A major mining boom is taking place in northwest British Columbia. Combined with B.C.'s reduced environmental safeguards and lack of engagement from the US, Alaska, and Tribal Nations, it poses significant risks for Southeast Alaska.
Dozens of mining projects currently exist in the transboundary watersheds. The development is accelerated by the recently completed high-voltage Northwest Transmission Line, constructed to facilitate major mining projects.
These projects are being developed under permitting processes and environmental regulations that are less rigorous than those in the US, and that have been weakened further in recent years.
This development is having a major impact on the environment in northwest British Columbia, and is threatening the Southeast Alaska region. The mines involve large-scale infrastructure development and generate immense quantities of tailings and mine wastes. Water treatment will be required in perpetuity.
The threat of catastrophic dam failures will continue for centuries after the mines have been closed.
The most significant mines in operation or currently being developed in the transboundary region:
THE RED CHRIS MINE
The Red Chris is an operating open-pit copper/gold mine. The mine is located outside the community of Iskut, with the Klappan river flowing through the property less than 12 miles from its confluence with the culturally important Stikine River. The mine's proximity to the Sacred Headwaters and the transboundary nature of environmental management in this region has raised concerns across the border.
Regardless of strong opposition from First Nations, Southeast Alaska Tribes, fishermen, and environmental groups, operations at the Red Chris Mine began in 2015. The mine was built by Imperial Metals, the company responsible for Mount Polley Mine breach - the worst environmental disaster in B.C.’s history.
The Red Chris tailings pond, which contains 107 billion cubic feet of mining waste, contains more toxic tailings than Mount Polley's, yet the 344 feet high dam utilizes the same dangerous and flawed design.
The Red Chris tailings dam was inspected after the Mt Polley breach on August 4, 2014. It was found to have 22 serious design and construction flaws.
An independent investigation and review, authorized under Section 8 of the Ministry of Energy and Mines Act, revealed problems with the tailings pond design, including serious risk of seepage and leakage and vulnerability to landslides. The review found there were no emergency response plans, no operating, maintenance, and surveillance manuals for the tailings facility, and no studies to detail what would happen if the dams collapse.
The review predicts two additional tailings dam failures could occur every 10 years in British Columbia if mine waste disposal practices aren’t improved.
THE ESKAY CREEK PROJECT
Skeena is proposing to restart operations at the historical underground Eskay Creek Mine as an open-pit gold-silver mine. Eskay Creek is located 51 miles northwest of Stewart, BC and 77 miles south of Iskut, B.C within the traditional territory of the Tahltan Nation and the asserted traditional territory of the Skii Km Lax Ha Nation.
The mine plan includes two open pits, the dumping of mining waste into natural lakes expanding behind tailings dams, and calls for structures that will have to be maintained into perpetuity - a time frame within which complete failure is guaranteed to occur.
The Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) admits there are likely cross-border effects if the Project is implemented.
THE SCHAFT CREEK PROJECT
Teck Resources Limited (Teck)'s proposal is to develop an open pit polymetallic (copper-gold-molybdenum-silver) mine approximately 60 kilometres south of Telegraph Creek, British Columbia with a proposed ore production rate of up to 150,000 tonnes per day over a minimum 15-year operation period.
The project would utilize conventional truck and shovel equipment and typical drill and blast techniques, and would include an explosives storage facility. The ore would be crushed, milled and filtered on-site to produce ore concentrates.
The project would also include an access road and a 287-kilovolt transmission line within the Mess Creek watershed. The mine pit, plant/mill, and waste rock storage facilities are proposed to be located along the east bank of Schaft Creek.
An airfield would also be constructed to the east of the pit. The tailings impoundment area would be located within the Skeeter Creek watershed (a tributary of Schaft Creek). The scope of the environmental assessment will also include the transportation of materials and supplies along Highway 37 from Kitwanga to the mine site as well as the transportation of ore concentrate by way of truck along Highway 37 to the Port of Stewart, British Columbia.
Brucejack is an underground gold mine owned and operated by Pretium Resources Inc. The Brucejack project spans 463 square miles. The mine deposits its hazardous wastes into the Brucejack lake.
The Brucejack mine has had three work-related fatalities since its opening in 2017. In 2021, five million tons of rock and ice fell from the Canoe Glacier, just 4 miles from the mine, raising concerns about the viability of safely mining in the region.
THE KSM PROJECT
The proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell Mine (KSM) is located in the British Columbian headwaters of the Unuk River, just upstream from the Misty Fjords National Monument in Alaska. The mine calls for three large open pits, an underground mine, and enormous tailings dumps for billions of tons of acid-generating rock. It will require the construction of two 14.2-mile-long tunnels to deposit mine waste into a tailings impoundment.
At 784 feet high, the tailings dam wall for KSM will be higher than the average New York City skyscraper, and the tailings pond will hold 27 times more waste than was held in the Mount Polley tailings dam. Once built, it will become the largest gold-copper mine in the world.
In July, 2014 the project received its Environmental Assessment Certificate from the provincial authorities. Final federal approval was received in December 2014.
In 2021, Seabridge Gold started early-stage construction activities at the KSM Project, to achieve the “substantially started’ status by July 28, 2026, which is required to maintain the validity of the Environmental Assessment Certificate for the Project’s life.
THE TULSEQUAH CHIEF MINE
Located on the Tulsequah River upstream of its confluence with the Taku River, the abandoned mine has been polluting the Tulsequah River with acid mine drainage in violation of its permits since 1957 while multiple companies have declared bankruptcy.Finally in 2022, the receivership ended. Still waiting for a cleanup plan from B.C.
GALORE CREEK MINE
The proposed mine is located on Galore Creek, which flows to the Stikine River. Galore Creek project, a large-scale open-pit copper-gold-silver mine with a processing plant with a nominal capacity of 95,000 tonnes of ore per day (34.6 million tonnes per year), is located within the territory of the Tahltan Nation in northwestern British Columbia, approximately 150 kilometres northwest of Stewart.
Tailings would be submerged in Round Lake, which drains into the Iskut River and the Stikine.