Agnico Eagle’s water pipeline plans deserve greater scrutiny
“It is wrong for Rankin Inlet to be crash test dummies for a mining company’s plans”
I have been following Agnico Eagle’s Meliadine mine water discharge strategy closely as regulatory matters have unfolded, particularly since March 2020 when the company made an emergency application to the Nunavut Water Board. It has been a rather dismaying process to watch, and I am of the opinion the method the company has been using to push their proposed changes and amendments has been non-transparent and clandestine.
Without going too deeply in depths, I would like to provide Nunatsiaq News with several examples which I find both troubling and alarming. Some of these examples have been provided by the company themselves, yet, in my view, they staunchly contradict information provided to the public, particularly to those in Rankin Inlet and the Kivalliq region who may be adversely affected by the proposed changes.
Agnico Eagle did not report TDS issues in a timely matter
During the fourth quarter of 2019, Agnico Eagle released its earnings report that for the first time indicated to the public they had received a warning for exceeding limits for total dissolved solids, or TDS, in their water discharge into Meliadine Lake.
According to Agnico Eagle’s own technical records, available under “groundwater management plan,” the company was well aware of forecasted TDS issues as it noted its saltmakers at the saline water treatment plant were running at a substantially reduced capacity. Why did Agnico Eagle wait for a said emergency situation to unfold at CP-1 before notifying regulators when the problem with the saltmakers was known in the second half of 2019 and Agnico Eagle had exceeded TDS discharge allowances in October 2019?
Agnico Eagle receives permission to discharge effluent with 3,500 mg/L TDS
On May 12, 2020, Minister Dan Vandal approved the Nunavut Water Board’s decision based on emergency conditions stated by Agnico Eagle. I found the decision alarming because Agnico Eagle’s decision to discharge all of the water from CP-1 into Meliadine Lake was opposed by the Kivalliq Inuit Association, while Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada questioned why Agnico Eagle could not treat the water instead as they had the said capabilities to do so, according to their own technical submissions.
In Nunavut Water Board executive director Stephanie Autut’s response to Nunatsiaq News, she failed to cite the opposition from the Kivalliq Inuit Association to discharging the entire contents of CP-1 into Meliadine Lake, or the cynicism as to how the TDS levels became so elevated—an issue raised by Kivalliq Inuit Association’s Luis Manzo in his technical submissions and clearly reiterated by Tagak Curley.
Red Dog Mine in Alaska was almost shut down for exceeding 1,500 mg/L TDS, while Agnico Eagle is of the opinion that even 3,500 mg/L TDS is “not an issue”
In Agnico Eagle’s “emergency amendment response” submission in April to the Nunavut Water Board, the company stated that it felt 1,400 mg/L TDS as a discharge limit was “overly conservative” and that even TDS discharge into Meliadine Lake as high as 3,500 mg/L would not “present an issue.”
In 2010, a comparable situation was unfolding in Alaska at Teck Resource’s Red Dog mine. Teck’s mine was almost shut down for exceeding their TDS limitations until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave it a controversial permit amendment to increase its TDS discharge to 1,500 mg/L—comparable to what Agnico Eagle was granted based on the recommendations of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
However, for Agnico Eagle, it seems evident the company is unable to reduce its discharge to even what would be controversial for Alaskans, as according to its own technical reports, it may not have the capabilities to reduce TDS to acceptable levels, as their saltmakers at the saline water treatment plant have not been successful.
I am of the view that Agnico Eagle’s statements suggesting there is no evidence that TDS going into a freshwater lake at its proposed levels does not impact the marine environment must not be taken at par, as the State of Alaska has completed similar studies that showed TDS levels above 2,000 mg/L does have an adverse impact on fish.
Agnico Eagle’s CEO has made statements that could be debated about the proposed pipeline project during the past two quarters
On the conference call for Agnico Eagle’s Q1 2020 earnings release to investors, CEO Sean Boyd stated that he believes “everybody” agrees that a pipeline at Meliadine is the best solution and that there had been no pushback against the project from Inuit groups or regulators. Of course, in the first quarter of Q1 2020, the community was mostly unaware that the company would be making an application to install a pipeline during the COVID-19 pandemic, pursuing it as a “minor modification” that the company felt would not require an assessment or public consultations.
It’s now evident that there is staunch opposition against the pipeline project; there is even a petition to stop it with over 600 signatures. In Q2 2020, on the conference call, Boyd suggested that Rankinmiut’s fears are not substantiated when it comes to adverse impacts to caribou from the proposed pipeline, likening it to the fears Baker Lake residents had when the mining road was being built. I would question Boyd’s assumptions about the impact of a large-diameter pipeline across a key critical caribou migratory route.
Conclusion: What’s not good for Alaska shouldn’t be acceptable for Rankinmiut, Kivallirmiut or Nunavummiut and certainly not for any Canadian in 2020
I can only imagine if the proposed changes to TDS thresholds were proposed similarly in environmentally cautious Quebec, where much of Agnico Eagle’s mining activity is based, let alone a twin 16-inch steel pipeline across any type of animal’s migratory path. Even in Republican-held Alaska, what Agnico Eagle is proposing for Rankin Inlet and Nunavut would not be accepted under the EPA, which is typically seen as being more lax than Canadian or European standards.
I find it absolutely unfathomable that their proposed changes or recent statements are not raising more eyebrows, especially given the heightened fears and noticeable changes reported by Rankin Inlet residents regarding deteriorating Meliadine Lake water quality and also the Government of Nunavut’s recent response to Agnico Eagle’s 2019 annual report, which presented scathing findings on the company’s caribou management protocols.
It is wrong for Rankin Inlet to be crash test dummies for a mining company’s plans; what Agnico Eagle is proposing must not be accepted without substantial evidence and certainly not completed in a rushed format as the company recently proposed.
I find it beyond audacious that the local mine manager, Frederic Langevin, recently suggested that building a twin 16-inch pipeline across a caribou migratory path to discharge significantly more saline effluent into Melvin Bay than originally planned was a “minor modification.” COVID-19 must not be used advantageously by Agnico Eagle. I sincerely hope that going forward, Agnico Eagle’s proposals are subjected to judicious scrutiny as other resource projects are in other jurisdictions of Canada.
Former Rankin Inlet resident