Tailings dam failures linked to hefty bonuses for mine managers: report

Study of four catastrophic dam collapses — including one at B.C.’s Mount Polley mine — finds bonus schemes encourage managers to take more risks in the name of short-term profits

Image result for the narwhal:Tailings dam failures linked to hefty bonuses for mine managers: report
Mount Polley Mine’s tailings pond and tailings pile. Production was ramped up at the Mount Polley mine before a tailings pond breached in 2014, causing one of B.C.’s worst environmental disasters. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

Generous bonuses for mine managers, rewarding them for cutting costs or increasing production, are linked to tailings dam failures, a new research paper has found.

The paper, published in the journal Resources Policy, pulled on a previous 2015 study that found a relationship between dam collapses and ramped up production or cost-cutting measures and carried the idea to the next level by looking at bonus schemes.

The new study, which documents four catastrophic collapses, including the failure of the Mount Polley tailings dam in B.C. in August 2014, found that all four companies had increased production or reduced operating costs prior to tailings dam failures.

Imperial Metals ramped up production before dam collapse

Imperial Metals, which owns the Mount Polley copper and gold mine, increased production by 23 per cent in the second quarter of the year over the previous financial quarter.

The first quarterly report for Imperial Metals in 2014 showed average daily production was 18,791 tonnes, which was lower than usual because of snowfall and mechanical issues, while the second quarterly report shows production increased by 23 per cent to 23,930 tonnes a day “significantly over the budgeted throughput rate.”

Imperial Metals, in common with many mining companies, did not disclose incentives offered to middle managers, but two companies out of the four case studies showed hefty bonus schemes for managers and the practice is believed to be widespread in the mining industry.

“We believe that the bonus system used to recompense middle management encourages managers to take more risks in order to generate short-term profits at the risk of serious long-term accidents,” said the paper, authored by Margaret Armstrong, Renato Petterd and Carlos Pettard.

Advances in mining technology have made it possible to exploit lower grade deposits, despite decreasing commodity prices, which means disposing of more rejects and putting more pressure on tailings facilities.”

“Year after year, managers keep taking risks with a low probability of occurrence, but with potentially catastrophic consequences. These risks are compounded by shortages of experienced staff, due to the cyclical nature of the industry and the retirement of the baby-boomer generation,” it says. MORE


Mount Polley Mine is Still Pumping Waste Into Quesnel Lake

Pipes now discharge mine wastewater at a rate of up to 52 million litres per day

Hazeltine Creek after the Mount Polley disaster. © Bonnie Glambeck

August 4 will mark the day, five years ago, when the tailings pond of the Mount Polley mine breached, dumping the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools-worth of copper and gold mining wastewater into nearby Quesnel Lake.

The remote, glacially fed lake – the deepest in BC and claimed to be the ninth deepest in the world – sits nearly centred and slightly east of a line drawn between Prince George and Kamloops. The lake is an important nursery for Pacific salmon and home to trophy-size rainbow trout, lake trout and Dolly Varden.

“Approximately four million salmon annually move through the Fraser River watershed, and 30% of those come from Quesnel Lake,” said Judith Pringle of the group Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, in a webinar presentation in May.

Imperial Metals, the owner of Mount Polley mine, has faced no fines, no penalties, and no charges in connection with the disaster. On the contrary, Imperial Metals was granted a permit to forego a tailings dam altogether.

“In 2017 the Ministry of Environment (MOE) very quietly gave the mine a permit to build a pipeline from [their] treatment plant, taking all of their mine waste water directly into Quesnel Lake,” Pringle said.

The treatment plant feeding the pipeline removes sediment, nitrates, and phosphates. Not removed from the wastewater are possible contaminants such as copper, selenium, aluminum, iron, and lead, said Pringle.

Twin two-foot diameter pipes now discharge mine wastewater at a rate of up to 52 million litres per day.

“Other mines can remove copper and various other metals,” said Pringle. “It’s not a difficult process, it is not expensive, but the Ministry of Environment continues to treat Polley as a special case.” MORE

TAKE ACTION! PM Trudeau: Don’t let Imperial Metals off the hook for the Mt. Polley mining disaster

Image result for Sumofus PM Trudeau: Don't let Imperial Metals off the hook for the Mt. Polley mining disaster

Just today, Canada’s Auditor General released an alarming report urging Trudeau’s government to do a better job to sanction mining companies when they fail to protect Canadian waters and fish. 

And there is one mining company in particular that Trudeau needs to act on — Imperial Metals.

Almost five years ago, Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley Mine spilled 25 million cubic metres of toxic waste into pristine Quesnel Lake, one of the deepest lakes in the world. The lake is home to multiple fish species, and supplies drinking water to local communities. Until now, the federal government has let Imperial Metals off the hook for the largest mining waste spill in Canadian history — but we’re going to change this. 

The clock is ticking: the government has until August 4th, 2019, to charge Imperial Metals. That’s why we need to turn up the heat now and force Trudeau’s hand.

Tell Trudeau’s government not to let Imperial Metals off the hook. Enforce the Fisheries Act now!