Clean up of selenium pollution from Teck Resources’ coal mines could cost $6.4 billion — or more than three times the deposit required so taxpayers don’t foot the bill, says a new report.

Published March 19, the report commissioned by Wildsight, a Kootenay-based environmental organization, highlights a significant gap between the $1.9 billion the province requires Teck to set aside for emergency shutdowns and mine reclamation and the projected cost of the company’s plans to address selenium pollution from coal mining in B.C.’s Elk Valley.

Selenium is a naturally occurring mineral that is toxic at higher doses, particularly to fish and egg-laying animals.

Simon Wiebe, mining policy and impacts researcher for Wildsight, emphasized that other cleanup costs aren’t included in the report’s projected $6.4-billion estimate, so the total would likely be even higher.

“There are many other issues involved in this: There’s land reclamation, there’s habitat reclamation, there are other water quality concerns as well … heavy metals, nickel, sulfate,” said Wiebe.

The $6.4-billion estimate covers the cost of building water treatment facilities planned by Teck before 2027 and the operation of all existing facilities 60 years into the future, he explained.

Wildsight contracted Burgess Environmental Ltd., a Calgary-based consulting firm focused on environmental remediation and geotechnical engineering. The report draws on publicly available data from Teck, the provincial government and other analyses.

Teck currently provides a $1.9-billion cleanup bond to the province, which is intended to cover the costs of shutting down and reclamation of Teck’s mines in case of an emergency. Teck coal has the largest reclamation bond in the province of British Columbia.

In an emailed statement to Canada’s National Observer, Teck Resources spokesperson Dale Steeves called the report’s estimates “inaccurate and inconsistent with calculations made under government policy.”

The report’s “use of simplified assumptions for ongoing water treatment operating costs” resulted in “significant overestimations,” according to Steeves’ statement. The company “meets all current bonding requirements” set out by the government and is “committed to meeting all reclamation obligations at no cost to government or taxpayers.”

Gordon Johnson, report author and president of Burgess Environmental, noted that information was requested but not received from Teck to create more accurate models. Johnson is an engineer with previous experience working for mining and oilsands companies.

Teck’s statement highlighted its four existing water treatment facilities, capable of handling four times as much water as its 2020 operations.

“We have invested $1.4 billion, so far, in water quality with plans to invest a further $150 million to $250 million by the end of 2024,” said Steeves, adding that selenium concentrations “have stabilized and are now reducing downstream of treatment.”

The Wildsight report was published a week after Canada and the U.S. announced the International Joint Commission (IJC) — a body tasked with resolving disputes about shared waterways — will investigate the effects of selenium pollution from mining operations in B.C. Part of this process will involve governments working together on an action plan to reduce and mitigate the impact of mining pollution in the Elk-Kootenai watershed.

“We’re going to submit this document to the IJC and we’re hoping they take it into account… Additional research is definitely needed,” said Wiebe.

Since 2012, the Ktunaxa Nation, the Councils of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho have been calling for the commission’s investigation. In a March 11 press release, Gary Aitken Jr., vice-chair of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, called this agreement “an important first step in addressing the serious pollution problem in the Kootenai Watershed.”

Teck is preparing to sell a majority stake of its Elk Valley coal mines to Swiss mining giant Glencore, and Wiebe hopes the Canadian government will look at this report during its review of the proposed sale under the Investment Canada Act.

Accountability for selenium pollution must be maintained throughout any transfer of ownership, noted Wiebe.

By Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 19, 2024 at 19:25

This item reprinted with permission from   Canada's National Observer   Ottawa, Ontario

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