ontario Graphite Ltd. and several Directors of the company that, if finalized, will require the company to perform remedial work related to an interceptor trench, mine tailings dam, polishing pond.

The mining operation, referred to as the Kearney Graphite Mine, is located Township of Butt in the District of Parry Sound, approximately 20 km north east of the community of Kearney.

Ontario Graphite Ltd. Kearney Mine Site (Photo Credit: Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal)

Under these sections of the Environmental Protection Act and Ontario Water Resources Act, the Director may require a person who owns, or owned, or who has or had management or control of an undertaking or property, to take immediate actions and environmental measures to protect the natural environment and to prevent or reduce the discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment from the undertaking or property, or to prevent, decrease or eliminate an adverse effect.

The overall objective of the proposed Director’s Order is to amend an existing Director’s Order issued on January 26, 2016 to have the company implement a work plan for the treatment of mine water discharges as well as submit a written report prepared by a qualified person.

On April 10, 2017, Ontario Graphite Ltd. reported that the open pit was overflowing to the environment as a result of spring melt.  Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) staff visited the site on April 12, 2017 and observed that the collection trench used by the company to prevent acidic water from entering Graphite Lake (i.e. the interceptor ditch) had also overflowed at some point prior to the site visit.

During the April 12, 2017 MOECC site visit, company staff reported to the ministry that additional erosion had occurred on the downstream dam that separates the tailings management area from the polishing pond. Company staff did not foresee concerns for dam stability; MOECC staff, however, recommended that the company have someone with the necessary expertise undertake evaluation of the structure.

In response to the MOECC recommendation, the company retained a consulting firm to provide recommendations for any needed remedial work on the tailings dam. As detailed in the updated action plan submitted to the ministry on October 30, 2017, the company awaits receipt of the report detailing these recommendations and following receipt, will implement the recommendations noted.

In 2017, Ontario Graphite Limited reported several non-compliance incidents with water quality discharge limits specified in the Environmental Compliance Approval including acute toxicity, iron, total suspended solids and pH.  Although the company attributed some of the exceedances to the dewatering of the open pit, a consultant hired by the company as a result of the Director’s Order noted a number of recommendations that should be implemented to improve operation of the sewage works and to maintain compliance with the final effluent limits.

Mount Polley Subject To Private Prosecution Due To Province’s Failure To Act

Article by Paula Lombardi from Siskinds LLP

In the fall of 2016 MiningWatch Canada initiated a private prosecution under the Fisheries Act against the British Columbia government and Mount Polley mine as a result of the collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam in 2014. The failure of the dam resulted in 25 million cubic metres of washwater and mine waste being released downstream into Hazelton Creek, Polley Lake and Qeusnel Lake. The contents of the washwater and mining waste including mercury, lead and other toxic waste.

In the charges, MiningWatch Canada alleged that the dam released mine waste in 2014 directly into British Columbia’s Cariboo region creating a new valley and permanently destroying or altering fish habitat. It is believed that the release of the mine waste has impacted 20 different species of fish.

Mount Polley Mine

In March 2017, MiningWatch’s private prosecution against both the province and Mount Polley Mining was stayed. A lawyer for British Columbia stated that the private prosecution was not in the public interest because the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada were already investigating the incident.

The newly elected British Columbia government announced the first week of August 2017 that it would not be pursuing charges against the mine before the expiration of three year limitation deadline on the basis that “an investigation was still ongoing.” This decision leaves it solely to the Federal government to determine whether or not to pursue charges against the mine under the Fisheries Act.

On August 4, 2017, three years after the spill of the mine waste, and at the end of the three year limitation period within which the province can initiate charges, Bev Sellars, indigenous activist and former Chief of the Xat’sull First Nation, filed charges against the Mount Polley Mining Corporation. 15 charges in total, 10 under the B.C. Environmental Management Act and 5 under the B.C. Mines Act, were brought by Bev Sellars as part of a private prosecution against Mount Polley. These charges relate to the dumping of contaminated mining waste into the environment and surrounding waterways, and poor and unsafe operational practices contrary to the permits issued to the corporation and the statutory regime. These charges can potentially be taken over by the provincial government. The private prosecution is supported by numerous organizations including MiningWatch Canada, West Coast Environmental Law’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, the Wilderness Committee and the First Nation Women Advocating for Responsible Mining.

B.C’s chief inspector of mines along with an independent panel of engineering experts concluded that the collapse resulted from a poorly designed dam that failed to take into account drainage and erosion failures.

The British Columbia auditor general in its May 2016 report concluded that compliance and enforcement in British Columbia’s Ministry of Mines, Energy and Petroleum Resources and Ministry of Environment and Climate Change were inadequate and “not set up to protect the province from environmental risks.”

The news release relating to the May 2016 report from the Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia stated the following as it relates to the departments audit of compliance and enforcement of the mining sector:

“Almost all of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program were not met,” [says Bellringer]. “The compliance and enforcement activities of both the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and the Ministry of Environment are not set up to protect the province from environmental risks.”

The findings indicate major gaps in resources, planning and tools in both ministries. For example, both ministries have insufficient staff to address a growing number of permits, and staff work with cumbersome and incomplete data systems.

As a result, monitoring and inspections of mines were inadequate to ensure mine operators complied with requirements. Additionally, some mining companies have not provided government with enough financial security deposits to cover potential reclamation costs if a mining company defaults on its obligations. It’s underfunded by over $1 billion – a liability that could potentially fall to taxpayers.
In light of the May 2016 Auditor General’s report, we expect that the goal with the filing of these recent charges would be to encourage the province to take over the charges and enforce its own laws. Under the B. C. Environmental Management Act, the Court can order alternative remedies including but not limited to remediation, compensation and restoration of fish habitat.

 The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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About the Author

Paula Lombardi is a partner of Siskinds LLP,  and practices in the areas of environmental, municipal, regulatory and administrative law.  Prior to joining Siskinds, Paula worked as an associate at a Bay Street law firm where her practice focused on occupational health and safety, environmental and regulatory matters.

Paula has a great deal of experience in: providing due diligence advice; dealing with contamination issues; handling of organic chemicals and hazardous wastes; obtaining environmental approvals; obtaining planning and development approvals; providing advice to municipalities; defending environmental prosecutions; and assisting companies with environmental and regulatory compliance. Paula has appeared before numerous administrative tribunals.