The recent confrontation between contractors for Todd Minerals/Northcliff Resources and Indigenous land protectors at the proposed Sisson mine site, and the subsequent court injunction that evolved out of that confrontation, is disturbing. The events highlight the disproportional impact on the province posed by the 15-year-old proposal for the Sisson Mine relative to any chance for benefits to be achieved from such a mine by New Brunswick taxpayers and Indigenous interests.
As most readers know, since 2008, there has been a proposal to build a massive open-pit tungsten and molybdenum mine in the Upper Nashwaak Watershed in West Central New Brunswick. Over the last 15 years, the ongoing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for this project has occupied the time and resources of the New Brunswick and federal governments, and countless citizens interested in protecting the pristine Nashwaak Stream and its tributaries.
The social upheaval that arises from ill-advised and financially futile resource projects like the Sisson project is incomprehensible and regrettable. Similar to the shale gas industry, the mine has never made any economic sense, a fact made abundantly clear by the sad history of stock prices for Northcliff Resources. Northcliff stock has fallen precipitously from the $1.10 per share it commanded in 2011, when Northcliff first took over ownership, to the 3 cents per share, at which it now trades. Just as shale gas tore at the very heart of New Brunswick’s social fabric, the Sisson mine is ripe for the same kind of disastrous confrontations, disruption and tragedy.
Todd Minerals of New Zealand now has the majority interest in Northcliff and appears to be calling the shots as to what transpires at Sisson going forward. Australian investors in a Todd mine development in Northwestern Australia detail a sad history of dealing with this corporation and New Brunswickers would be well advised to take heed. Todd reportedly has a history of litigation against opposing interests and activists.
Regrettably, bringing the matter to court may be the only way to get the full facts of the economic and environmental futility of this mine before the public. Also regrettably, if the recent injunction against activists opposed to the Sisson project, granted to Todd/Northcliff by the provincial court, is any indication, the courts are ill-equipped with the expertise needed to evaluate regulatory adequacy and financial feasibility, both of which are required to protect the public interest.
Statements, stated as fact at the hearing would have the public believe that all approvals and permits for the mine operation have long since been granted and settled, and the timeframe for legal opportunities to contest regulatory inadequacy has long passed. This is in contrast to Todd/Northcliff’s ongoing failure to comply with multiple 2017 EIA Conditions of Approval. The mine does not have final EIA approval, and permits to operate a mine have not been issued. The court’s misinterpretation of these facts is alarming.
For elusive reasons, the provincial government clings to a false hope for this mine, a hope based on an outdated 10-year-old economic feasibility study that has no relation to the capital costs, operating costs and metal prices of the 2020s. Time has also outrun the design specifications of the mine, where the proponents continue to plan to manage tailing waste with antiquated tailing dam impoundment technology, a practice now considered poor management practice/technology after the failure of the Mount Polley dam in BC in 2014. The proponents themselves have concluded that they cannot build to these Best Management Practices because it would be uneconomic. The province has allowed this lame excuse to prevail, leaving the province and the Nashwaak Watershed at indefensible risk.
Financial failures and environmental catastrophes at mines in New Brunswick and worldwide should inform New Brunswickers as to the risk and futility, as well as the threat to social peace, that this mine poses. That companies like Todd Minerals and Northcliff Resources are able and allowed to toy with our social fabric in the interests of investment games is sad beyond belief.
The time has come to exercise proper regulatory oversight and authority, and reject corporations that continue to use New Brunswick as a rube in their snake oil investment schemes.
Lawrence Wuest is an ecologist living in the Upper Nashwaak on unceded territory of the Wəlastəkwiyik, Mi’kmaq, and Peskotomuhkati.