Imperial Metals, Mount Polley Mine, BC, Canada


On August 4, 2014, the retaining dam at the mine's tailings storage facility collapsed, and over 25 million cubic metres of mine tailings and contaminated water poured into Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, part of the Fraser River system, one of the most important salmon rivers in the world. No-one was hurt, but Hazeltine Creek was washed out, and trees and debris washed into Quesnel Lake along with the contaminated material. The effects on water quality and fish is still unknown, and local tourism businesses as well as Indigenous subsistence fisheries have been severely affected.

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Basic Data
NameImperial Metals, Mount Polley Mine, BC, Canada
ProvinceBritish Columbia
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Tailings from mines
Specific CommoditiesCopper
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe mine produced about 40,000,000 pounds of copper and 50,000 ounces of gold annually
Project Area (in hectares)500
Level of Investment (in USD)400,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population20,000
Start Date04/05/2014
Company Names or State EnterprisesImperial Metals Corporation (IM) from Canada
Relevant government actorsBritish Columbia Ministry of Mines

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersFair Mining Collaborative

MiningWatch Canada

Secwepemc Women's Warrior Society
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Recreational users
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills, Other Environmental impacts
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseInstitutional changes
Project temporarily suspended
Development of Alternatives1. Clean-up and remediation of the spill area. Whether the mine can return to operation has not been established.

2. Independent, public, in-depth technical reassessment of tailings facilities at existing mines, those currently being proposed, and any new proposals, based on much more stringent criteria.

3. Improved Environmental Assessment process to allow more thorough evaluation of technical aspects as well as public and Indigenous involvement.

4. Enhanced regulation and monitoring of mines.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The full range and extent of impacts to Quesnel Lake and downstream into the Fraser River, to the ecosystem and the economies and cultures that depend on them, are still unknown. There has been no real clean-up yet, and perhaps most importantly it remains to be seen whether deep systemic changes will be made to prevent repeat occurrences - to mining practice, regulation, and monitoring in BC and across the board.
Sources and Materials

Some facts about the Mount Polley Mine - Bernard von Schulmann | August 6, 2014
[click to view]

Mount Polley and the Failure of Compliance - Ramsey Hart, MiningWatch Canada, October 21, 2014
[click to view]

Catastrophic Tailings Spill at Mount Polley Mine - Ramsey Hart, MiningWatch Canada, August 08, 2014
[click to view]

Mount Polley Review Panel Delivers Final Report - January 30, 2015

The Mount Polley Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel (the Panel) today delivered a Final Report on its investigation into the cause of the failure of the tailings storage facility at the Mount Polley Mine on August 4, 2014. The report was delivered to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the T’exelc First Nation (Williams Lake Indian Band) and the Xat’sull First Nation (Soda Creek Indian Band). The report also contains recommendations on actions that can be taken to ensure a similar failure does not occur at other mine sites in B.C.
[click to view]

Media Links

Video: Helicopter Fly Over by Cariboo Regional District (37 min)
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorMining Watch Canada
Last update13/04/2015