B.C. TO RISK EXPERIMENTAL WATER-TREATMENT AT ELK VALLEY COAL MINE
By Kelsey Keohane
Teck Coal Ltd. has been granted approval for the expansion of Line Creek mine despite potential harmful impact to the surrounding environment. The British Columbia provincial government is under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after Montana senators raised concern over potential pollution from planned expansion to coal production in the Elk River Valley.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency threatened to bring the case before the International Joint Commission back in December, outlining concerns regarding pollution traveling down B.C.'s Elk and Fording Rivers into Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenay River; two bodies of water running along B.C. and Montana.
The International Joint Commission was established during the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty in order to settle cross-border disputes involving pollution of rivers and lakes. The treaty states that shared waters must not pollute nor cause injury to the other side of the border. The complaints set by Montana's senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, were against the Canadian provincial government’s lack of consideration for the overall impact of mine drainage to water quality and aquatic life.
Teck Coal Ltd. maintains that their proposals do consider these impacts and that the company is making significant investments in water treatment plans. In an email response, Teck's senior communications specialist Chris Stannell stated: "We have already taken steps to protect water quality in the region, including construction of our first full-scale water treatment facility which is nearing completion and will begin operation in the first half of next year."
While the provincial government has issued an environmental certificate to Teck Coal Ltd. earlier this fall, these experimental water-treatment plans are non-conclusive and very little is known about whether or not they will actually work.
The approval for the $3.4-billion mine expansion ensures Teck is able to operate another 18 years. With 500 miners whose jobs depend on the mine remaining open and a whopping $200-million to be spent on water treatment by the mining company, there is a lot at stake. Not to mention the backlash the Canadian government risks facing if pollution control fails.
Coal mining has been known to release many pollutants into the water. For example, high doses of selenium, known to cause deformities in aquatic birds and fish, has been found in the Elk watershed. With several coal mine expansion projects underway in the area, there is high risk of waste water leaching into the surrounding watersheds.
The EPA has raised concerns regarding the proposals for both the Bingay and Line Creek mines. Line Creek mine will produce 637 million cubic metres of waste rock which could release enough selenium to wipe out aquatic life.
Without any long-term studies to ensure the safety of coal mine expansion and its impact on the environment, scientists and civilians alike will hold their breath for the future of the Elk Watershed.
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