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Report puts cost of B.C. coal mine pollution cleanup at $6.4B

Environmental group warns Glencore of costly pollution problem it could inherit with Teck coal mine acquisition.
The Elkview metallurgical coal mine, one of four in B.C. that Teck plans to sell to Glencore.

Reversing selenium pollution from coal mines in southeast B.C. could cost more than $6 billion, says an environmental group focused on B.C.'s Columbia and Rocky Mountains.

Wildsight, which has campaigned against coal mining in the region, commissioned a private consulting firm, Burgess Environmental Ltd., to estimate the cost of addressing selenium pollution in the Elk Valley, where Teck Resources (TSX:TECK.B, NYSE: TECK) operates four metallurgical coal mines.

Selenium in high concentrations can be harmful to fish.

Teck’s selenium problem is a headache that will be inherited by Glencore plc (LSE:GLEN), which plans to acquire a majority share of the coal mines from Teck for $9.4 billion (US$6.9 billion).

The Burgess Environmental report puts the cost of reversing the pollution problem in the Elk Valley at $6.4 billion. That’s the cost of building and operating treatment plants for 60 years, according to Wildsight.

“The $6.4 billion figure that Burgess Environmental has calculated is particularly concerning because it is vastly more than Teck’s $1.9 billion reclamation security is set at, meaning they’ve severely underplayed the problem and B.C. taxpayers stand to foot a multi-billion-dollar bill if anything goes wrong,” Simon Wiebe, Wildsight mining policy and impacts researcher, said in a press release.

“We hope that both Glencore and the Canadian government will pay close attention to this report as they consider the sale, to ensure accountability for the selenium crisis is maintained throughout the transfer of ownership,” Wiebe said. “This is already an international environmental disaster, and it could still worsen.

“Teck’s current strategy, which this report’s calculations are based on, would only remove half of the selenium produced by current mining operations. Moving forward, more and more waste rock will be produced, leading to more selenium being released, possibly requiring even more water treatment facilities.”

The selenium problem is a trans-boundary issue, as concerns have been expressed about the impacts of selenium pollution in waters south of the border.

Wildsight notes that, just last week, Canada, the U.S. and the Ktunaxa Nation announced they have agreed to refer the Elk Valley pollution problem to the International Joint Commission.

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