HALIFAX – A new infographic purporting to explain “how gold mines steal our water” has prompted a complete denial from a St. Mary’s-bound mining company facing provincial environmental charges in Halifax next month.
The diagram, posted to several social media accounts including the St. Mary’s River Association’s Facebook page, was created by Sierra Club Canada Foundation Clean Energy Organizer Tynette Deveaux. It claims that “a small Halifax family uses 124,830 litres of water a year and pays an annual cost of $732,” whereas “Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy Mine in Moose River, N.S., uses 262.8 million litres of water a year, and pays an annual cost of $370.48.”
In an email, however, Atlantic Gold spokesman and Communications Manager Dustin O’Leary said: “The comparison generated by this commentator is misleading and inaccurate.”
He said that while “the graphic highlights a Halifax Water customer that receives residential water service delivered directly to their home in an urban area,” Atlantic Gold is permitted “to draw water at our own cost from Scraggy Lake and that water is not suited for residential consumption.”
In an interview Deveaux, who lives in Halifax, said she based the family water-use stats on her household of two adults and one “teenager” and used the following statement, previously published by the Halifax Examiner, to generate the figure related to Atlantic Gold’s operation: “Atlantic Gold sources the fresh water for its Touquoy gold mine at Moose River from Scraggy Lake – up to 720,000 litres a day, or 262.8 million litres a year, for which Nova Scotia Environment (NSE) spokesperson Barbara MacLean says the province charges the company $370.48 annually.”
When asked to confirm the accuracy of this attribution, Maclean told the Journal: “Yes, that is correct.”
But, O’Leary said, Atlantic Gold pays more than $25,000 a year to buy and deliver drinking water for its Touquoy operation.
Moreover, he said, “Atlantic Gold presently uses approximately 50 per cent of the water it is permitted by the provincial government. This amounts to 139,000 cubic meters per year drawn from Scraggy Lake to support Touquoy … The total average volume of water contained in Scraggy Lake is estimated to be 21,542,000 cubic metres; therefore, the permitted maximum annual withdrawal represents only 1.2 per cent of the total volume.”
Earlier this month, Atlantic Gold – a subsidiary of the Australian mining giant St Barbara Limited – was arraigned on 32 counts of violating Nova Scotia’s Environment Act for, among other things, “releasing substances into the environment in amount, concentration or level in excess of approval level or regulations” at its Touqouy mine site.
“The main incidents raised by the NSE [Nova Scotia Environment] relate to instances where significant rainfall events have caused water, containing silty road materials, to run-off secondary access driveways and overwhelm the existing storm water management system,” O’Leary explained in an email following the arraignment. “There is no connection with or impact on current mining activities, including the tailings processing and management facility.”
He also stated: “Atlantic Gold has been proactively working with NSE to address these matters … which were self-reported by the Company. Full remediation work was conducted at the time of the incidents with an ongoing focus on mitigation.”
Still, the legal fallout raises more questions about the future of Atlantic Gold’s proposed mine at Cochrane Hill, near Sherbrooke. Last month, the company confirmed that it had delayed that mine’s opening by four years, until 2026, stating that developing its Beaver Dam and 15 Mile Stream properties in eastern HRM were higher priorities. But, in the Q2 2021 report to investors, St Barbara also noted that the provincial government’s uncertainty over extending protected status to nearby Archibald Lake, a potential source of water for the mine, “defers any decision subject to outcome of EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] process”.
Despite this, following the arraignment O’Leary said the company was fully prepared to “demonstrate, with the verification of third-party independent experts, that all water sources can be protected before, during and after the mine life of the proposed Cochrane Hill Gold Mine operations,” near Sherbrooke.
According to Deveaux, the larger question is climate change, for which mining operations like Atlantic Gold should be held culpable. “My interest is in preserving what’s left here in Nova Scotia,” she said. “It’s clear to me that climate change isn’t a hoax. It’s happening and it’s happening more quickly that we thought. The fact that we have snow storms in Texas isn’t a fluke.”
She added: “Anything that jeopardizes the water, the air, the ecosystems and the communities that are here, I feel needs to be watched carefully. People need to speak up. What really gets my goat is when companies just take whatever they want, and we’re supposed to be grateful that they’re offering a few hundred jobs.”
For its part, O’Leary said Atlantic Gold’s “water withdrawal is highly regulated by the provincial government and does not adversely impact lake water levels. Ninety-five per cent of the water Atlantic Gold uses in the mining process is recycled by keeping the water on our site contained. We take the management of local waterways very seriously and actively work to reduce the amount of water we withdrawal as part of our operations.”
Atlantic Gold is due back in court next month to enter a plea on the Touquoy charges.
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal