Teck coal mines cleanup to cost billions more than estimate: report

Breadcrumb Trail Links Mining Non-profit study finds it will cost…


Non-profit study finds it will cost $6.4 billion to clean up toxic runoffs, three times the amount set by the province

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Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd. has “severely underplayed” the cost that will be required to reverse rising selenium concentrations in waterways due to toxic runoffs from its coal mines in British Columbia, according to a new report.

Wildsight, a non-profit based in Kimberley, B.C., said it will cost at least $6.4 billion to implement Teck’s current plan to tackle selenium levels to finish building water-treatment plans by 2027 and then operate them for 60 years. That’s about three times more than the $1.9-billion reclamation security that has been set, it said.

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A reclamation security is a financial assurance that miners provide to provinces to cover any costs in case of an emergency and any damages caused due to the operations. It is designed to ensure the financial burden of such an event does not fall on taxpayers.

“When we saw that number, $1.9 billion, we thought it was quite low and commissioned a consultant,” Simon Wiebe, Wildsight’s mining policy researcher, said. “It’s three times higher than what is held by the B.C. government and that’s just one part of their reclaiming process. There’s still all of the land, more water, lot of things to do on top of this.”

A Teck spokesperson denied the findings and said Wildsight’s estimates were “inaccurate and inconsistent” with calculations made under British Columbia’s government policy.

“Their use of simplified assumptions overstate ongoing water treatment operating costs alone by 50 to 60 per cent,” Maclean Kay said.

Teck’s stock declined about 1.3 per cent on Tuesday as of noon in Toronto.

Teck has invested $1.4 billion since 2014 to tackle water pollution and it plans to invest a further $150 million to $250 million by the end of 2024. The company said water-treatment facilities are currently removing between 95 per cent and 99 per cent of selenium.

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Teck operates four steelmaking coal mines in the Elk Valley area that employ about 4,000 people. The mining process generates leftover rock that contains naturally occurring substances such as selenium. Water flows through these rock piles and carries selenium into the local watershed. If present in high concentrations, it can hurt aquatic life.

Wildsight said selenium concentrations have more than quadrupled in the region in the past four decades. The watershed includes communities such as Fernie, B.C., Lake Koocanusa, which straddles the Canadian-United States border, and water courses flowing through Montana and Idaho.

After years of stalled talks, Canada, the U.S. and the Ktunaxa Nation last week announced they have agreed to refer the selenium pollution problem to the International Joint Commission, a neutral third party that is now tasked with investigating and recommending solutions.

Last year, Teck announced the sale of the majority stake of these mines to Swiss mining giant Glencore PLC. The deal has not closed, but Wiebe said he hopes Glencore and the Canadian government pay “close attention” to Wildsight’s report to ensure accountability is maintained throughout the transfer.

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“This is already an international environmental disaster, and it could still worsen,” he said.

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In November 2023, Teck said that if the deal goes through, Glencore will be legally bound to spend 50 per cent more than what Teck has currently allotted on water quality treatment technologies, implement a climate transition strategy and honour existing relationships with Indigenous communities.

• Email: nkarim@postmedia.com

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