There are many concerns about the negative ecological, social, and economic impacts of potential mining in Clayoquot Sound. The region is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that has largely escaped industrial development and still retains most of its globally rare ancient temperate rainforest.
Imperial Metals, the backer of the potential Catface Mountain (known as Chitaapi in Nuu-chah-nulth) mine, would remove the top of Catface by blasting 200 to 300 million tonnes of “overburden” from the mountain’s south peak. This “waste rock” would be dumped in enormous piles nearby, burying other parts of the mountain or valleys below. The removal would be visible and audible from Tofino, from nearby provincial parks, and especially from the native village of Ahousat, just 3 km away.
Then 300 million tonnes of ore (rock containing economic quantities of copper, molybdenum and gold) would be blasted out of the top third of the mountain. Only 0.4% of that ore is copper, so over 99% would wind up as toxic sludge that needs to be stored in a tailings pond somewhere in Clayoquot Sound — for centuries.
With 4 metres of rainfall every year, and the eventual certainty of major seismic activity (earthquakes), the tailings pond could overflow or burst and inundate nearby Cypre River, which hosts all 5 Pacific salmon species. In August 2014, at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine in interior BC (which gets much less rain than the coast), the dam that encircled the tailings pond burst, sending 25 million cubic metres of toxic effluent into nearly rivers and lakes.
Copper is toxic to marine organisms, especially to algae which are the primary producers at the bottom of the food chain. Copper inhibits salmon’s ability to “smell” their way back to their home stream. The ocean and shorelines below Catface Mountain support rich aquatic life including clam beds, eelgrass, herring spawning beds, 3 rockfish conservation areas, and important grey whale feeding areas.
Imperial’s potential Fandora mine, in southern Clayoquot Sound, could open the area to more gold mines and major industrialization, as the gold vein appears to extend both east and west of the old shaft mine, indicating a prospective area of gold mineralization in excess of 2,500 hectares.
Any mines in Clayoquot Sound would export raw materials. The profits would flow to outside interests, with the only benefits locally being a few jobs. Mines open and close regularly, as the economy booms and busts, so the mining workforce is highly mobile. When a new mine opens, a highly-trained workforce is usually available to migrate in and take all the good jobs, leaving locals to do mostly menial tasks. The sudden influx of money, along with income inequity, brings a host of social problems, and the influx of drugs into mining areas is well documented.
When the ore is mined out in a few decades, the jobs are gone, but a toxic legacy of acid mine drainage and metal leaching is likely to remain.
To learn more about the human health impacts of mining, check out some of the fact sheets below.