Quebec’s new rules will force mining companies to pay for site cleanup


Quebec will finally require mining companies to commit funds to restore their mining sites once their operations are exhausted.

Quebec’s minister of natural resources, Martine Ouellet, announced the measure during a conference in Montreal February 8 hosted by the Coalition pour que le Québec ait meilleur mine.

According to a press release issued by Ouellet’s ministry, the goal of these new regulations is to ensure that mining sites no longer end up being abandoned. Companies looking to mine in Quebec will be required to have a remediation plan for the entire project and not just for the tailings ponds. They must also post a financial guarantee to cover 100% of the costs of cleanup.

Currently, there are 680 abandoned mine sites throughout the province, some of which have not been in production for several decades, while others were abandoned as recently as 2004.

“These regulations are long overdue and a necessary step in the right direction. It means that Quebec joins the rest of Canada in terms of requiring full payments or full coverage of closure costs,” said Ramsey Hart, Canada Program Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada.

According to Hart, the changes are ideal to avoid abandoned sites in the future, but it depends on how Quebec rolls out this decision. Other jurisdictions in Canada have shown that while some companies may pledge to pay for 100% of closure costs, sometimes those costs were underestimated or were the best estimate at the time the project was started, but now are insufficient.

“It is important to have, in addition to what is just upfront requirements for 100% coverage, public disclosure of those amounts so that there is transparency around them. And, that those amounts be publicly verified and that they are revisited periodically, say every three to five years, so that the costs are updated to the current cost realities out in the world as well as the current realities of the mine sites,” said Hart.

Previously Quebec only required companies to make commitments or closure bonds to cover 70% of the costs of cleaning up tailings ponds, payable over 15 years. Hart said this was extremely problematic as there was plenty of room for the government and the public to assume the liability if something went wrong and the company declared bankruptcy and abandoned the property.

While Hart said he is glad to see the new regulations in place to prevent future abandoned sites, he would like to see a renewed interest in those 680 legacy sites as well. He referred to the tailings-pond spill a few years ago in Chapais that required a cleanup process in the Waswanipi River. The incident could have been prevented had the abandoned site been better monitored.

“There are certain types of mines and infrastructure that, when closed down, can be more or less walked away from. But any time you have millions of tons of toxic waste held behind an earthen dam you better have someone checking up on it on a regular basis. Things like fluctuating weather patterns, beavers and other wear and tear can have an impact over time and they take their toll on this kind of infrastructure,” said Hart.