British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposia

British Columbia mine reclamation legislation and policy 2009

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Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation BRITISH COLUMBIA MINE RECLAMATION LEGISLATION AND POLICY BY Dr. John C. Errington, P. Ag. INTRODUCTION This paper is intended to provide a brief overview of current reclamation policy and legislation for the mining industry in British Columbia, and to project where I believe policy direction is headed in the 19907S. The impetus for mine reclamation legislation arose in this province during the late I960's as a result of the fear of large scale strip mining in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia. We have, therefore, a total of 22 years of experience and have seen the mining industry expand from one composed almost exclusively of underground operations, to an industry consisting of mainly large scale open pits.  The coal industry has expanded greatly, along with the copper industry, and lately gold mining is again becoming important. Consequently, the mining industry now utilizes a much greater land base.  Major coal and metal mines which occupied less than 1000 hectares in the late 1960's, now (1989 data) cover 27,850 hectares (Figure 1).  Revegetation activities have reclaimed a total of 6,061 hectares. ACREAGE DISTURBED AND RECLAIMED, 1989 Type of Mine       Disturbed     Reclaimed Coal Mines  12,651  3,977 Metal Mines  15,199  2,084 Total 27,850  6,061 Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation As well as the increasing land base occupied by mines, the potential for acid mine drainage has strongly influenced mine reclamation guidelines and legislation.  The environmental and social consequences of uncontrolled acid effluent could have a major impact on water quality far from the minesite.  Of the 16 metal mines currently operating in British Columbia, six are producing acid mine drainage and several more have the potential to produce acid mine drainage but are not doing so. Of the eight operating coal mines, none are presently generating acid mine drainage although one has the potential to do so. Another important concern which will gain increasing importance for the B.C. mining industry is the potential for alkaline mine drainage.  This has already caused problems at Brenda Mines where molybdenum, soluble at high pH, has occurred in runoff at concentrations which are of major concern to residents of the Okanagan Valley. HISTORY OF LEGISLATION Reclamation legislation was first enacted in 1969 when the existing mining legislation was amended to include reclamation provisions.  The Acts covered major mines including coal mines and hardrock mineral mines. Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation  FIGURE 1 LAND DISTURBED BY MAJOR MINES IN BRITISH COLUMBIA In 1973, the Acts were amended to include coal exploration, mineral exploration, sand and gravel pits and quarries. In 1984, the Honourable Stephen Rogers, then Minister of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources published Reclamation Guidelines. Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation The Mines Act remained relatively unchanged until recently when Bill 56 passed through the House.  Bill 56 will come into law when the Mines Act and its accompanying Code, are proclaimed on July 15, 1990. It is the philosophy contained in the new Act, and the Code itself, that will undoubtedly set the framework for reclamation policy for the 1990’S. THE PERMIT SYSTEM The permit system has remained relatively unchanged since 1969.  It now follows the Mine Development Review Process which includes an Approval-in-Principle by Cabinet, and provides for: 1. A reclamation report to be submitted prior to commencement of operations.  The new Mines Act directs the submission of this report to the District Inspector, rather than the Minister, to reflect operating practice. 2. Publication of a Notice of Filing in the B.C. Gazette and local newspapers.  This becomes discretionary under the new legislation to allow publication of some exploration activities or placer mines in those situations where public involvement is warranted. Also, where little would be gained from publication, advertising can be waived. 3. Review of the report by an interagency committee of government.  The new Mines Act recognizes the function of the Regional Mine Development Review Committees as the major review body, as well as the Reclamation Advisory Committee as the coordinating body. 4. A reclamation security, or bond, with no legislated limit such as the current $2500/ha level currently set under the Mines Act.  The removal of an artificial security limit is one of the major philosophical differences under the new legislation.  As well, the option of using the Mine Reclamation Fund will also become available. 5. Issuance of a Reclamation Permit with special terms and conditions. 6. Continual and progressive reclamation over the life of the mine including an annual submission of a report describing the progress of reclamation research and operations. Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation 7.   Closure of the mine and forfeiture of the security in the case of non-compliance with conditions of the Reclamation Permit. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND RECLAMATION STANDARDS There are a series of environmental protection and reclamation standards which are administered according to the type of activity.  The standards described in the Code, which will be explained below, pertain to major coal and mineral mines.  In addition to these, mineral exploration standards are set out in the Guidelines for Mineral Exploration, and coal exploration standards in the Guidelines for Coal Exploration.  Standards for Placer mines and Sand and Gravel pits are set as conditions of individual reclamation permits. RECLAMATION STANDARDS For major mines, our philosophy has been to set broad reclamation standards which allow each company to develop their own program on a site by site basis.  I am confident that the Reclamation Standards which are set out in the new Mines Act Code will help to achieve this. The standards set out in the Mines Act Code were produced following considerable discussion with industry and other government agencies.  While industry may not agree with all provisions, their input was welcomed.  The remainder of this paper will describe the wording of the more important sections of Part 10 of the Code (in bold), along with some of the rationale for the wording. Reclamation It is the duty of every owner, agent and manager to institute and, during the life of the mine, to carry out, a program of environmental protection and reclamation, in accordance with the standards described in this section. In the Code, the general intent of reclamation activity was expanded to include all the individual standards and no attempt was made to provide a shortened definition of "reclamation". Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Retroactivity The reclamation standards prescribed in this Part shall apply to any mine except: (1) Where environmental disturbance occurred prior to the enactment of. reclamation legislation in 1969, and has remained inactive since this time, in which case that portion of environmental disturbance which occurred before the enactment of reclamation legislation in 1969 is exempt from the revegetation provisions. (2) Where any mine is specifically excluded by a condition of its reclamation permit from complying with a particular standard. (3) Where any disturbances created by a mining activity has been reclaimed, inspected and found to be satisfactory. This provision rewards those companies who have revegetated lands during the past twenty year period.  All disturbances which occurred prior to 1969 will continue to be exempted from revegetation provisions of the Act, however, if any effluent is discharged from a mine, there will be a requirement to ensure that all water quality objectives are met. Land Use Objectives The land surface shall be reclaimed to an acceptable use that considers previous and potential use. The setting of land use objectives is the key to the site specific nature of our legislation and this remains in place in the new Code.  The land use objectives for each mine are approved on a permit by permit basis. By far the most common land use objective has been wildlife use, although grazing and forest land uses have always been important in some areas of the province. Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Productivity The level of land productivity to be achieved on reclaimed areas shall not be less than existed prior to mining on an average property basis unless the owner, agent or manager can provide evidence which demonstrates to the satisfaction of the chief inspector the impracticality of doing so. As with land use objectives, the productivity requirement allows us to address the site specific issues on each property.  Productivity standards which are related to existing land use capability are the only way of dealing with the diversity of ecosystems in British Columbia. Growth Medium On all lands to be revegetated, the growth medium shall satisfy land use, productivity and water quality objectives.  All surficial soil material removed for mining purposes shall be saved for use in reclamation programs unless these objectives can be otherwise achieved. The requirement to utilize the best available growth medium will continue to be a requirement.  This section has been expanded to include the use of surficial soil material to enhance water quality objectives as well as land use and productivity objectives. Acid Generating Material All potential acid generating material shall be placed in a manner which minimizes the production and release of acid mine drainage to a level that assures protection of environmental quality. Acid mine drainage is the major problem facing the metal mining industry today.  We have recognized this problem by a simple statement in the Code and wish that the solution to this problem would be as simple.  The very high costs associated with the long-term treatment of acid mine drainage has certainly made government re-assess its potential exposure to long term liabilities. Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Structures and Equipment Prior to abandonment, and unless the chief inspector has made a ruling with respect to heritage project consideration, (1) all machinery, equipment and building superstructures shall be removed, (2) concrete foundations shall be covered and revegetated unless, because of demonstrated impracticality, they have been exempted by the inspector, and (3) all scrap material shall be disposed of in a manner acceptable to the inspector. This section now recognizes the possibility of heritage value in some of our mines, although little else has been altered. Waste Dumps Waste dumps shall be reclaimed to ensure: (1) long-term stability, (2) long-term erosion control, (3) that water quality released from waste rock dumps to the receiving environment is of a standard acceptable to the inspector, and (4) that land use and productivity objectives are achieved. This guideline is a shift in emphasis from the previous guideline which specified a maximum slope angle of 27 degrees and left allowance for achieving land and productivity objectives by other means.  It does not mean, however, that our requirements for waste dumps are any less stringent. As well, this guideline recognizes the importance of stability, erosion control and acceptable water quality. These factors were contained in previous standards, however, they are now specifically tied to waste rock dumps. Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Watercourses Watercourses shall be reclaimed to a condition that ensures : (1) long-term water quality is maintained to a standard acceptable to the inspector, (2) drainage is restored, either to original watercourses, or to new watercourses which will sustain themselves without maintenance, and (3) use and productivity objectives are achieved.  The level of productivity shall not be less than existed prior to mining unless the owner, agent or manager can provide evidence which demonstrates, to the satisfaction of the chief inspector, the impracticality of doing so. This guideline is a significant improvement over our previous standards referring, for the first time, to water quality as well as use and productivity.  The expansion of this guideline was a result of existing and potential problems with acid mine drainage as well as molybdenum drainage. Open Pits (1) Pit walls constructed in overburden shall be reclaimed in the same manner as waste dumps. (2) Pit walls constructed in rock/ and/or steeply sloping footwalls/ are not required to be revegetated.  Pit wall seepage may require treatment to ensure that water is of a quality acceptable to the chief inspector. (3) Where the pit is free from water/ and safely accessible, vegetation shall be established. (4) Where the pit floor will impound water, provision must be made to create a body of water where use and productivity objectives are achieved. Pit walls were not included in any previous guideline and were considered exempt from any revegetation requirements. We now recognize a requirement for walls constructed in overburden and the possibility of poor quality water arising from pit wall material. Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Monitoring The owner, agent, or manager shall undertake monitoring programs as required by the chief inspector, to demonstrate that reclamation objectives including land use, productivity, water quality, stability of structures, are being achieved. The requirement to monitor is a new requirement which simply confirms existing practice. The reclamation standards outlined in the Code also include Tailings, Roads, Metal Uptake in Vegetation, and Toxic Chemicals. BONDING POLICY Over the last several years, reclamation security bonds have been increased on many properties, as permits have been revised or renewed.  This policy reflects government's desire to reduce its exposure in the case of default, and to more accurately reflect the outstanding reclamation obligations for each mine property.  It is our intention to stage these increases over several years so as to make it less onerous on the mining industry. At the same time, Bill 56 makes provision for a Mine Reclamation Fund whose purpose is to allow companies to set aside money today for obligations which are being incurred, such as acid mine drainage.  These funds can then be expended at a future date. I see this Fund as being optional, tax deductible (Federal Government willing), and of sufficient size to generate income to pay for the long term treatment of acid mine drainage.  The major advantage of this Fund from a Ministry perspective, would be the Increased accountability at the time the obligation was incurred which, I am convinced, will make the entire industry more conscious of the environmental and reclamation obligations; of mining. POLICY FOR THE 1990's Reclamation policy for the 1990's has been set by the new Mines Act and Code.  I foresee no change in our philosophy which establishes standards in a broad framework and lets industry develop the most cost effective means to achieve them.  This system relies on both an industry and government which is committed to mine reclamation. Proceedings of the 14th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Cranbrook, BC, 1990. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation The rapidly growing public awareness on all environmental issues will clearly influence government's regulation of the mining industry, and the mining industry should not expect requirements to diminish.  At the same time, industry must finally realize that reclamation requirements must be met, and exceeded, if mining is going to continue as a viable resource industry in British Columbia. There will be a greater requirement for securing outstanding obligations through increased reclamation security deposits. At the same time, there will be a move by government to acknowledge and accept certain unsecured risks. There will be an acceptance by industry and government that closed mines can never be completely reclaimed.  Most minesites will require some degree of inspection and monitoring for many years, and this requirement for long term monitoring and maintenance will require the establishment of a long term funding mechanism. There will be increased coordination between government approvals and permits and the Mine Development Review Process, which will require a higher level of detail prior to approval-in-principle. Finally, as part of the Mines Act, a committee will be established to annually review environmental protection and reclamation sections of the Code.  To balance the discussion, this committee will include representatives from industry, government, universities and interest groups which will ensure a continued balanced approach to the setting of reclamation standards.


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