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Auditor general says B.C. Mines Ministry has improved ‘with minor exceptions’

Government holds $2.3 billion in securities, estimate for cleanup is $3.45 billion
The Mitchell deposit is the largest of four ore bodies permitted for mine development northwest of Stewart B.C. near the Alaska border.

British Columbia’s auditor general has found that while the government has made progress on environmental oversight of major mining operations, there are concerns about the cost of cleaning them up when they close.

Michael Pickup told a news conference Tuesday that his office found the Mines Ministry has improved its “oversight activities, with minor exceptions.”

His report highlights concerns about the costs of closing down large mines, noting the government holds $2.3 billion in securities to reclaim the operations, but the estimate for cleanup is $3.45 billion.

The report says the government has accepted all five of the recommendations, including that the ministry get mining firms to reduce the $1.14-billion gap in the security fund needed to pay for cleaning up mines when they close.

A similar audit in 2016 found the government’s management of compliance and enforcement was inadequate to protect the province from significant environmental risks associated with major mines.

Pickup also says the ministry hasn’t developed written procedures for geotechnical inspections, nor does it have a consistent approach to reviewing reports submitted by mines as part of compliance monitoring activities.

“There are also 90 abandoned mines, defined as major mines, for which all permit obligations under the Mines Act have been satisfied and the permit has been relinquished,” the report says. “These mines may require additional cleanup or have public safety risks.”

Pickup noted that the government created an abandoned mines branch in 2019 to mitigate the risks to public safety.

“While it has developed a risk-based approach to address public safety concerns, it has not developed a risk-based approach to address environmental concerns.”

Pickup says the Mines Ministry has compliance and enforcement policies and procedures to consistently respond to serious incidents. It has introduced a reclamation security policy for the mines and now has an internal audit unit to evaluate the effectiveness of its mining regulations, he says.

—The Canadian Press

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