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B.C. coal mining company penalized $41,100

Between 2020 and 2023, the company failed to properly monitor mine waste flowing into a nearby fish-bearing tributary, according to a recent decision.
BruleMine
A shovel loads coal at the Brule Mine, October 2016.

A B.C. coal mining company has been penalized $41,100 for 406 failures to comply with the province’s Environmental Management Act (EMA).

In a recent decision, EMA director Jason Bourgeois cited Conuma Resources Limited for hundreds of environmental breaches at its Brule Mine, located about 57 kilometres from Chetwynd.

Between 2020 and 2023, Bourgeois said the company failed to properly monitor mine waste flowing into from the mine into Blind Creek, a fish-bearing tributary of the Sukunka River, which itself supports Rocky Mountain whitefish, Artic grayling and Dolly Varden, among other species.

In February 2022, inspectors with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy found that over 246 days, the mine was out of compliance with permit conditions that required the company to monitor water quality. A number of breaches were also handed to the company for failing to upload data to a ministry website.

Sampling water quality coming out of Brule Mine is necessary to understand how the mine waste may be impacting aquatic life in downstream waters, wrote Bourgeois in his decision.

“Without this knowledge, a risk of harm to the environment is created,” he said.

Bourgeois flagged 73 failures that “significantly interfered with the Ministry’s capacity to protect the environment." In another four instances, the company failed to carry out acute toxicity tests that “could be considered major contraventions.”

Toxicity tests are carried out to understand how much a substance is damaging living things. A mine effluent sample passes that test if in a 100 per cent effluent concentration, less than half the test fish die after 96 hours of exposure, notes the decision.

When water has a high concentration of total suspended solids, it can absorb heat and block out light — threatening the survival of plants. In fish, the particles can clog gills, interfere with navigation and smother eggs.

The initial $10,000 base penalty to Conuma was increased by $32,700 due to economic benefit arising from the breaches.

Bourgeois had the option of penalizing Conuma $40,000 for each of the more than 400 failures under the EMA, but chose to consolidate them into one because it was the company’s first penalty.

Brule Mine is one of three sites the company operates in northeast B.C. to produce coal for the steelmaking industry.