Keep talking, urges Nunavut regulator at Mary River mine meeting in Iqaluit
“The biggest thing is to work together"
Day two of the technical hearing on the proposed Mary River iron mine project on northern Baffin Island wasn’t an easy one for Baffinland Iron Mines Corp..
As a last step before the iron ore project moves into final hearings, representatives from Baffinland, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Makivvik Corp. and various government agencies are talking to each other during a three-day public technical meeting in Iqaluit.
Baffinland, a private company under the control of ArcelorMittal, the European steel-making giant, and a private investment firm, Iron Ore Holdings LP, wants to transport 18 million tonnes of iron ore or more from Mary River to Steensby Inlet to markets in Europe and Asia over a period of least 37 years — and some predict up to 100 years.
Day two of the technical meeting focused on the potential marine effects of the huge mining project, which will see a fleet of giant, ice-class ore carrying vessels sailing year-round in the waters off Baffin Island and Hudson Strait.
May 2 discussions saw Baffinland repeatedly promising collaboration and taking about its efforts in that direction.
“We are wanting to work together with all agencies,” said Oliver Curran, Baffinland’s vice-president for sustainable development.
But there was some tension mid-afternoon, when Curran complained that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans only wants to meet with Baffinland in early June to discuss its concerns about the project’s final environmental impact statement.
That’s “very contradictory” to what Baffinland is hoping to achieve.
“We need to sit down with them” before the deadline for the final submission of comments, Curran said.
Ryan Barry, the executive director of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, said the review board tries to help parties see eye-to-eye: ”we go far and beyond what you’ll find anywhere in Canada.”
And the board can even launch a formal mediation process when those efforts fail. But, at this point, so far along in the assessment process, Barry encouraged everyone to work together.
“The biggest thing is to work together,” Barry said. “We would strongly be encouraging all parties to cooperate today.”
On May 2, Baffinland continued to defend the scope of the information in its final EIS.
Some suggested the thresholds used by Baffinland to consider significant impacts on marine life and birds were set too high.
“The short answer there is that the studies we have done haven’t show any [impacts], “ Bevin Ledrew, who works on marine issues for Baffinland.
And unknowns can’t be speculated on, he said.
The issue of climate change doesn’t really compel us to change routes, he stated, and he said it’s difficult to see what could call for an actual shut-down of shipping, apart from urgent operational issues.
That rankled the QIA, whose representatives said there was “nothing suggesting flexibility” in Baffinland’s plans.
But as the day progressed, Baffinland assured QIA that “if we did conclude that the project was having an effect on a marine mammal species,” the company would apply its “adaptive management approach,” with an action plan and monitoring, which could call for a change in shipping.
Many at the meeting also said they are worried about the impact of ballast water released from the steady stream of tankers into Steensby Inlet.
“If the ballast water is going to be discharged, it’s new to the North,” said the QIA’s Solomon Awa. “We have to be very careful how we look at it.”
Baffinland promised there will be filtration and some other non-contaminant treatment used to treat any ballast water that is released.
The amount released would be “very, very small” and not impact productivity, Ledrew said. “We feel strongly that we have not identified an effect that calls for further analysis.”
The company also defined its emergency measures, noting that it wants the mining operation to be self-sufficient in terms of search and rescue and first response, with a well-trained emergency response team on site, two ice management vessels and two tugs stationed at Steensby year-round, and both on-ground and on-board oil pollution emergency plans.
As for avoiding oil spills, ore tankers will fuel up in Europe and fuel will only be delivered in the open water season.
“Have we done enough spill modelling along the shipping lane? Our response is yes and no,” Ledrew said, noting that “it’s impossible to predict where a spill would occur.”
Baffinland said its fuel carriers are also icebreakers with special containment and that nothing could happen to these unless “torpedoed” or “exploded.”
Putting a fuel-carrying icebreaker in Steensby Inlet for a season is essential. the company argued.
That’s because first-year construction activities can’t be undertaken with the fuel that can be stored during the open water sealift.
Baffinland had wanted to keep 10 million litres of fuel throughout the winter of 2012 on a barge in Steensby Inlet.
Now, Baffinland is proposing to put prefabricated, 100,000-litre double-walled fuel tanks on site, and, to meet the fuel required for the 2013-2014 construction season, the company wants to station an icebreaker with 20-million litres of fuel over the winter in Steensby Inlet.
Overwintering fuel is a new practice that is “a source much concern across the North,” said Robert Eno, the Government of Nunavut’s chief environmental officer, citing worries about leak detection and spills under ice. “It’s not so cut and dried for a spill under ice. There is a possibility of a spill under ice. It maybe be remote, but it’s still there.”
Some issues may not be resolved before the final hearing, but, if Baffinland and other parties at this week’s meeting are not in agreement by that time, “that could put the board into a position where would have to weigh both sides,” Barry said.
This situation is something that the board and Baffinland would like to avoid.
They’ll be back talking about the project’s socio-economic impacts, and its impacts on caribou, birds and habitat and related mitigation and monitoring programs again May 3 at the Navigator Inn in Iqaluit, starting at 8:30 a.m..
Members of the public can also attend.