Tag Archives: Canada mines

States Captured by Energy Companies: Canada

Diavik Diamond Mine, Canada

Few governments have aligned their interests so closely to those of their country’s energy and mining firms as Canada’s Conservative administration. The prime minister, Stephen Harper, has boasted of Canada as an “emerging energy superpower”. Under the banner of “responsible resource development”, his government has done its best to ease the way for minerals firms, at home and abroad, including directing some foreign aid to countries where Canadian firms wanted to drill. Ministers point with pride to the C$174 billion ($169 billion) in export revenues from sales of minerals, oil and gas in 2013 and to the fact that Canada is home to more than half of the world’s publicly listed exploration and mining companies.

But the downside of seeming so cosy with extractive firms is that whenever one of them gets in trouble—an inevitable occurrence with 1,500 firms active in more than 100 countries—the country’s image is tarnished too. So the government has recently begun to reduce that vulnerability by taking a stricter line on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and bribery by Canadian firms operating abroad. Protecting the national brand is “a huge part of it,” says Andrew Bauer of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, a group that monitors the industry and lobbies for openness.

Ed Fast, the international trade minister, admitted as much on November 14th, as he introduced new rules that require Canadian resources firms involved in disputes with local communities to take part in a resolution process. If any firms refuse, the government will withdraw its economic diplomacy on their behalf…[In the meantime there are ] protests against Canadian firms’ projects, from Romania where environmentalists are objecting to plans for an opencast gold mine, to Guatemala, where guards at a nickel mine have been accused of gang rape…

A new Canadian law  was introduced in October 2014 to curb bribery by mining and energy firms by demanding more transparency from them. The law, which still must be fleshed out in detailed regulations, requires them to disclose all payments made to domestic and foreign governments…It helped that the law was backed by an unusual coalition of non-government organisations and mining companies themselves. T  It seems that the miners’ experience in dealing with local communities is making them more sensitive to their concerns about corruption and other ills. In contrast, the oil and gas firms are lobbying for the transparency law to be weakened. They want to be given exemptions in countries whose local laws conveniently prohibit the disclosure of such payments. They also want to avoid having to give a project-by-project breakdown of their payments, without which the information would be of little use.

Excerpt Canada’s natural-resources companies: Reputation management, Economist, Nov. 22, 2014

Gold Mines to Hate and Love

Giant Mine.  Image from wikipedia

Welcome to the Giant Mine, an abandoned gold mine in Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories of Canada. The Canadian government first took charge of it in 1999 after the owner declared bankruptcy and walked away. It is one of an estimated 10,000 orphaned or abandoned mines in Canada’s north that are now the government’s responsibility. And it is full of arsenic trioxide, a compound that is produced by heating arsenopyrite ore, a mineral that has traces of gold. Arsenic trioxide is odourless, tasteless, highly soluble—and lethal. An amount smaller than a pea is enough to kill. The Giant Mine has 237,000 tonnes of the stuff.

The Giant Mine opened in 1948. For the first few years arsenic trioxide went up the smokestack as vapour and came down in the surrounding area as dust. Dust-collecting “scrubbers” were added to capture some of the poisons after newspapers began warning people not to drink water made from melted snow. Once captured, the arsenic, which has the consistency of talcum powder, was blown into underground chambers. As long as the poisonous dust was in the permafrost layer, the thinking went, it would freeze solid and no longer pose a problem.

That might have worked had mine managers not later decided to dig a series of open pits to extract more gold. Now much closer to the surface, the permafrost has melted. With water leaching into and out of the mine it was only a matter of time before the arsenic threatened the waters of Great Slave Lake.

The federal government’s proposed answer, which was approved last month and whose cost has been estimated at C$1 billion ($900m), is a variation on the original plan. The largest open pit will be filled and the 15 sealed vaults containing the arsenic will be refrozen. “

The Dene, the largest group of indigenous people in the territory, in whose homelands the Giant Mine sits, want the dust taken out and reprocessed into a more stable form. Under pressure from the Dene, environmentalists and the city of Yellowknife, the government is to set up an independent body to monitor its work and check every 20 years whether plans should change. It has stopped claiming its solution will last forever, shortening the period a tad, from eternity to 100 years.

If there is a golden lining in this cloud of arsenic dust it is that the studies, remediation work and monitoring create jobs in Yellowknife, now largely a government town. “That mine is still making money,” says Walt Humphries, who is leading a campaign to turn the Giant Mine’s former recreation centre into a museum. “And it will make money for years to come.”

Canada’s Giant Mine: Giant headache, Economist, Sept. 27, 2014, at 38