It seems that mineral exploration companies sense the panic in the Higgs government and its desire to appear to be doing something, anything, to generate economic recovery amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, it appears that Northcliff Resources, the proponent of the Sisson open-pit tungsten mine in the Upper Nashwaak Watershed, is using the pandemic as an excuse for applying for an extension to its December 31, 2020 deadline for commencement of construction of the Sisson mine.
If Northcliff fails to begin construction by that date, the company would be required to undergo a new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). However, the Minister of Environment can grant an extension to that deadline.
The sad reality is that Northcliff has already been granted extension after extension on deadlines for non-compliance with conditions of its 2015 EIA approval:
- Northcliff has yet to publicly file a required Reclamation and Water Treatment Plan that was due June, 2016
- Northcliff has failed to do the required additional core drilling as part of assurance of tailing dam integrity
- Northcliff has failed to provide the government and the public with an independent model of a worst case scenario of a tailing impoundment disaster
- Northcliff has failed to post the required letters of credit for any bonding
- Northcliff has failed to post bonds for fish habitat compensation as required by the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans for amendments to the Metal and Diamond Mining Effluent Regulations
The province has already refused to impose the newest Best Available Practice (BAP) and Best Available Technology (BAT) constraints on tailing disposal at Sisson. Those newer BAP and BAT constraints arose after the failure of the tailing facility at the Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia in 2014, and are required constraints to ensure the integrity of the Nashwaak Watershed now and into the future.
Meanwhile, time has shown that Northcliff’s economic feasibility study of 2013 has no relevance to reality.
Todd Minerals of New Zealand is the major partner in Northcliff’s bid to get the ill-fated Sisson Mine off the ground. Todd was also a major partner in the Drakelands open-pit tungsten mine in Plymouth, UK. That enterprise, with tungsten ore almost three times as rich as the ore as Sisson, opened in 2014 and proceeded to lose $150 Million over three years before closing in 2018.
The other reality is that tailing waste piles around the world contain tungsten at higher concentrations than the ore deep in the ground at Sisson. Those tailings cannot be processed economically by the existing mine infrastructure that generated the tailings in the first place.
Sisson has no hope of being profitable, or of being able to clean up after itself should it miraculously generate enough cash to go through the motions of starting a mine.
The province will need every available tax dollar to provide stimulus to genuine, commercially feasible enterprises. The province cannot afford to invest one penny in these speculative investment games. In Northcliff’s case, it is doubtful the company could dump the mine off to another investor if a new EIA is required.
By prolonging the agony of this dying enterprise, the government is doing New Brunswick and its taxpayers a disservice.
Lawrence Wuest is an ecologist living in the Upper Nashwaak on unceded territory of the Wəlastəkwiyik, Mi’kmaq, and Peskotomuhkati.