A large mining project proposed for British Columbia has received approval to move forward from the minister of the environment after a lengthy environmental assessment. The minister, Leona Aglukkaq, announced that the Seabridge KSM project, in the northeast of the province, near the southeast border of Alaska, is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects when mitigation measures described in the Comprehensive Study Report are taken into account. The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell contains gold, silver and copper deposits.
The plans are for combined open-pit and underground mining operations. The deposits are said to contain 38.2 million cubic ounces of gold, 9.9 billion pounds of copper, 191 million ounces of silver, and 213 million pounds of molybdenum, making this the world’s largest copper-gold mine by volume of reserves. When operational, the mine could process 130,000 tonnes per day. It could have an operational life of fifty-two years, creating 1,800 direct jobs and 4,770 indirect jobs during construction, expected to last five years, and 1,040 direct jobs annually once production begins.
The site will include waste rock storage dumps, an ore grinding circuit, water storage facility, water treatment plant, selenium treatment plant, several small hydroelectric projects, diversion tunnels, access roads, camp facilities, explosives factory and magazine, and supporting infrastructure, according to a government description. The company still requires various permits from BC to begin construction of the mater storage dam and other water management structures, as well as a permit for the tailings storage facility. More than 150 permits are needed in all.
Seabridge will spend an estimated $3.5 billion in British Columbia and $6 billion in Canada during construction of the mine. It has already spent $176 million in exploration, engineering and environmental work. The company is now looking for investors.
Despite the Canadian government’s assurances that the project has been assessed using a “science-based” approach, and that the concerns of First Nations people in the area have been addressed, not everyone is happy with the decision. The State of Alaska says that Canada has rejected its calls for a more thorough environmental review. The KSM project is too close to rivers with important salmon stocks, say Alaskan fishing, native rights and environmental groups. They point to a recent case in which Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley mine’s tailings dam breached and spilled millions of gallons of waste rock and water into the Fraser River in southern BC. That incident was “a wake-up call” for the Alaskans, who do not believe that Seabridge has the demonstrated that it has the ability or resources to safely treat the “massive” amounts of water and toxic wastes that the mine will generate.