Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut April 15, 2011 - 10:10 am

Nunavut’s Mary River iron mine may end up twice as big: draft EIS

“The credible development scenario of a doubling of production at Mary River" ups environmental impacts

JANE GEORGE
Milne Inlet may someday see two times as much shipping as now predicted in the Mary River iron mine's draft Environmental Impact Statement if a plan to double the mine's production goes ahead in the future. (FILE PHOTO)
Milne Inlet may someday see two times as much shipping as now predicted in the Mary River iron mine's draft Environmental Impact Statement if a plan to double the mine's production goes ahead in the future. (FILE PHOTO)

The promoters of the Mary River iron mine in North Baffin have a plan for everything.

These plans are spelled out in volumes nine and 10 of their draft Environmental Impact Statement, which deal with their environmental, health and safety management systems and the mine’s cumulative effects.

This final portion of the draft EIS shows there’s also a high level uncertainty involved in the entire project as it’s presented in the EIS, which runs to more than 5,000 pages.

That’s because the Mary River mine, recently acquired from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. by the steel—making giant ArcelorMittal, may expand to twice the size predicted in the draft EIS.

So, instead of mining 21 million tonnes of iron ore a year over 21 years, the mine would also grow to include rich nearby iron deposits, doubling its production and lasting many years longer.

If these deposits are developed, on land, this means emissions from waste incineration and dust could cumulatively affect local air quality, the draft EIS says.

As well, there could be effects on Arctic char health and condition habitat and some “direct mortality.”

“The credible development scenario of a doubling of production at Mary River” would also mean twice as much shipping. This would result in a ship transits every day along the southern and northern shipping routes, the draft EIS says.

This increase in shipping frequency would likely increase the potential for cumulative effects, increasing the likelihood that more than one ore carrier will be in a given area at the same time — so shipping could have more of an impact on marine mammals during the ice-covered season, and, during the open-water period, on whales and narwhals in Eclipse Sound and Milne Inlet.

There would also be an increase in temperatures in the immediate vicinity of the dock sites of the mine’s two ports.

And the amount of land-fast ice disrupted as a result of a larger mine “may conservatively be doubled.”

More ships in Steensby Port (and possibly Milne Port) could also lead to a doubling of the amount of ballast water released from ships.

But the draft EIS asserts that “cumulative effects of the current Project and any doubling expansion scenario will be mitigated to acceptable levels.”

The decision to expand the Mary River mine could also fast-track a plan to build a hydroelectric project on Separation Lake, about 58 km east of Steensby Port.

The hydro project would include a reservoir and power generation facility, and a transmission line to the Mary River mine.

For the current 21-million-tonne-a-year scenario for the mine, the EIS outlines many worst-case scenarios that it hopes to avoid.

These include collisions, earthquakes, bridge collapses, explosions and spills, just to name a few.

For example, a worst case spill would see 5,000 litres of diesel occurring near the centre of the proposed shipping lane.

The slick would reach 72 square km after seven days; shorelines within 15 km of the shipping lane could be hit by the hypothetical spill.

A number of marine mammals in Foxe Basin and Hudson Strait are “potentially vulnerable” to a worst-case diesel spill, the draft EIS says.

And in the event of a spill during open-water season, there is the potential for both shoreline and on-the- water contact with marine birds.

Perhaps more conceivable is a ship collision with an iceberg, it says. This could result in the release of one entire fuel compartment holding nearly 1,000 litres of fuel.

“However, even this spill scenario is considered very unlikely”

Happily, the draft EIS concludes the Mary River mine is not sensitive to climate change.

That’s good news because climate and water temperatures are currently the main barriers and remain the prevailing barrier to prevent colonization of the waters near the mine by invasive species brought in by shipping, it says.

But the bad news is that with climate change and the increased frequency of shipping, there is an increased possibility of introducing a species that can readily adapt to the conditions in Steensby Inlet or Milne Inlet.

As for the railway, incidents such as track jumping, major derailments, broken rails, malfunction of the switch mechanisms, failure of railway signals, spring thaws, failure of roadbed foundation and tunnel or brudge collapse may lead to injury or fatality.

Many unknowns in the social and economic impact of the mine remain.

Inuit will be given preference over other applicants for employment at the Mary River Mine.

Priority will be given to Inuit from the communities of Pond Inlet, Igloolik, Clyde River, Hall Beach, and Arctic Bay.

The draft EIS says that, as per the terms of the Inuit impact and benefits agreement, the mine will track and monitor its performance, set yearly targets for Inuit employment, and ensure that contractors are achieving required levels of Inuit content.

But the draft EIS says the mine’s “effects on substance abuse are assessed to be complex, with both positive and negative direction.”

The positive influence will be felt with respect to changes in attitudes and support for overcoming addictions, it says.

However, as personal income increases due to employment, people will be more able to afford substances.

Residents of Igloolik, Hall Beach, Coral Harbour, Cape Dorset, Kimmirut, Iqaluit, Clyde River, Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay,  Resolute and Grise Fiord will get a chance to learn more about the project this month and next during Nunavut Impact Review Board public information meetings.

The meetings take place in Cape Dorset on April 15 and 16, in Kimmirut on April 17 and 18, and in Iqaluit, at the Anglican Parish Hall, on April 19 and 20.

The complete draft EIS can be consulted at the NIRB website.

This map from the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Mary River iron mine shows how shipping routes around Baffin Island may look in the future when the mine starts operations.
This map from the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Mary River iron mine shows how shipping routes around Baffin Island may look in the future when the mine starts operations.
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