Friday, August 17, 2018

Joint federal and provincial review panel for Grassy Mountain Coal Project announced

Government of Canada map of proposed mine site

Chris Davis -
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency yesterday (August 16, 2018) announced the establishment of a three-member Joint Review Panel for the environmental assessment of Benga Mining Limited's proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Project, which would be located 7km north of Blairmore in Crowsnest Pass, pending final approval. "Mr. Alex Bolton has been appointed as the Chair of the Joint Review Panel. Mr. Hans Matthews and Mr. Dean O'Gorman have been appointed as members of the Joint Review Panel."

The Joint Review Panel Agreement was signed by Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Alberta Energy Regulator Jim Ellis. It "establishes the mandate and terms of reference of the Joint Review Panel, its composition, as well as the procedures and timelines of the review."

"Under the Agreement, the Joint Review Panel will conduct a review of the potential environmental effects of the project, consider mitigation measures, determine whether the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, and identify any follow-up programs required."

"As a next step, the Joint Review Panel must hold a public comment period on the Environmental Impact Statement. After considering the comments received, the Panel will determine whether it has sufficient information to proceed to the public hearing."

"In accordance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, comments received and other documents submitted or generated to inform the environmental assessment are part of the project file and will be posted on the Registry under reference number 80101, unless they are excluded due to confidentiality, security or other reasons."

Benga Mining Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Riversdale Resources Limited, an Australian mining company. According to documents the proposed production capacity of the project "would be a maximum of four million tonnes of clean coal per year, over a mine-life of about 25 years," or "93 million tonnes of product coal over its currently proposed 24-year mine life." According to Riversdale Resources, pending a favourable regulatory decision the mine is expected to start production in the first quarter of 2021. It would encompass an area of approximately 2,800 hectares.

Some input has already been registered with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry. Here are some excerpts:

Piikani Nation Consultation Manager Dustin Wolfe registered concerns about environmental damage, "potential health risks to Nation members working in the area, and potential adverse effects on hunting, fishing, and treaty rights. Tsuut’ina Nation spokesman Consultation Director Norine Saddleback said the Nation is concerned "that the Coal Project will have significant adverse impacts on the environment and its Treaty No. 7 Rights and Interests." 

Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe) counsel JFK Law Corporation writes "Rather than a forum to voice its concerns, the regulatory process appears to be designed to silence its perspective, or at best, to force it into an uncomfortable and unfamiliar network where it is treated as less valid and less legitimate than the perspective of people who have studied in academic centres far from the places and issues our members have faced for decades." 

Siksika Nation representative John Gruber requests modification to the text of the assessment document, requesting the assessment include "any potential adverse effects that may be caused by the Project to the health, social or economic conditions of Indigenous people". 

Alberta Wilderness Association Conservation Specialist Nick Pink cites concerns about the environmental significance of the area and the potential impact of mining on water quality, species at risk, air quality including greenhouse gas emissions, habitat mitigation, and property values in the area.

According to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, "Components of the Project would include the surface coal mine pits and waste disposal areas, a coal preparation plant, water and wastewater management ponds and pits and facilities, and associated infrastructure including a coal conveyor system, an access corridor, maintenance shops, a rail load-out facility and other pertinent facilities." It recommends referring to the proposed mine's product as "metallugical" instead of "clean" coal. 

Crowsnest Pass resident Barbara Janusz writes "The site of the project lies within the Oldman River Watershed which like many watersheds in Western Canada is experiencing negative impacts from climate change. Gold Creek, a tributary of the Crowsnest River which flows into the Oldman River, is at risk of selenium contamination from the excavation of the metallurgical coal that the proponent intends to transport by rail to Vancouver and on to Asia for export. In the event that the Joint Review Panel grants the proponent's application, it is hoped that strict conditions are imposed respecting the monitoring of selenium seepage into Gold Creek. Self-reporting of such contamination should never suffice, however. In the public interest, regular monitoring and testing for selenium and other contaminants should be undertaken by Department ofFisheries inspectors. Although it is not the practice of environmental tribunals such as a Joint Review Panel to impose conditions upon government departments like the DFO, it is nigh time that conditions be imposed not only upon the proponents of industrial projects but also upon the civil service that is tasked legislatively to oversee undertakings, such as the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, to ensure compliance with environmental regulations."

Janusz also recommends the review panel impose "an effective wildfire mitigation plan" and also "inquire about any Third Party actions commenced against Riversdale Resources Inc." by global mining group by Rio Tinto "in light of the recent legal proceedings brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission against Rio Tinto respecting a coal mine in Mozambique - initially developed by the proponent and sold for $3.7 Billion to Rio Tinto- (and class action lawsuits brought in relation to the same)..."

Crowsnest Pass resident Bonnie Linderman, writes in favour of the project, "for the good of the community... Riversdale has shown that they are environmentally responsible."

"The benefit to our community will be felt for many years to come. The golfers will be playing alongside the mining operation and because of careful planning and design, will show that a mining business that brings jobs and business to the community can still be environmentally responsible. People who have lived in the Crowsnest Pass for a long time worry about coal dust. We did
not have any environmental rules mines needed to follow or the type of technology to suppress dust in the1950s and 1960s. Our government holds people responsible for the environment as seen with the long process that Riversdale has had to go through to apply for a mining permit."

For more information and all of the comments posted with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry visit their website at this link.

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