The Trouble With Tailings: Toxic Waste ‘Time Bombs’ Loom Large Over Alaska’s Salmon Rivers

Mount Polley dam failure

There are a few unarguable truths about mine tailings, the pulverized rock, water and sludge left over from mineral extraction — mining is a messy business, the leftovers have to be dealt with forever and it’s impossible to guarantee against another tailings dam failure such as the Mount Polley catastrophe.

In B.C., there are 98 tailings storage facilities at 60 metal and coal mines, of which 31 are operating or under construction and the remaining 67 are at mines that are either permanently or temporarily closed

That means communities throughout B.C. and Alaska are looking nervously at nearby tailings ponds, which sometimes more closely resemble lakes, stretching over several square kilometres, with the toxic waste held back by earth and rock-filled dams. The water is usually recycled through the plant when the mine is operating, but, after the mine closes, water, toxins and finely ground rock must continue to be contained or treated.

It’s the realization that tailings have to be treated in perpetuity that worries many of those living downstream, especially as the Mount Polley breach happened only 17 years after the dam was constructed.

The concept of forever boggles people minds. In one thousand years is the bank account still going to be there? These people are going to be dead,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.

Winner of Mexico's First Offshore Oil and Gas Bid Had Massive Gas Drilling Leak in 2013

The company that won the first-ever bid in the oil and gas privatization era for Mexico — earning the right to tap into two designated blocks in the country's shallow water coast of the Gulf of Mexico — leaked 252 gallons of a liquid form of raw natural gas into the Gulf in a July 2013 shallow-water accident off the coast of Louisiana.

Talos Energy, the Houston, Texas-based company responsible for the spill, won the July 15 bid and will do the drilling in a joint venture alongside Sierra Oil & Gas and Premier Oil.

The leak — producing a self-described “rainbow sheen…more than four miles wide by three quarters of a mile long” — transpired on an inactive well formerly owned by the company Energy Resources Technology, which Talos bought as a wholly-owned subsidiary earlier that year. 

Here's Why MP Peter Lilley Voted Against the Climate Change Act

Environmentalists first promoted a climate change bill when Britain was enjoying an economic boom – albeit through an evidently unsustainable housing bubble and consumer credit.

When the economic crisis of 2008 unfolded, I was a journalist at the Sunday Times newspaper and was told by Nicholas Hellen, then deputy news editor, that any environment stories were, as a result, immediately off the agenda. Consumers could no longer afford to ‘go green’.

But the momentum of the climate change legislation then passing through Parliament was enough to see it through to royal assent, with almost universal support across the political and economic spectrum. A tiny rump of free market Tories were the only MPs to voice any opposition.

Prime Minister Harper’s Inaction on Climate Killed the Keystone XL Oilsands Pipeline

Stephen Harper climate change

With U.S. President Barack Obama expected to deny a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline this fall, Canada’s oil industry is looking for someone to blame.

The National Post’s Claudia Cattaneo wrote last week that “many Canadians … would see Obama’s fatal stab as a betrayal by a close friend and ally” and that others “would see it as the product of failure by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to come up with a climate change plan.”

The latter is the more logical conclusion. Obama has made his decision-making criteria clear: he won’t approve the pipeline if it exacerbates the problem of carbon pollution.

Even the U.S. State Department’s very conservative analysis states the Keystone XL pipeline would “substantially increase oilsands expansion and related emissions.” The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed.

While Canada’s energy reviews take into account “upstream benefits” — such as jobs created in the oilsands sector as a result of pipelines — they don’t even consider the upstream environmental impacts created by the expansion of the oilsands.

For all the bluster and finger-pointing, there’s no covering up the fact that Canada’s record on climate change is one of broken promises.

David Suzuki: Climate Deniers All Over the Map

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

A little over a year ago, I wrote about a Heartland Institute conference in Las Vegas where climate change deniers engaged in a failed attempt to poke holes in the massive body of scientific evidence for human-caused climate change. I quoted Bloomberg News: “Heartland's strategy seemed to be to throw many theories at the wall and see what stuck.”

A recent study came to a similar conclusion about contrarian “scientific” efforts to do the same. “Learning from mistakes in climate research,” published in Theoretical and Applied Climatology, examined some of the tiny percentage of scientific papers that reject anthropogenic climate change, attempting to replicate their results.

In a Guardian article, co-author Dana Nuccitelli said their study found “no cohesive, consistent alternative theory to human-caused global warming.” Instead, “Some blame global warming on the sun, others on orbital cycles of other planets, others on ocean cycles, and so on.”


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