Companies involved in Nunavut’s Hope Bay spill making amends
Public meeting scheduled June 11 in Cambridge Bay
Orbit Garant Drilling Inc. and Hope Bay Mining Ltd. are sorry for discharging potentially toxic liquids from a gold mine south of Cambridge Bay onto the shoreline of Spyder Lake — and they want to apologize in person.
Both companies are staging a joint meeting at the community hall in Cambridge Bay June 11 at 9:30 a.m.
There, the companies will explain what exactly happened on July 14, 2011, when operations at the Boston exploration camp, located on Inuit-owned land about 170 kilometres southwest of Cambridge Bay, shut down after an on-site inspection.
That shut down led to an investigation by Environment Canada’s Yellowknife and Iqaluit offices.
The government found a discharge of drill cuttings, drilling mud and brine drilling fluid — salty drill water — that had reached the lake’s shores.
The drill water helps drill cuttings float to the surface in permafrost conditions.
Two charges were laid against the two companies under the Fisheries Act following the investigation.
One included the unlawful deposit of drilling brine fluid into the shoreline of Spyder Lake — also known as Aimaoktak Lake — which is home to fish species.
The companies were also charged with failing to report the discharge to an inspector or to the Nunavut Spill Line.
Lawyers for the companies, Environment Canada and Crown prosecutors have come to an alternate measures agreement that diverts the case away from the courtroom and details what the perpetrator must do to make amends.
Under that diversion agreement, Hope Bay Mining and Orbit Garant were obliged to hold the community meeting in Cambridge Bay, which is open to the public June 11.
The two companies also have to pay a total of $150,000 to a special fund administered by Environment Canada called the Environment Damages Fund.
The fund then makes money available for remediation projects which, in this case, must benefit the Kitikmeot region.
The companies also had to advertise about the fluid discharge mishap in local newspapers, including the May 23 edition of Nunatsiaq News.
“Hope Bay Mining and Orbit Garant sincerely apologize for the incident and wish to assure the residents of Nunavut that every effort has been made to prevent another such incident,” the advertisement said.
Once the companies fulfill their obligations under alternate measures agreement, the charges will effectively be dropped.
The companies said the cause, duration and amount of discharge is unknown. Environment Canada said that the discharge could have been toxic to fish.
But according to experts quoted in the companies’ advertisement, no long-term harm has been done to the lake, or the health of the lake fish.
However, the spill has prompted changes for both companies.
Orbit Garant and Hope Bay have now switched to waterproof containers to store drill cuttings. Before, they used “megabags” which may have led to the leaking.
Orbit Garant has also changed drill rig operations in order to avoid spillage of harmful fluids.
And the two companies have also “reviewed their respective inspection protocols to encourage earlier detection and prevention of issues.”
The companies have a set court date for July 14, exactly three years after the incident occurred.