Alaska-Canada Transboundary Mining Dispute Continues

September 22nd, 2015 by

Alaskans continue to press their leaders and legislators to seek a strong, binding agreement between the U.S. and mining interests in British Columbia that will protect the region’s water sources from further contamination by mining activities. Especially with glacial areas in the region receding (revealing more recoverable minerals), the issue has been pushed to the forefront.

This delicate push and pull between environmental concerns and resource companies who are interested in Alaska’s vast metal and mineral deposits is beginning to make headlines as several of the major miners from across the border in Canada’s British Columbia province are getting more aggressive about developing the area.

Past Mining Difficulties

The topic of expanding private mining operations is particularly touchy in eastern Alaska, where past endeavors by resource miners have left the state with serious environmental hazards on its hands. Of note, the Tulsequah Chief Mine, a project of Chieftain Metals Corp. (TSX:CFB), has been responsible for leaking toxic materials into the watershed of the Taku River since the site was developed decades ago.

tailingsMore recently, the Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III) copper and gold mine at Mount Polley prompted a local state of emergency last year when a broken dam allowed enormous amounts of toxic slurry into nearby water supplies—not unlike the situation that befell the Gold King Mine in Colorado earlier this summer. Investigations revealed that Imperial Metals was overloading the Mount Polley mine tailings pond (filled with the leftover waste from the mining process) far beyond its capacity for at least three years preceding the disaster.

With this backdrop of environmental disasters squarely in its rear-view mirror, it’s no wonder that locals in Alaska are wary of allowing even more mining activity to come across the Canadian border.

International Implications

British Columbia Mines Minister Bill Bennett visited Alaska recently met with the state’s Lieutenant Governor in order to discuss how B.C. miners might conduct their operations in a safer manner. Locals were not entirely reassured when he admitted he didn’t know how they would do that.

Bennett represents, even if indirectly, the interests of the Mining Association of British Columbia (MABC). This association includes, among others, many of the world’s biggest miners, like Barrick Gold (NYSE, TSX:ABX), AngloAmerican (LON:AAL), Goldcorp (NYSE:GG; TSX, SWX:G), Glencore (LON:GLEN), and Eldorado Gold (NYSE:EGO; TSX:ELD) in addition to Imperial Metals and Chieftain Metals.

Flags-of-usa-and-canadaAlaskans are calling for the U.S. government to hammer out a strong agreement with its Canadian neighbors on how these kinds of transborder situations will be held; if a mine is located on the British Columbian side of the border, does any toxic spillover into Alaskan territory fall within the jurisdiction of the U.S.? Who gets the blame, especially if the company has operations on both Canadian and American soil?

As much as one would like to believe that the Alaskan government can partner with these major mining companies to avoid any such situations, it may take a nationally binding agreement in order to hold these private corporations accountable. As much as the United States and Canada cooperate in many different arenas, responsible resource mining needs to be added to the list.