Nova Scotia’s proposed overhaul of mining rules met with criticism, demands

Donkin coal mine is scheduled to open this summer in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. (Image from archives)

Environmentalists are up in arms against Nova Scotia’s — Canada’s biggest Atlantic province — new Mineral Resources Act as they say the legislation won’t do enough to prevent mining on privately protected lands, or address concerns about quarries.

The act, also known as Bill 149, is the first overhaul of the current rules since 1990 and it was written to support responsible mineral resource management in the province.

According to Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines, who introduced it in the House of Assembly on April 14, the proposed ruling will cut red tape for industry and government and make it easier and less expensive to manage exploration licences.

“Our new legislation strikes the right balance between stimulating the economy – particularly in rural Nova Scotia – and managing our natural resources,” Hines said in a statement.

Authorities say the proposed ruling will cut red tape, making it easier and less expensive to manage exploration licences.

But the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust and the Sierra Club Canada Foundation disagree. They claim that of the 5.5-million hectares of land in Nova Scotia, about 18,000 is privately protected, and that proposed legislation would allow the minister to grant mineral rights or licences on them, without consulting them.

“The ability of the minister to simply grant mineral rights for exploration or active mining over our property doesn’t make any sense on so many levels,” Craig Smith, the conservancy’s program director told CBC News.

“So what we’re talking about is bringing this out, into the light, and creating a process that everyone can understand and everyone can see clearly.”

Another issue environmental groups are not happy about is the fact the act doesn’t address quarries, which is the sub-sector that has grown the most in recent years.

According to a 2014 survey of recent quarry activity in Nova Scotia, total area currently and recently used for pit and quarry activity is 5,863 hectares. In 2012, around 12.5 million tonnes of crushed rock and sand was produced, compared to around five million tonnes in 1985.

Challenged industry

On top of low commodity prices, Nova Scotia’s mining industry, which employs about 5,500 people, faces major challenges including the increasing power of social activists. In 2014, the province yield to pressure and became one of the first in Canada to indefinitely ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for onshore oil and gas. Nova Scotia also has gained the reputation of being a poor place to invest.

In the last two years, authorities have been promising more support, mostly in the form of a fuel tax rebate for off-road vehicles used in mining and quarrying operations, which would save the industry $2.6 million a year. So far, however, the province has not delivered.