Column: Better safe than sorry

The Independent Review Panel’s report on Mount Polley Mine’s tailing pond breach has received mixed reviews.

The Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel’s report on Mount Polley Mine’s tailing pond breach has received mixed reviews.

Reports by the Chief Mines Inspector and the Conservation Office Service are still to come, along with many unofficial reports by outside experts. Let’s hope  at some point they will all be put together and all questions will be answered. What jumped out at me is the panel ‘s concern over “business as usual.” Panel member Steven Vick, a geotechnical engineer, is reported in the Tyee as saying:  “We can’t continue to use technology that’s fundamentally 100 years old.” He also said mine planning decisions tend to be based on economics before safety is considered, and that should be reversed. Well, hello. Too bad we had to have a disaster before that was noted.

Speaking as one who has been accused (but not found guilty) of being “against” mining, I was glad to hear the experts say there needs to be safer ways to mine. It’s easy to pooh pooh naysayers (moi) who believe it’s better to be safe than sorry, but doesn’t it make economic sense to spend money up front rather than have huge costs when things go wrong?

The panel notes that estimates for conventional tailings dams don’t include risk costs should there be a failure.

The Mount Polley cleanup is expected to cost around $200 million. The panelists said failures are not acceptable. The Mount Polley failure is right in our faces, here and now, it’s hard to ignore. The consequences of any failures in fracking, Site C, pipelines, whatever, might not be known for years. If the provincial government heeds the panel’s recommendation that the “best available technologies”  be adopted, and applies it to all resource development (an ounce of prevention?) maybe a few future failures can be avoided.

***

From all reports,  Williams Lake’s  first annual Winter Carnival was a big success. Congratulations to the founders and the supporters. Well Done.

Diana French is a freelance columnist for the Tribune. She is a former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian, and book author.

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