Agnico Eagle wants to pipe salty water from Meliadine gold mine to Melvin Bay

Nunavut Impact Review Board seeking comments until May 8

This map shows the location of Melvin Bay near Rankin Inlet, where Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. would like to discharge “saline effluent” from two pipes deep in the water. (Map courtesy of MapCharta)

By Jane George

Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. wants to stop trucking effluent from its Meliadine gold mine to the coast and, instead, lay down about 40 kilometres of double pipes to carry more salty water from the mine to Melvin Bay.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board has decided to extend the period for comments on this project proposal until May 8.

That extension follows requests from the Kivalliq Inuit Association and the Kivalliq Wildlife Board to have the deadline, originally April 24, put off.

The KIA said its resources were already stretched due to COVID-19.

As well, its lands staff is also evaluating an emergency request by Agnico Eagle to the Nunavut Water Board to make an emergency release of water from its holding pond this spring.

As described to the NIRB, Agnico Eagle also wants to build two new pipes to carry “saline effluent” from the mine site to Melvin Bay, a distance of about 41 kilometres over two roads.

Comments on the project proposal received to date by the NIRB have cited various concerns about the environment, as well as other impacts.

“I believe Agnico Eagle’s proposed changes for the disposal of saline influent from the Meliadine mine site must be fully reviewed and reassessed, which would include a detailed community consultation, before approvals could be considered,” said Rankin Inlet resident John Zawadski in his seven-page comment.

“The impacts of their proposals are significant from a cultural, environmental and socio-economic perspective and therefore the proposals should not be approved as presented.”

“Further, I believe the pipeline proposal should never be approved because of the detrimental impact it will have on caribou migration and the potential for pollution of the Melvin Bay marine environment. ”

At the coast, the proposed pipes would release treated salty water at a daily rate of 6,000 cubic metres to 12,000 cubic metres.

That’s about five times as much water as an Olympic swimming pool holds or, as a Zawadski put it, the volume of 40 1,400 square-foot three-bedroom houses, which would be released every day during the open-water season from May to October.

In its proposal to the NIRB, Agnico Eagle described the effluent as “treated groundwater that is like ocean water.”

That groundwater comes from inflow to the underground mine at the Tiriganiaq deposit, the company said, in a summary of its “2020 Saline Discharge Strategy” proposal and the “Saline Effluent Discharge to Marine Environment” modification to the NIRB.

At the bay, the pipes would extend underground from the pump house to about seven metres below the surface of the water and continue on the sea floor to a diffuser at a depth of 20 metres.

The pipes would remain in place following decommissioning of the mine, Agnico Eagle said.

If approved, construction on the pipes would begin in August 2020, create construction 24 jobs and be completed by June 2021. The diffuser would be built from July to September 2021.

Discharge of groundwater treated at the mine to Melvin Bay would take place when there is no ice, from May to October, and would continue until the mine’s closure in 2032.

Agnico Eagle said there would be fewer trucks than the number originally approved to carry groundwater discharge.

“This means there will be less dust generated and less noise from the truck traffic and less greenhouse gases,” the company said. “It also means less truck traffic that could interact with caribou and other wildlife.”

The discharge of the treated groundwater to the ocean could affect marine water quality, marine mammals, fish and other small organisms in the water, “but the impacts should be similar to those identified in 2018,” when the mine received its project certificate, Agnico Eagle said.

“Impacts from the ocean discharge to people are expected to be minimal,” the company said.

The NIRB said comments should address the overall project proposal and whether it should be considered as part of the mine’s current project certificate or whether its project certificate should be changed.

All materials received on Agnico Eagle’s project proposal can be obtained from the NIRB’s public registry at www.nirb.ca/project/124106 and www.nirb.ca/project/125515.

If you wish to comment, you should respond to the following questions:

  • Whether the scope of the proposed 2020 Saline Discharge Strategy was included within the scope of what was previously assessed for the approved project?
  • Whether the proposed change constitutes a “significant modification” to the project as previously assessed?

Parties must submit comments directly to the NIRB via email at info@nirb.ca or through the online public registry at www.nirb.ca by May 8.

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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by Jay Arnakak on

    ‘salty water’ sounds innocuous enough, but it is no doubt laced with some of the deadliest toxins imaginable.

  2. Posted by Mavis on

    Running a pipe versus trucking effluent sounds a lot more efficient and less harmful environmentally to me. What is it with people invoking “cultural impacts” every time someone proposes some kind of change they don’t understand? Such a typical and expected gripe to me that it just comes off as totally thoughtless and canned.

    • Posted by Chris on

      You are not understanding the technical details which are much more alarming: the pipe can carry 6,000-12,000 cubic metres of effluent, they are currently only allowed to discharge 800 cubic metres of effluent and are seeking permission under an “emergency permit” to dump 1,600 cubic metres by truck to deal with current high TDS at CP1, too toxic for Meliadine Lake. The desired volumes on that speculative pipeline would be over 10x as much water as they are currently licensed to dispose of, as well as higher in saline then predicted and outside of regulatory acceptances.

      • Posted by Arnold on

        Maybe they should just start hauling the water instead of trying to claim it as a emergency

    • Posted by WB on

      The point is to raise these concerns, so they can be studied thoroughly, so we can understand the changes and potential impacts.

      Something might “sound a lot more efficient” at first glance, but carry unexpected consequences.

      The whole point is to ensure that changes to the project are made carefully, transparently, and safely.

      • Posted by Mavis on

        To Chris and WB,, fair enough. Most people wouldn’t understand the technical issue like this, myself included. Unfortunately Nunatsiaq doesn’t either so they resort to what they know, nebulous cultural arguments to invoke an easy reaction. This comes off as a complete red herring to me, maybe you could shed some light on the merit to this aspect of the argument?

        • Posted by Chris on

          a red herring? Well, there is much to the story behind the headline which is challenging to understand unless you are familiar and well versed with the project. They want to pipe this effluent (not just salty/saline water) to the ocean because they are out of compliance on what they can currently discharge to Meliadine Lake and also seeking additional truck trips on the AWAR which would put them again, out of compliance on their initial permissions. The truth is the company is well exceeding the TDS levels they informed the community of only 2-years ago, which puts them out of compliance completely. To address this, they think discharging the water by pipeline to the ocean where the water is more saline will quell local enviormental issues.

          The mine is producing alot of effluent that is toxic to aquatic life and is containing chlorides, the legal limit is 1400 mg/L, they want to go up to 3,500 mg/L in 2020 and after that they want to lift the TDS permissable under their current permit. They claim the TDS is a meaningless number and being treated too strictly. They don’t mention the TDS derives from chlorides which makes it very toxic to fish in those amounts.

  3. Posted by Chris on

    It’s actually “salty water” that is over 3,500 mg/L TDS (the legal limit is 1,400 mg/L). It is also water that is very high chlorides in combination with TDS, which makes it very destructive to dapnia magna and trout. It is also water that may be contaminated with metals and chemicals if you review the initial information submitted in 2018. AEM saying that TDS is meaningless and the current standards are too strict, but they are omitting the fact their water is high in chlorides, which in combination with TDS, in US studies has been proven to be destructive together. Good luck, Rankin Inlet.

    • Posted by Putuguk on

      There are two probable sources of the salt being discharged. One is rock pore water where water been trapped within rock and has interacted with the country rock for perhaps tens of millions of years, dissolving it. That is actually why oceans are salty.

      The other is Rankin is in an area of glacial rebound so their may be compressed ocean water in the permafrost inland from the sea that was covered and compressed there during past ice ages that is now been liberated by mining.

      Given the natural origins of the salt, It therefore comes as no surprise then that the discharge salinity is 3500 mg/L which is the same as the average salinity in the worlds oceans.

      daphnia magna and rainbow trout that you reference Chris, are used as live test subjects for the toxicity of mine effluent. Unfortunately, they are freshwater species that would die in sea water, whether the water came from a mine or not.

      The salty water is being proposed to be piped to the ocean you may have noticed.

      • Posted by Chris on

        The underground saline water itself had a TDS of 65,000 – 120,000 mg/. The discharge of effluent AEM wants to dump is 3,500 mg/L whuch is well out of range of end of pipe criteria. You cant trust folks who keep changing their limitations.

        • Posted by Chris on

          Just to reiterate and clarify, the water AEM is producing from the mine is “saline water” by definition because it exceeds 35,000 mg/L. It’s important to call AEM’s mining water what it is – saline – and it comes in their own technical reports at between 65,000 and 165,000 mg/L, well above lethal limits to aquatic life which would cause massive destruction if released into Melvin Bay at those volumes.

          The water requires treatment prior to discharge.

          Are you are trusting a company that is already having a water emergency, water too toxic built at the mine that they can no longer discharge into Meliadine Lake! Now you want to trust them within twin 16″ pipelines to discharge water directly into the bay from the mine? Why do you think AEM tried to circumvent holding a public debate?

          And again, on top of the TDS it’s important to keep in mind the TDS at Meliadine mainly comes from chlorides, which are proved to be more harmful then when TDS derives from Sulfates. It’s also to keep in mind these large volumes of mining effluent/saline water often contain trace metals, and subsequently require discharge.

  4. Posted by Daniel on

    Putting that much chemicals everyday during open water season over so many years into Melvin bay will definitely kill marine life not just around where they will dump but surrounding areas as well!

  5. Posted by Chesley. Ford on

    But all that is going to be all filter in three different stages and then in to the ocean
    And look at what the gov,t has been doing poring the public sewage in towards Meliadine
    River for the last 40 some years then look at that in what it’s doing with no different stages of filtering system before discharging it in to the bay and look at the way the mines discharge theres
    And Iam sure working together can make it a very good and a safe environment for all the land and sea
    And look at the garbage dumps in all the communitys health problems and for the wildlife think about that and look at it
    And the the way the mines look after their own
    It’s a very good examples for a safe and very clean environment to live in they look after it every day as long as the river flows
    There keep the whole environment clean and keep everyone employed to live in a safe environment and for the wildlife too there not here to destroy the land and the wildlife and the environment around us working together will make it a better place to live in and for the future in the long run for all

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