Mining project: fears of pollution of water remain in Saint-Michel-des-Saints

Projet minier: des craintes de pollution de l’eau demeurent à Saint-Michel-des-Saints

Photo: New World Graphite
Apart from the question of the management of residues, the BAPE recommends that New World Graphite to achieve eight additional evaluations to prove the merits of his project to the local community.

The method of tailings management chosen by the developer of a project of career of graphite in Lanaudière, will it be efficient to prevent pollution of the water in the very long term ? Whereas, in the report of the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) made public Friday, the commissioners regret that they have not had access to information to make an “informed opinion” in this regard, the mining New World Graphite is reassuring. The stakes are high : downstream of the career is the important sector of the resort of lake Bull.

Thanks to this project of open-pit mine, the company intends to produce 100,000 tonnes of concentrate of graphite per year. The mine site, located five kilometres south-west of the municipality of Saint-Michel-des-Saints, including a pit extraction of 2.6 km of length. At the end of the 26 years of the planned exploitation would remain in the pit, completely filled with water, and a stack of tailings, of pyramidal shape, high of 52 meters.

Among the environmental consequences of the project include the potential contamination of the water by this artificial hill encasing the millions of tons of material. A portion of the tailings contains sulphur. Oxidizes, they acidify the water and can dissolve metals in the surface water and groundwater. To prevent this problem, the proponent intends to encapsulate the residues acidogenic, highly compacted, between floors of residues sulphur-free, cutting off all oxygen intake. This method, called “co-provision” because it allows you to manage both residues, pollutants and non-pollutants, the object testing company which we do not yet know the results.

“Given the importance given to the protection of water in the context of mining projects, the MELCC [ministry of the Environment and the Fight against climate change] should ensure, prior to completing its environmental analysis, to have in hand the analyses evidence from experimental cells, and to validate that the concept of co-disposal of mine waste would protect in perpetuity the quality of the ground water,” write the commissioners, BAPE, who has consulted with the public and concerned groups last winter.

Process criticized

The opponents of the project believe that the method of co-disposal is not proven. “There is a huge risk of contamination of groundwater and surface water “, supported at the other end of the line Paul Comeau, a director of the Coalition of the opponents of a mining project in the Haute-Matawinie. He deplores in particular the fact that the residues acidogenic encapsulated retain their polluting potential ad vitam aeternam. If the stack were to erode or destabilize, he notes, infiltration could acidify the waters of the watershed of the lake Bull, even in centuries.

Eric Desaulniers, president and chief executive officer of New World Graphite, retorts that the proposed method has proven its value, including the Raglan nickel mine in Nunavik. “We know that the technique works, it works elsewhere. The purpose of the cell experimental, it is only us, a few years before the start of the commercial operation, to determine the optimal settings to ensure […] that the reaction of acidification of the waters never initiates, ” he argued.

In addition to the co-provision, another possible solution would have been to dispose of the residue at the bottom of a basin, where the oxygen cannot travel. In this case, the water from the tanks must then be processed before it continue its journey downstream. “Except that the problem, raised by Mr. Desaulniers, that is about what the promoters after the period of restoration of the mining site. This is not sustainable economically treat water for hundreds of years. “

The graphite used in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries. The world Bank estimates that demand for graphite will increase four-fold by 2050 due to electrification of transport. If all the projects currently on the table come to fruition, that of Saint-Michel-des-Saints would have been 5 % of the world production in 2025.

Apart from the question of the management of residues, the BAPE recommends that New World Graphite to achieve eight additional evaluations to prove the merits of his project to the local community — in remaining issues of social acceptability “still important” at the time of the public hearing.

The quality of life, the noise, the health of residents, emissions to air, the interaction with the company and the restoration of the mine site, were among the aspects of ordering additional studies. “From the results obtained, bonuses should be made by the offeror and evaluated by the MELCC, before the project is allowed “, note the authors of the report.

The company, in which Investissement Quebec has 13 % of the shares, is still working on the scenario of a beginning of the preparatory work in the fall of 2020. She hopes to obtain the required authorisation by the MELCC in September.

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