An underground mine is on the verge of collapse under Bernic Lake in eastern Manitoba between Whiteshell and Nopiming Provincial Parks, according to an engineering report filed with the Manitoba government on August 30, 2013. The mine is owned by the Tantalum Mining Corporation of Canada Ltd. (TANCO), a subsidiary of Cabot Corporation.
The document explains that pillars supporting the mine’s roof have been mined to remove remnant ore. The report states,”the mine reduced the pillar width from 15 meters down to 7.5 meters. This, in essence, reduced the strength of these pillars”.
TANCO has applied for environmental permits to dam and drain the lake above the mine, in order to relieve pressure on the pillars, so they can continue mining.
“Reading this report, I was shocked to see how risky and dangerous this situation has become,” said Eric Reder, Campaign Director for the Wilderness Committee, Canada’s largest membership-based, citizen-funded wilderness preservation organization.
In their Environment Act Proposal, TANCO says there are only two options – dam and drain Bernic Lake, sending water with elevated levels of heavy metals through the wetlands into the Bird River, or have Bernic Lake collapse into the mine and cause greater contamination to the lake.
The Bird River flows into the Winnipeg River, and then into Lake Winnipeg.
The Wilderness Committee is calling for the Manitoba government’s Conservation and Water Stewardship branch to take over operations to mitigate this potential environmental catastrophe.
“The mining company has presented Manitobans with two unacceptable and ecologically devastating options,” said Reder. “I don’t think continuing to mine is the highest priority here. It’s time the government stepped in to clean up this environmental mess.”
The Wilderness Committee is also calling for an investigation to determine who is responsible for this predicament, and what type of Mines branch oversight was in place. TANCO should be charged for the costs of all remediation work and investigation that is required, said Reder.
“The Bird River and the Winnipeg River are dear to a lot of people. Do Manitobans want a mining disaster putting these waterways at risk? I would say no, they don’t,” said Reder.