CARC “shocked” at fast-tracking of new diamond mine
IQALUIT — A public watchdog organization is alarmed that a second proposed diamond mine at Lac de Gras in the western NWT won’t get the same level of regulatory scrutiny as its predecessor.
The Canadian Arctic Resources Committee expressed “shock” this week that the federal government appears to be fast-tracking mining development in the region without adequate public consultation.
DIAND officials concluded last week that they will not refer a project submitted by Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. to the federal minister of the environment for a full environmental panel review.
Instead, the project will be assessed through a mid-level environmental review process known as a “Comprehensive Study,” to be done by a regional committee made up of government and industry representatives.
The decision was swiftly condemned by the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, which accused Ottawa of trying to conceal the project’s potential socio-economic and environmental impacts.
“DIAND had 30 days to make this decision and they made it in less than a week, which I think raises certain questions about… whether they took everything into consideration,” Kevin O’Reilly, CARC’s research director said.
Second huge diamond mine
Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. has spent about $70 million to date on exploration and proposes to invest another $875 million to develop a mine 325 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife at Lac de Gras.
The company’s own three-volume submission to DIAND contained 130 pages devoted to public issues and concerns raised at meetings and workshops that Diavik has conducted over the last three years.
O’Reilly said that should have been enough to show federal officials that northern residents who will be affected by the mine must also be involved in selecting an appropriate review process.
“If this is any way they’re going to approach those things in the future, of course there is a lot of concern,” O’Reilly said.
To refer a project to a panel review and subsequent public hearings, DIAND must be convinced that there is significant public concern or significant adverse or unknown environmental impacts.
“We do not presently have clear indications that the environmental effects of the proposed project will be uncertain or significantly adverse, or that there is significant public concern,” Debra Myles, a project officer for DIAND, informed a Diavik official.
Under the comprehensive study, there is a public review only at the end of the environmental review process.
Nunavut board wants a say
The Nunavut Impact Review Board has no jurisdiction in the area, but NIRB director Joe Ahmad said the board is interested in the Diavik project and will want to discuss it with the regional environmental review committee at some point.
“Although there could be some impacts in our area because of that mine, those impacts are not really very large,” Ahmad said.
The Diavik project is the second most advanced diamond project in the Northwest Territories. It’s located just 35 kilometres southeast of BHP Diamonds’ Ekati project, which was subjected to an impact study and full public environmental panel review.
Among other objections to DIAND’s decision, CARC is concerned that without a broad environmental assessment, any review of the Diavik project will not take into consideration the cumulative effects of mining in the region.
CARC says there are unanswered questions about what these two projects together will have on caribou migration and fish habitat.
“The size of this project and the fact that it’s just south of BHP, and when you combine the two of them with all the other exploration activity that’s going on, it raises a lot of questions about what sort of impact it’s going to have,” O’Reilly said.
The Diavik project entails damming and draining a portion of Lac de Gras to mine kimberlite pipes on the lake bed. Lac de Gras is at the headwaters of the Coppermine River and an important source of fish for the community of Kuglugtuk.