A study released today in conjunction with the first anniversary of a British Columbia mining disaster questions whether the present mining metric is environmentally or economically sustainable. “The Risk, Public Liability and Economics of Tailings Storage Facility Failures” contends that modern metal mining techniques have driven the creation of increasingly risky mine waste facilities, enabled by regulators who have failed to require best practices to minimize financial and environmental risk.
The document released by the Center for Science in Public Participation says that more mining waste disasters like the Mount Polley mine in British Columbia are inevitable. “If mining practices continue as usual, we are going to see more severe spills, more frequently, that will cost the public hundreds of millions to billions of dollars to clean up,” said David Chambers, director of the Center.
The Mount Polley disaster, along with the number of mines planned near transboundary waters flowing into Southeast Alaska, have raised concerns of fish harvesters and others about potential adverse affects of the mines on salmon habitat.
And the outlook predicted by Chambers and study co-author Lindsay Newland Bowker of Science & Research in the Public Interest, is not optimistic.
They note that the rate of serious tailings dam failures is increasing, and that the increasing rate of tailings dam failures is propelled by, not in spite of, modern mining practices. Their study also predicts that mining companies cannot afford, and cannot secure insurance to cover the costs of catastrophic failures.
“As a result of the Mount Polley investigation, mining companies and regulators know they have to change mine waste disposal practices to minimize the risk of future disasters,” Chambers said. “Unfortunately, as evidenced by the recent approvals for mines in the Alaska/British Columbia transboundary area, they are failing to do so,” he said.