Gold exploration and mining companies are lining up to get at Nova Scotia’s gold, as the province undergoes a fourth gold rush. In 2017, Atlantic Gold opened the province’s first-ever open pit gold mine in Moose River, with plans to open three more along the Eastern Shore, in what it peddled to investors as its “string of pearls” in “backyard Canada.” In 2019, Australia’s St Barbara bought Atlantic Gold for $722 million, taking the company back to its Australian roots, before it changed its name from D.D.V. Gold to Atlantic Gold. In recent years, many other players have entered the gold fray in Nova Scotia, including Meguma Gold, Aurelius Minerals, and also Anaconda Mining. All are eyeing gold on the province’s Eastern Shore, which Barbara Markovits of Eastern Shore Forest Watch has described as a “sacrifice zone.” This, the first of three articles on the latest player in the gold rush, Anaconda Minerals, looks at the mine the company has planned for Goldboro.
The PR fanfare and political charm offensive for the gold mine has already begun, long before it exists, and even before Anaconda Mining has registered its Goldboro gold mine project for environmental assessment with the province of Nova Scotia.
On January 11, 2022, the Toronto-based company signed a “benefits agreement” with the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG). It promised Anaconda Mining will have “targeted measures” to recruit local employees, and contribute “annual grants for community groups, organizations and community projects within the Municipality” and “bursaries for local high school students” who want to work or apprentice at the mine.
The way it is presented, one could be excused for thinking the mine – the details of which have not been submitted to government regulators — is a fait accompli.
Predictably, Anaconda’s promises garnered glowing media coverage and elicited effusive praise from industry-friendly MODG warden, Vernon Pitts, who was quoted in the press release:
We have enjoyed open dialogue and communications with Anaconda and have confidence that the Goldboro Gold Project will be operated in an environmentally sustainable manner that meets or exceeds all regulatory standards, while bringing significant social and economic opportunities.
A little hasty, perhaps?
Surely, at least one would hope, it is up to government regulators and Indigenous groups to decide whether a project actually meets environmental and social muster.
And surely, at least one would hope, it is not the decision of a credulous MODG warden to make such pronouncements, as if a gold mining company were some kind of charity rather than a corporation legally bound to maximize profits, as eminent Canadian law professor Joel Bakan writes in his 2004 book, “The Corporation – the pathological pursuit of profit and power:”
Corporations are required by law to elevate their own interests above those of others, making them prone to prey upon and exploit others without regard for legal rules or moral limits.
Corporate social responsibility, though sometimes yielding positive results, most often serves to mask the corporation’s true character, not to change it.
The corporation’s unbridled self interest victimizes individuals, the environment, and even shareholders …
Perhaps Joel Bakan’s work isn’t on the reading list at the MODG.
In its press release, Anaconda in turn heaps praise on the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, because it is “well-established as ‘open for business’ for sustainable commercial and industrial development.”
Regular Halifax Examiner readers may be familiar with just how “open-for-business” the MODG is, particularly when it comes to big polluting businesses and industries.
If not, here’s a quick refresher.
MODG fond of polluting and extractive industries
MODG staff have acted like handmaidens for Maritime Launch Services, which wants to launch rockets from Canso, as the Examiner reported in this 2019 article on the public / private servants who did the bidding for the American / Ukrainian company.
In 2017, the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS) launched a campaign to undermine the province’s protected areas plan, pushing to have protected areas opened up for mining and quarrying, sending letters seeking support from several municipal councils. Although others didn’t leap to join the push to open up protected areas for mining, the MODG responded enthusiastically. In November 2017, MODG Council issued a statement parroting the MANS talking points, saying the proposal provided an opportunity to reset priorities.
Back in 2000, Lloyd Hines, then-warden for MODG and later Liberal MLA for the area who held various cabinet posts until his defeat in the 2021 provincial election, effectively blocked protected status for an area of coastline celebrated in Stan Roger’s iconic song, “Fogarty’s Cove.” The MODG then expropriated land from the Fogarty family, as the Examiner reported in this 2018 article, so that it could sign a deal with Morien Resources, which struck a deal with Alabama’s Vulcan Resources for a quarry in the area — a massive and massively destructive quarry that is still waiting to happen.
Later, as Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Renewal, Hines was front and centre, applauding when Atlantic Gold opened its gold mine in Moose River. He also approved spending $2.7 million of Nova Scotians’ money to repair the road to the mine that heavy vehicles constructing it had made almost impassable, after an Atlantic Gold VP suggested work on the mine would have to stop if the road weren’t repaved.
The MODG has also been a steadfast cheerleader for Pieridae Energy’s proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant, which would — had it not been scuppered in June 2021 when the company failed to get nearly a billion dollars it had hoped the federal government would chip in — have been built in Goldboro, very close to Anaconda’s proposed gold mine.
That’s the gold mine that Anaconda has yet to register with the provincial government, which the MODG is already speaking about as if the environmental approval were already there.
Which, of course, it isn’t.
A “two-year process”
According to Anaconda CEO Kevin Bullock, the company plans to submit the environmental registration documents to Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change before the end of June 2022.
He tells the Halifax Examiner that getting permitted will be a “two-year process from now.”
Bullock explains that the plan for the gold mine is to begin with two open pits, which will have a 10-year life.
The two pits will be separated by about 100 metres at the south end of Gold Brook Lake. One, Bullock says, will be about 1.1 kilometre long, the other about 600 metres.
The ore will be crushed to extract the gold in a mill on the site, which Bullock says will be able to handle 4,000 tonnes per day.
After six years of open pit mining, Bullock says the plan is to start developing an underground mine. A new feasibility study and second environmental assessment will be required for that because the gold there is still just an “inferred resource,” he says.
Until the environmental assessment documents are filed with the province, the only real source of information about Anaconda’s proposed Goldboro mine is the 430-page January 2022 technical and feasibility report.
Here is some of what it tells us.
Toxic legacy from earlier centuries
The Goldboro property is an historic gold mining site about 175 kilometres northeast of Halifax, on the province’s Eastern Shore.
Anaconda took possession of the Goldboro property in 2017, when it acquired Orex Exploration, now an Anaconda subsidiary.
Howard Richardson mined gold underground in the area until 1910, and his gold mine produced nearly 55,000 ounces of the precious metal, and leaving behind a lot of toxic tailings.
Tailings are the waste material that remains after processing the ore, ore concentrate or mined materials to get the metal (in this case gold), while ore is the natural deposit in which the gold is found.
The gold-bearing rock that was mined in Nova Scotia also contained arsenic, and historically the ore was processed using mercury, so the historic tailings in the province — over 360 gold mines in 64 historic gold mining districts — are laced with both arsenic and mercury. The province has budgeted $47.9 million to try to deal with the historic tailings at just two sites — Montague Mines in Dartmouth and Goldenville on the Eastern Shore.
The landmark 2012 study of just 14 gold districts by Mike Parsons and others for the Geological Survey of Canada found that the tailings from the Richardson mine went directly into Gold Brook, which flows south to Lower Seal Lake, and that they are “clearly visible on the floodplain for at least 4 km downstream from the Richardson Mill site.”
The historic tailings where Anaconda plans to mine are laced with arsenic and mercury.
Parsons et al. found concentrations of arsenic at the site of the Richardson processing mill of 72,000 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg), 2,322 times higher than the Nova Scotia guideline for soil of 31 mg/kg.*
Mercury concentrations were 120,000 micrograms (μg) per kg, 18 times higher than the provincial guideline.
However, according to Anaconda’s technical report for the Goldboro mine, the provincial government “indemnified Orex in 1995 from any environmental liabilities resulting from historical mining activities” provided old tailings areas are “not impacted during exploration or mining activities.”
Asked how Anaconda managed to do extensive exploration in the area without disturbing those tailings, Bullock replies that they are all at the south end of the Gold Brook Lake, and that Anaconda didn’t drill there.
“We drilled at various unique angles away from them, underneath them,” he says, and it is because the tailings are there that the company is planning two open pits, one on either side of the Gold Brook.
Another reason for the two pits, Bullock says, is that they don’t want to dam off the lake, which would “take out a watershed” and disturb the “water flow to the ocean.”
Anaconda will provide the province with a management plan for the historic tailings when it submits its environmental registration, he adds.
Some eye-popping stats
According to the technical report, Anaconda’s proposed mine will generate 126.8 million tonnes of waste material, so factoring in a 30% swell factor, will need facilities to store 61.7 million cubic metres of waste.
For perspective, that means waste material produced from the Goldboro open pit mine will weigh 1,075 times more than the 117,910-tonne CN Tower that stretches a half kilometer into the sky in downtown Toronto.
The volume of the waste material from the proposed gold mine will be 1,522 times the 40,254 cubic meters of concrete in the CN tower.
The Canadian government defines waste rock as “rock that is removed in the mining process to provide access to the ore and that is not further processed during the reporting year.” Included in Anaconda’s waste material estimate is “waste rock, till, historical tailings, and topsoil and organics,” which will “require the development of waste rock storage areas,” in addition to a massive enclosure to put the tailings.
The tailings management facility will be “fully lined” and located on a “side hill northeast of Gold Brook Lake,” and it will have to accommodate “16.2 million tonnes of PAG [potentially acid generating] tailings” left over after the extraction of the actual gold, and “10.5 million tonnes of PAG waste rock,” left after initial crushing of the ore blasted from the pit.
A “conceptual” plan for closure of the tailings management and potentially acid generating waste rock involves putting a cover over these for “approximately 2 years” to keep the potentially acid generating material in a “saturated state to prevent the onset of ARD [acid rock drainage] conditions.”
Acid rock (or mine) drainage is one of the biggest environmental problems with metal mining, occurring when acidic waste rock is exposed to air and water, and oxidizing bacteria then produce acid, which can “create havoc with the environment,” especially groundwater and surface water quality.
And when the mine closes?
The technical report for Goldboro states that as part of the closure plan, the cover over the tailings and waste rock “will be vegetated to improve site aesthetics and erosion protection.” And:
Ongoing monitoring will be performed for a period of time sufficient to confirm suitable water quality and ongoing stability for the facility. The reclamation and closure plan is a living document that will be updated throughout the project to reflect changing conditions and input from local regulators.
“Living document” it may be, but that doesn’t mean it will be a public document that will show Nova Scotians just how the mine will be reclaimed.
The Examiner has reported extensively on Atlantic Gold’s Moose River gold mine, including articles like this one about the secrecy surrounding the reclamation plan for the mine and the company’s $10.4 million reclamation security with the province.
The reclamation plan, which lays out how the mine will be reclaimed once St Barbara has closed up shop in Nova Scotia, taken its gold earnings and gone home, is protected as a “confidential” document under Nova Scotia’s Mineral Resources Act, and not available to the public even through a Freedom of Information (FOIPOP) request.
Nor will the province reveal how the $10.4 million amount was calculated for reclamation security.
The Nova Scotia government puts the cost of twinning one kilometre of highway in the province at $4 million to $6 million, so it remains to be seen how far the $10.4 million will go to reclaim the massive Touquoy mine site, which covers 2.7 square kilometres (the open pit is 132 metres deep and covers 27 ha, roads cover 13 ha, the mill facility 60 ha, the tailings management facility about 130 ha, and the waste rock storage area about 35 ha.)
St Barbara’s subsidiary Atlantic Mining NS, which operates in Nova Scotia as Atlantic Gold, is now seeking provincial approval to expand the Touquoy mine site, even though Nova Scotians are not permitted to know what it plans to do to reclaim the site of the tailings and mountains of waste rock.
Tailings facilities may be buried, but they do not go away.
After a mine has been closed – after the buildings have been demolished and most structures removed, openings to the surface capped, regarding done, and revegetation initiated – the mine moves into a state of perpetual care …
… and if the mining companies do not maintain long-term responsibilities for the long-term hazards, the mines of today will become the mistakes of tomorrow.
MiningWatch Canada puts it this way: “The safest tailings facility is the one that is not built.”
“High-level” economic impact study is (surprise!) rosy
Anaconda’s technical report refers to a “high-level” economic impact study it commissioned in 2018. Not surprisingly, the study paints a rosy picture, saying:
… that the Project is a significant development and is taking place in a part of the province that historically faced significant economic challenges. It was deemed that the Project will bring significant economic stimulus to the communities along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore and within Northeastern Nova Scotia as a whole including creating hundreds of jobs through the various project phases within the community, increases in household income, significant capital spent on goods and services in Nova Scotia and tax revenues.
The technical report also provides the following estimated personnel figures for the 11 years for the open pit mine:
- Year 1: 78
- Year 1: 114
- Year 2: 128
- Year 3: 128
- Year 4: 151
- Year 5: 178
- Year 6: 138
- Year 7: 155
- Year 8: 169
- Year 9: 143
- Year 10: 126
- Year 11: 126
So, not quite “hundreds of jobs.”
And if gold-mining brings all the economic benefits that this study suggests, one could ask why Nova Scotia, a province that has undergone three gold rushes and is starting a fourth, “historically faced significant economic challenges.”
One could surmise that boom-and-bust industries such as gold mining don’t really bring any long-term economic benefits, especially when gold mining companies manage not to pay corporate taxes, as is the case of Atlantic Gold / Atlantic Mining NS. After four years of production at the Touquoy open pit mine in Moose River, according to the Natural Resources Canada’s ESTMA (Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act) site, the company has still not paid a penny of federal or provincial taxes.
Anaconda also plans to set up employee accommodations on the site “with a capacity of 350 and 175 beds during the construction and operations phases, respectively.”
This plan for what would qualify as a “man camp” on the site — albeit a relatively small one — may not go down well with the Mi’kmaq Grassroots Grandmothers, who in May 2021 condemned a plan by Pieridae Energy to construct a man camp for 5,000 workers for the LNG plant it intended – until it gave up on that plan in June 2021 — to build in Goldboro, just a couple of kilometres from the site of Anaconda’s proposed gold mine.
Landowners, get ready
Most of the land to the north, east, and south of Gold Brook Lake, which Anaconda will completely surround and put out of bounds with its gold mine project, is part of a large Crown parcel of more than 94,000 acres.
However, the west side of the mine property is largely private. This is what the technical report says about what will happen to the private land holdings:
The Project will require the acquisition of some privately owned property. The Company has engaged a third-party to complete the relevant property assessments, negotiate property acquisitions, and manage and document the process. Should some individuals refuse to sell through this process, the Company would then pursue the expropriation process to acquire the property which could cause delays, however, would unlikely cause any delays in the overall permitting process.
Bullock tells the Examiner that many of those properties are long, skinny land holdings, and that Anaconda would “require basically the back 50%” of the properties that don’t have any housing and direct access to the water. He says Anaconda has engaged a “third party to evaluate what the value of those things are in an expropriation process.”
And then we’ll go out and offer that to everybody and then see what happens. And I’m sure there will be some holdouts till expropriation. But you know, with our work, it probably won’t make any difference other than time. Because we’re going to pay them based on the value of that process.
Bullock says if it “goes to expropriation, that’s a government process.” He suggests the price at that point would be “three or four times higher than the value you could sell it for on the market.”
This wouldn’t be the first time that the provincial government has stepped in to do the bidding of a gold mining company and seize land from Nova Scotian families.
As the Examiner reported in Part 2 of the 2018 Fool’s Gold series, in 2012 then NDP Natural Resources Minister Charlie Parker, issued a vesting order, stepping in to expropriate private land from two families so the Australian company D.D.V. Gold (later Atlantic Gold) could proceed with its Touquoy open pit gold mine.
“It was hogwash”
Although Anaconda doesn’t say so in its new technical report for the Goldboro project, when the company registers the mine with the Nova Scotia government for environmental assessment in coming months, it will be the second time it has done so.
On August 1, 2018, Anaconda Mining registered its “Goldboro Gold Project” with Nova Scotia Environment (now Environment and Climate Change) for a Class 1 environmental assessment.
The following month, then-Environment Minister Margaret Miller released her decision that the “registration information” Anaconda submitted was “insufficient.”
Miller said the project would require a focus report to address these concerns.
In September 2019, Anaconda withdrew the project.
So why is the same company now back, and preparing to register it again?
According to Bullock, it is because the first application was “not the quality they should have put in and didn’t address the environment as we would.”
“I mean, it was just hogwash,” Bullock says.
This time round, he says, Anaconda has “spent a lot of time and effort on our social licence and talking to community and talking to Mi’kmaq.”
“We’re not going to get a permit in a few months,” says Bullock. “It’s going to be 18 months to 24 months.”
Bullock wasn’t CEO and president of Anaconda in 2018 when the first proposal was registered.
However, he was a director with Anaconda between 2015 and 2018, and became president and CEO in April 2019. His LinkedIn page shows he has a lot of experience in the gold business, acquiring mining properties and selling them to larger players, something that Part 3 of this series will look at.
Before that, though, Part 2 of this series will take a look at the environmental assessment process for this and other gold mines.
* The original version of this story reported an error in the calculations. We regret the error.