When it comes to natural resources in Canada, we’ve made the most of our abundant resources. So much so that our natural resources account for 17% of the Gross Domestic Product, and nearly two million people in Canada are employed (directly or indirectly) getting these resources to market.
The mining, use, and management of various natural resources is often lauded and vilified in the same sentence. Some of these natural resources are essential for life. Improper uses or releases of these same resources also carry human health and environmental risks.
Environmental Releases from Mining Operations
It was five years ago that the largest environmental mining disaster in Canada occurred. On August 4, 2014, the collapse of a holding pond (owned and operated by Imperial Metals) at Mount Polley in British Columbia sent 24 million cubic metres of mining waste into Quesnel Lake, Hazeltine Creek, and other waterways (see video of the release at Mount Polley).
To date, no fines have been levied, which has not gone without criticism. Mining Watch Canada spokesman, Ugo Lapointe, said, “The Fisheries Act, which is supposed to protect Canadian waters and fish habitat, is not working.” We haven’t seen any charges laid by any level of government for the largest mining spill in Canadian history. It’s very disconcerting to witness the situation.”
Imperial Metals has continued to move forward with the cleanup and restoration efforts. According to a report last year, Imperial Metals has spent about $70 million to restore the natural resources.
In another mining-related release, the Ontario Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks issued an amended order to Ontario Graphite Limited (OGL) requiring monitoring, construction of a “polishing” pond, and construction of a stormwater trench and groundwater collection system. These orders were issued to address previous exceedances.
According to HazMat Magazine, “The Order is the latest in a number of Orders issued against OGL. In 2018, the Ontario Environment Ministry issued an Emergency Director’s Order to Ontario Graphite Ltd. (OGL) related to its mining site in Butt Township, Kearney, Ontario.”
Environmental Management of Refined Resources
When it comes to addressing the use of those refined natural resources that are being used by consumers, there is a different set of challenges.
Mercury Light Bulbs
Several years ago, the “push” to move away from the incandescent light bulb to compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) to conserve energy came with new challenges. Specifically, how to safely dispose the CFLs that contain the element mercury. Mercury can be toxic (depending on the dose). The phrase “Mad Hatter” or “Mad as a Hatter” originated from the 1800s hatters that used mercury to process felt for hats and seemed to develop mental disorders.
CFL fell out of favour because of the concerns about mercury. That lead to increased production of LED or halogen lights. Enter Bill C-238, “National Strategy for Safe and Environmentally Sound Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury Act.”
As reported by the CBC, “The plan includes a proposal to amend regulations that would prohibit the importing and manufacturing of certain lamps containing mercury by 2023 or 2028. It’s estimated this measure would reduce the use of mercury in lamps in Canada by 55 per cent.”
The same article reports that 250 to 400 kilograms of mercury ends up in landfills across Canada each year.
Another refined natural resource release resulted in a significant fine. Specifically, the spill of diesel fuel and lubricants resulted in a fine of nearly $3 million.
The law firm Siskinds reports, “On October 13, 2016, the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart ran aground at Edge Reef near Bella Bella, British Columbia, resulting in the release of approximately 107,552 litres (28,412 gallons) of diesel fuel and 2,240 litres (591 gallons) of lubricants.”
The same blog reports, “The company was fined $2.7 million dollars under the Fisheries Act representing the largest fine imposed for one single spill incident by the Government of Canada arising from the deposit of a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish.”
Developing plans to limit these incidents, as well as response plans to cleanup spills, is an important part of any environmental management plan.
We are fortunate to have an abundance of natural resources in Canada and, unlike developing countries who also have natural resources, we have the necessary “freedoms” to obtain and use these resources. With this freedom comes the obligation to properly manage and, when necessary, responsibly address a release.
Whether you are developing a plan to limit your environmental liability or you are addressing a release, we can help. For more information about how we can assist you, contact me at 519-979-7300, Ext. 114.
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