After 30 days Pacific Booker Minerals Inc. (PBM) has finally responded to the province’s decision to deny the Morrison Mine Project the Environmental Assessment Certificate (EAC) that it would have needed to proceed.
Mining the $6 billion in mineral resources that lay below the ground near Granisle B.C. would have begun in 2014 had the certificate been approved. It is estimated that the project would have generated $300 million in tax revenue, created over 1100 jobs during the three year mine construction phase and generated over $79 million dollars in household income at the same time.
In an Oct. 31, 2012 statement, PBM chief executive officer Gregory Anderson said that over 16,000 pages of documentation were produced in the environmental application put before the province. The proposal included 32 conditions that the company had agreed to meet as part of Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) approval.
“PBM has adequately and reasonably addressed all the issues raised by government agencies, First Nations and the public,” said Anderson.
According to the Aug. 21, 2012 report prepared by the provincial EAO, Anderson was correct to say so. The conclusion of the 205 page report was that all environmental, First Nations, and public concerns were, in the language of the report, ‘adequately and reasonably’ dealt with.
But on Oct. 1, the province denied approval of the EAC despite its own office’s apparent approval of the application. Even though the long term risk to water quality and salmon populations were identified and addressed in the report of the environmental assessment office, environment minister Terry Lake and energy, mines and natural gas minister Rich Coleman determined that the risk to sockeye salmon, the possibility of long term water quality issues and long-term liability to the province were unacceptable factors.
Regarding the obstacles of water quality and disturbance to salmon populations, PBM reiterated that the province’s own third party reviews of water pollution mitigation efforts proposed by PBM were sufficient to protect long term water quality and fish habitat.
The long-term liability identified by the ministers Lake and Coleman is in reference to the possibility that the province would be on the hook for expensive reclamation efforts if PBM were unwilling or unable to complete the work itself. PBM responded that it had technical plans to reduce by half the potential cost of reclamation by refilling the pit mine with the waste rock generated during the operation of the mine.
But the province was concerned the potential $300 million dollars in reclamation costs could not be met by the mining company.
Erik Tornquist, PBM Chief Operating Officer explained that the company’s reclamation obligations would be bonded. “There’s no risk to the province if there’s a bond,” said Tornquist. “As you’re mining, you’re bonding for each tonne of waste rock.”
Essentially, the province is saying that PBM cannot afford to bond its operation. PBM responded that, “Mine development costs these days are significant in any event and the bond is just part of doing business in a sustainable and environmentally protective manner.”
“The bond is all part of the financial analysis,” explains Tornquist. “It’s a progressive bond and it comes out of the operating profits of the mine. Company finances are not part of the [province’s] assessment.”
Tornquist said that PBM has spent $20 million in technical and financial feasibility studies for this project, in addition to the $10 million spent on the environmental analysis. Anderson emphasized that, “PBM is strongly committed to continue to work towards bringing the proposed Morrison Mine Project to commercial production.
In a Nov. 2 discussion of B.C.’s October job market numbers, minister Pat Bell was asked what kind of message a resource company like PBM should take from all of this. “The message of the decisions taken by the EAO is that you need to have done your homework and have maintained very high environmental standards,” said Bell. “And if you’ve done that you can still get your project approved in BC and move it forward.”
Given the positive conclusion that the EAO had given the Morrison mine project and the province’s subsequent denial of the project, Tornquist takes a different message from the process. “It doesn’t provide much confidence [for other mining companies] to bring a project into production,” said Tornquist.
When asked if a mining company in B.C. could meet the province’s own environmental assessment criteria and still be denied because of political winds, Tornquist replied, “That appears to be the case.”