Red Chris mine gets environmental permit

The Red Chris copper and gold mine in British Columbia has received a full operating permit from the provincial government.

Imperial Metals (TSX:III) announced on June 15 that an amended permit under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act was issued by the Ministry of Environment. The permit allows the mine to discharge tailings into the tailings storage facility (TSF) and discharge water from the TSF subject to water quality guidelines.

The mine started trucking copper concentrate in February to the Port of Stewart, B.C. and is expected to soon be in full production, according to Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines. While the local mining industry is lauding Red Chris as one of only a handful of mines that has opened recently in British Columbia, the move does not come without controversy. The mine is operated by Imperial Metals, the same company whose Mount Polley mine in B.C. was responsible for a major tailings breach that sent millions of cubic metres water and silt into local waterways last summer.

But Bennett said he’s confident the mine, located around 130 kilometres from the Alaska border, will not breach due because the facility has undergone three independent reviews, telling the Vancouver Sun:

“I have no doubt … that (waste) water is going to be managed carefully, and in such a way that people downstream, including our neighbours in Alaska, can have confidence that we’re doing everything that any responsible jurisdiction should do.”

Many Alaskans are not convinced, with groups like Salmon Beyond Borders saying the mine could discharge heavy metals and harm the state’s lucrative salmon fishery. The group also says the Alaska government has not done anything to assess the impacts of mines in northwestern B.C. even though they are in close proximity to the northern-most state.

“We have no voice and B.C. has no accountability. And we’re taking on all of the risks and receiving none of the benefits,” spokeswoman Heather Hardcastle complained to The Sun.

Meanwhile another potential huge mine in B.C. is facing criticism from Earthworks, an activist environmental group. The group last Wednesday issued a scathing report, in partnership with Salmon Without Borders, on KSM – which is the the world’s largest undeveloped gold-copper project by reserves.

The report seeks to highlight the risks associated with the project which include:

  • The “unrealistic” metals prices used in the economic assessment of the project
  • KSM would use same the discredited mine waste tailings dam technology as that used at Mount Polley Mine
  • Legal uncertainty around the Mitchell Treaty Tunnel necessary to connect the mine and mill and tailings
  • The Supreme Court of Canada’s decisions regarding mineral rights held in unceded First Nations territory
  • “Unprecedented” water management for up to 20.8 billion gallons (78m kilolitres) of water annually
  • High closure costs for water treatment estimated at over $1 billion
  • KSM faces increasing political opposition; Federally recognized Alaskan Tribes, commercial fishermen, municipalities, political leaders call for International Joint Commission review

Earthworks pays particularly attention to gold mining including protests against the Pebble project in Alaska and a campaign against the gold jewellery trade.

The group was co-founded in 1988 by J. Michael McCloskey, the current chairman of the largest and richest environmental lobby group in the world – the Sierra Club.