BlackRock mine project: amendment to schedule 2 of Metal Mining Effluent Regulations

A review of effects on the environment if mine tailings from the BlackRock mine project are put in water bodies with fish.

The amendments to Schedule 2 of the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (MMER) will authorize BlackRock Metals Inc. (BRM) to use four waters frequented by fish for mine waste disposal associated with the BlackRock Mine Project (the Project). In accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals, this regulatory initiative is exempt from the strategic environmental assessment as it was previously assessed in relation to a project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (the former Act).

BRM will develop the Project, an open pit iron, titanium, and vanadium mine located approximately 30 km southeast of the town of Chibougamau, Quebec, on territory covered by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA). The Project includes an open-pit mine, an ore processing plant, mine waste disposal areas, and a 26.6 km rail line that will link the mine site to the existing southern Canadian National rail line connecting to Chibougamau. The mine waste disposal areas include a waste rock disposal area, fine and coarse tailings disposal areas, a polishing pond, and a treatment and monitoring pond.

The Fisheries Act (the Act) prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances in waters frequented by fish, unless authorized by the Act or other federal legislation. The MMER may authorize the use of waters frequented by fish for mine waste disposal through amendments to the MMER to list them in Schedule 2 of the MMER as tailings impoundment areas (TIAs). The adverse impact on fish habitat resulting from the amendments to the MMER will be offset by the implementation of a fish habitat compensation plan, as required by the MMER. The proponent must also submit an irrevocable letter of credit to cover the plan’s implementation costs, including all necessary remedial measures, if the plan’s purpose is not being achieved.

To demonstrate that the use of waters frequented by fish for the disposal of mine waste is the most appropriate option for mine waste disposal from environmental, technical and socio-economical perspectives, the BRM has prepared an assessment of alternatives for consideration by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). The assessment of alternatives was prepared in accordance with ECCC’s Guidelines for the Assessment of Alternatives for Mine Waste Disposal, and ECCC agrees with the conclusion that the preferred option protects and advances the public interest, as per the Cabinet Directive on Regulatory Management. This analysis takes into consideration concerns raised by local communities, Indigenous Peoples and stakeholders.

The amendments to the MMER will result in the loss of 11.7 hectares (ha) of fish habitat. This negative impact is expected to be offset by the implementation of the fish habitat compensation plan, which commits BRM to participate in the recovery plan for the lake trout population of nearby Lake Chibougamau. The activities under BRM’s fish habitat compensation plan in the context of its participation in the Lake Chibougamau lake trout recovery plan are as follows:

  • development of a spawning ground, chosen by provincial authorities responsible for the re-covery plan, in the northwestern section of Lake Chibougamau
  • stocking Lake Chibougamau with juvenile lake trout
  • implementing a follow-up program to ensure that the compensation objectives have been attained

The amendments to the MMER will contribute to the FSDS’ long-term goal “Clean and healthy lakes and rivers support economic prosperity and the well-being of Canadians”. The MMER have strict limits on the quality of effluent that can be discharged by metal mines and ensure safe disposal of mine wastes and ongoing monitoring and inspection. Therefore, this regulatory initiative will contribute to the following goals set out in the 2016-2019 FSDS:

  • pristine lakes and rivers; and
  • safe and healthy communities

On November 6, 2014, the Minister of the Environment issued the environmental assessment decision statement on the Project in which the Minister concluded that, having taken into consideration the Comprehensive Study Report and the public comments received during the consultation period, the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on human health and socio-economic conditions, taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures. While the amendments to Schedule 2 of the MMER are not expected to result in significant greenhouse gas emissions, these emissions and mitigation measures of the Project as a whole were considered in the Comprehensive Study Report conducted by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the Agency).

With respect to economic growth, the Project will contribute to the local and regional economy of Chibougamau by employing approximately 260 workers and involves a total investment of approximately $600 million. On June 5th, 2013, BRM signed the Ballyhusky agreement (IBA) with the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree Nation Council, the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and the Cree Regional Authority. This agreement, which will remain in effect throughout the life of the mine, contains various provisions for Cree participation in the Project development, including training, education initiatives, employment and business opportunities for the Cree Nation. It also ensures the participation of the Crees in environmental monitoring of the project to mitigate the project’s impact on the traditional Cree way of life.

Measures to monitor the implementation of the fish habitat compensation plan will be taken by BRM to ensure the plan’s objectives are achieved. Given that the MMER is a regulation made pursuant to the Act, enforcement personnel would, when verifying compliance with the MMER, act in accordance with the Compliance and Enforcement Policy for the Habitat Protection and Pollution Prevention Provisions of the Fisheries Act (the Policy). Verification of compliance with the regulations and the Act would include, among other inspection activities, site visits, sample analysis, review of fish habitat compensation plans and related reports associated with the amendments to the MMER.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada will administer subsequent follow-up monitoring to verify the extent to which the fish habitat compensation plan’s purposes are being achieved.  If the plan’s purposes are not being achieved, then the proponent must inform the Minister, and identify and implement all necessary remedial measures. The proponent must also meet the reporting requirements set out in the MMER. ECCC is the responsible authority for the administration and enforcement of the MMER.

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