Nunavut mine needs improved monitoring, public oversight: WWF
“That very foundation is missing”
Nunavut’s Mary River iron mine could be a strong example of sustainable development in the Arctic, says World Wildlife Foundation-Canada.
But it’s lacking the public oversight it needs to achieve that.
The Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. mine, which shipped its first load of iron ore to Europe in 2015, released its 2015 annual report this past spring, offering a 111-page breakdown of the mine’s performance and monitoring programs in 2015 and plans for 2016.
But years after the project’s approval, Baffinland has no formal guidelines to inform the level of data the company collects on its project, and how its analyses are reported, said WWF-Canada, which sits as an observing member on the mine’s Marine Environment Working Group.
“The NIRB has put in an adaptive management approach, and that’s understandable because a lot of what this project is doing are firsts,” said Paul Crowley, director of WWF-Canada’s Arctic program.
“But the very foundation of adaptive management would be a monitoring program that is mandated; that has very clear guidelines and very clear reporting guidelines that then move into the public process.”
“That way, the Nunavut Impact Review Board, and anyone who is interested, can follow how the project is impacting the environment and how, if anything should be done to adapt what is going on,” Crowley said. “And that very foundation is missing.”
In the absence of a NIRB monitoring framework, WWF is asking the NIRB to request and review the results of Baffinland’s monitoring programs and mitigation measures.
As part of the company’s project certificate, Baffinland is required to keep tabs on the mine’s environmental and socio-economic footprint with the goal of minimizing any negative impacts.
But the scope of the project has also changed over time, including plans to triple the mine’s input, increase the shipping season from four months to ten months of the year and more recently, a proposal to resurrect an earlier plan to construct a railway from the North Baffin mine site to Milne Inlet.
But those changes should not delay a solid monitoring plan, Crowley said.
In its own review of Baffinland’s annual report, the Government of Nunavut re-iterated comments it first made in 2014, urging changes in the way the company monitors caribou in the region around the mine site.
“Overall, the current monitoring program for mammals is anecdotal and will be unlikely to detect any project effects,” the GN wrote to the NIRB June 13.
The GN said it would be more efficient for Baffinland to contribute to the territorial government’s own regional monitoring efforts “which are far more likely to garner useful data.” The GN noted Baffinland already provided logistical support for its 2015 aerial caribou survey.
Environment officials at the GN also expressed concerns with Baffinland’s polar bear monitoring, a program in which “polar bears are only incidentally recorded during monitoring work for other marine mammals,” which offers “no useful information on population numbers.”
In its submission, the GN recommended that Baffinland’s Shipping and Marine Wildlife Management Plan be updated to include methodology that will offer reliable baseline information for polar bears.
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association also weighed in on Baffinland’s report, noting a lack of quantitative data to indicate what sort of socio-economic impact the project has on Nunavummiut in nearby communities.
The organization made the same comments in 2014, but said it has yet to receive a response.
The QIA called on the NIRB to ensure the project’s socio-economic monitoring plan is finalized in 2016.
As part of that plan, the NIRB should require Baffinland to include data for its average monthly employment to show the number of Inuit employed by the mining company, the QIA said in its review.
Baffinland reported that in December 2015, the company employed approximately 92 Inuit at its Mary River site — 16 per cent of the mine’s work force.
In its annual report, Baffinland noted a high number of Inuit employee departures in 2015. In response, the company is preparing a study called the Mary River Experience to better understand the needs of its Inuit staff.
The mining company is working to increase Inuit participation at Mary River to 25 per cent by the end of 2016.