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North American Lithium mining project, La Corne, Abitibi, Québec, Canada


Description:

The North American Lithium (NAL) mine is located 18 km by road east of the village of La Corne and 18 km by road west of the town of Barraute. It is also near the Mont-Vidéo ski center and at the foot of the Harricana Moraine, an underground hydrogeological formation sheltering good quality water.

Officially in production since December 20, 2012, the NAL mine has since suffered two bankruptcies and been purchased by new operators three times. After a long legal process, the multinational company Sayona Mining Limited (Sayona Mining) was awarded the mining rights in August 2021 [1].

This mining project was originally called Quebec Lithium yet its name was changed in June 2016 by the Chinese company Jien International Investment after a first bankruptcy. The difficulties of the promoters of the project are mainly due to the lack of financing, the difficulty in extracting the ore and a fall in the price of spodumene on the international markets. The last owners had accumulated debts of more than 200 million Canadian dollars and had failed in their obligation to deposit as collateral the 23 million dollars intended for the restoration of the mine site once the operations ended [2].

The NAL mine has a heavy environmental liability and is known to have escaped rigorous environmental assessments. When the project was presented in 2010, the proponents managed to avoid the Environmental Impact Assessment and Review Procedure (PEEIE) by presenting a daily ore extraction capacity just below the threshold required by the Office of Public Hearings on the Environment (BAPE) of the province of Quebec. The project also began operation before all the environmental assessments were completed [3].

In its early days, the project seemed to have passed under the radar of civil society, which only mobilized a little, although some environmental groups and independent scientific organizations had submitted critical reports, such as Action boréale and Société de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue groundwater (SESAT).

The Quebec government has injected - and lost - several million dollars, notably through Investissement Québec (IQ). 

Initially, the goal was to produce spodumene for export to China. In 2019, a lithium carbonate production complex was built, but production was short-lived [2]. Its acquisition in 2021 by Sayona Mining Limited and its partner Piedmont Lithium has sent a warning signal as new environmental issues are likely to appear with the development strategy of the new buyers. This strategy consists in centralizing the processing on the NAL site of ores possibly coming from the Authier Lithium mining projects in Abitibi and that of Tansim in Témiscamingue, which to this day remain at the stage of mining exploration projects. However, such an increase in the volume of ore from two other mine sites would cause a considerable accumulation of mine waste at the NAL site. This would inevitably lead to major impacts on the environment, in particular on the fragile balance of the water system including groundwater.

Under warning of incurring penalties, the new buyers have made a commitment to the Quebec government to transform spodumene into lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide by building a new plant within 6 to 10 years [1].

Moreover, the size of the surface mine has increased significantly over the years since the initial feasibility study. In 2011, the dimensions of the pit were 500mX300mX150m whereas in 2013 they rose to 1100mX570mX190m. The total tonnage also increased by 45.2% between 2010 and 2018. The environmental impacts of this considerable increase in the size of the project have not to date been the subject of a follow-up hydrogeological study.

The NAL mine is infamous for its numerous releases of toxic contaminants into the environment.  An ‘access to information’ request revealed a compilation of 83 emergency reports at the NAL mine from March 13, 2013 to September 9, 2018. These reports documented several spills totaling more than 50 millions of liters of mine tailings, antifreeze, diesel, oil, process water, etc. [4]. Of these incidents, two environmental accidents are of particular concern:

-On March 18, 2013, an accidental spill of 50 million liters of water and quartz occurred following a dam fracture at a tailings facility. This spill was considered category 2, meaning that the environmental consequences on humans, the environment, or habitats are significant and difficult to identify [3].

-On June 15, 2014, a second accidental spill occurred due to a broken pipe, which transported the mine tailings. 490,000 liters of sludge were dumped. In the days that follow, the solid part was recovered in the belt ditch and the liquid part was largely pumped into the tailings pond [3].

In both cases, as for the other 81 cases listed between March 13, 2013 and September 9, 2018, no comprehensive environmental study was subsequently carried out to monitor the quality of the groundwater. Indeed, hydrogeological studies of the NAL mine have simply never been completed since its launch in 2011 [3], while significant consequences on groundwater and hydrous environments are feared by several groups [5].

The Regroupement vigilance mines Abitibi-Témiscamingue monitors developments surrounding operations at the NAL mine. Finally, the Citizen Committee for the Protection of the Esker requested a hydrological study from the Government of Quebec on April 21, 2020, which was rejected by the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources on May 5, 2020.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:North American Lithium mining project, La Corne, Abitibi, Québec, Canada
Country:Canada
State or province:Quebec
Location of conflict: La Corne
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mining exploration and/or ore extraction
Tailings from mines
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Lithium

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Open pit mine whose initial pit dimensions (500mX300mX150m) were increased to 1100mX570mX190m in 2013.

The project also includes a concentrator with an ore processing capacity of 3,800 tonnes per day and a primary hydrometallurgy plant.

The North American Lithium site is a centerpiece of the lithium pole that Sayona Quebec wishes to develop in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The La Corne concentrator would be used to process ore from the Authier projects in La Motte and Tansim in Témiscamingue [1].

Project area:62.7
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:2010
Company names or state enterprises:Piedmont Lithium Inc. (PLL) from United States of America - Owner of 25% of the joint venture of Sayona Québec Inc.
Sayona Mining Limited from Australia - Owner of 75% of the joint venture of Sayona Québec Inc.
Sayona Québec inc. from Canada
Relevant government actors:- Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCC),
- Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles (MERN),
- Ministère des Finances (MF)
- Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation (MEI).
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Regroupement Vigilance Mines Abitibi-Témiscamingue,
Comité citoyen de protection de l’esker.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageLATENT (no visible resistance)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Regional groups of citizens
Forms of mobilization:Media based activism/alternative media

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Air pollution, Global warming, Oil spills
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment

Outcome

Project StatusUnder construction
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Will depend on the orientations taken by the government to supervise the resumption of mining operations.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Agence Canadienne d’Evaluation Environnementale; Projet de mine de spodumène North American Lithium, Rapport d’étude approfondie; Février 2018
https://iaac-aeic.gc.ca/050/documents/p59158/121526F.pdf

Société de l’eau souterraine Abitibi-Témiscamingue (SESAT); Rapport d’évaluation du Rapport d’étude approfondie de la mine de spodumène North American Lithium de l’Agence canadienne d’évaluation environnementale - Volet Eau souterraine; 21 mars 2018
https://www.sesat.ca/RadDocuments/Rapport%20SESAT%20-%20R%C3%89A%20North%20American%20Lithium%20-%20volet%20eau%20souterraine.pdf

[1] Sayona Québec complète l’acquisition de North American Lithium. Publié dans ICI Abitibi-Témiscamingue le 31 août 2021.
https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1820436/mine-north-lithium-sayona-quebec-abitibi-vente

[2] North American Lithium placé sous la protection de la Loi sur les arrangements avec les créanciers. Publié dans ICI Abitibi-Témiscamingue le 18 juin 2019.
https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1172710/mine-lithium-la-corne-dette-syndic-faillite-ressources-naturelles

[3] Société de l’eau souterraine Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Rapport d’évaluation du Rapport d’étude approfondie de la mine de spodumène North American Lithium de l’Agence canadienne d’évaluation environnementale remis à l’Agence canadienne d’évaluation environnementale, 2018, p. 4.
https://sesat.ca/RadDocuments/Rapport%20SESAT%20-%20RÉA%20North%20American%20Lithium%20-%20volet%20eau%20souterraine.pdf>

[4] Regroupement vigilance mines Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Rapports d'urgence environnementale à la mine North American Lithium du 13 mars 2013 au 9 septembre 2018.
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1MpTyocfeYev1H3_U4VTLbbl257Rnr4y1/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=117936377786709068603&rtpof=true&sd=true

[5] Mine à La Corne : la SESAT réclame une nouvelle étude des impacts potentiels sur l’eau. Publié dans ICI Abitibi-Témiscamingue le 21 janvier 2020.
https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1482273/mine-north-american-lithium-impacts-sesata

Meta information

Contributor:Marc Nantel, porte-parole Regroupement Vigilance de l’Abitibi et du Témiscamingue (REVIMAT), [email protected]
Last update20/10/2021
Conflict ID:5667

Images

 

Compilation of environmental accident in NAL mine between 2013 and 2018

Source: Regroupement vigilance mines Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Rapports d'urgence environnementale à la mine North American Lithium

Open pit dimension proposal in 2011 and 2018

Source: SESAT

North American Lithium Mine

Source: Google Earth

North American Lithium Mine

Source: Marc Nantel

Sayona Mining Projects

Source: Sayona Quebec