Mining the positive

Mining the positive Open Letter to Karen Baltgailis, executive director, Yukon Conservation Society: As I write you on this gorgeous Yukon Sunday morning, I am trying to make sense of what is driving the conservation society mining co-ordinator to write

Open Letter to Karen Baltgailis, executive director, Yukon Conservation Society:

As I write you on this gorgeous Yukon Sunday morning, I am trying to make sense of what is driving the conservation society mining co-ordinator to write so many unjustified statements in a letter published in the Yukon News and Whitehorse Star.

First, I take serious exception to inaccurate and misleading statements made by the writer on the proposed Carmacks Copper mine and Western Copper Corporation. Let me clarify:

The company is not pushing ahead the Carmacks Copper project despite local objections; having filed its YESAA project description in January 2006, completed the YESAA process in July 2008, obtained its quartz mining licence in April 2009 and hopefully finally obtaining all of the remaining permits four years later in 2010 cannot be characterized as “pushing.”

The company is following due process, is maintaining its environmental monitoring program at the site and is maintaining an active and constructive dialogue with all concerned parties.

One of the outstanding issues for Carmacks is the industrial traffic going through the village to access the area served by the Freegold Road and Mount Nansen Road. The company, with other Freegold Road users and the support of the community, is engaged in discussions with the Yukon government to find a solution to this situation.

Heap leaching of copper oxide ore is a well-known, energy-efficient technology used extensively in various parts of the world including the US and Australia.

The technology uses five to 12 times less energy per pound of copper produced than conventional mining, milling and smelting of copper sulphide ore. For the last 30 years, more than 20 per cent of the world’s copper has been, and continues to be, produced using this technology.

A field scale trial of heap leaching the Carmacks ore was successfully tested near the village of Carmacks during the winter of 1993-1994. The recent Brewery Creek mine (a gold heap leach) is a very good Yukon example of a heap leach operated in the North and that is now reclaimed.

A water-treatment plant will be built and available from the start of the operation even though all process water will be recycled, and no water needs to be discharged during leaching operation.

If a discharge is required, the water will be treated in the water-treatment plant and will meet all discharge requirements under the water licence including meeting the Canadian Metal Mine Effluent Regulations.

The water-based solution applied to leach the Carmacks ore will contain one per cent sulphuric acid and will be applied using drip emitters buried in the ore pile. Under the ore pile (the heap leach pad), a comprehensive double-lined recovery system with built-in leak detection and recovery system will be built.

The process solution will be treated in the processing plant using electricity to produce 99 per cent pure market grade copper cathode. This pure copper can be further transformed to manufacture copper products, like pipes, wires, pots and pans, artwork and jewelry, etc.

The Carmacks Copper Mine is located 45 kilometres from Carmacks and nine kilometres west of the Yukon River, close to the headwaters of Williams Creek, which flows into the Yukon River.

Williams Creek water contains naturally elevated levels of metals, most notably copper resulting from the proximity of the ore deposit.

Due to the physical barrier located approximately one kilometre upstream of the mouth of the creek, only the lower reach of Williams Creek sees fish utilization.

The creek freezes entirely in the winter and no spawning salmon have been observed over the many years of monitoring. Young salmon and other species use the lower reach of the creek as rearing habitat during the open season only. This observation is reinforced by the lack of fish camps in the vicinity of the creek.

Second, I can’t speak on behalf of the whole mining industry, but I know that it is not the devil portrayed in the letter. We are all working in our own way for a better Yukon, a Yukon where everyone has a place, a Yukon that can provide a future for our children and where one can hope to make an honest living.

When 90 per cent, or more, of everything that we consume in the Yukon is shipped, trucked or flown in every day, when we start the oil furnace to heat our homes, with oil produced in Alberta, for six months of the year, when we cannot even afford to ship our recyclables to the appropriate recyclers outside, I think that every one of us living in the Yukon shares the impact on Yukon’s, Canada’s and the world’s environment.

By the simple fact of having decided to make Yukon our home, every taxpayer (individual and corporate) in Canada is sending us back a cheque that amounts to approximately $20,000 per person. This $20,000 cheque includes an $885.00 contribution from the Canadian Mining and Oil and Gas Extraction Industry (4.5 per cent of the Canadian economy) and a similar contribution of $433 from the Canadian Tourism Industry (2.2 per cent of the Canadian economy), both mainstays of Yukon’s private economy.

We should all work together as Yukoners to improve the long-term sustainability and well-being of Yukon and of its communities, including maintaining a level-headed dialogue that includes all of us in the Yukon. This should start by the recognition of our need to reduce our reliance on transfer payments from Canada for our “right” to live in the Yukon.

A start to that self-reliance goal is the measurable impact the mining industry has on the growth of the Yukon economy and the development of its infrastructure. With only one small mine in production and another under construction, the industry I am working for (as well as hundreds of other Yukoners) is making a positive and measurable contribution to the well-being of Yukon in this very difficult economic period.

In 2008, the mining and oil and gas industry represented six per cent of Yukon’s economy compared to three per cent in 2006 and contribution from metal ore mining quintupled to $76.2 million compared to $15.5 million in 2006 (expressed in 2002 dollars).

Mining is the only growing industry in the Yukon.

In addition to mine production, it is estimated that spending by the Yukon mining industry on exploration and development will exceed $220 million this year. All of this investment money is sourced outside and compares very well with the estimated $190 million in nonlocal tourism spending in the Yukon in 2008. Hopefully it will lessen the impact of the expected downturn in the 2009 tourist numbers caused by the current economic difficulties and continuing high oil prices.

The mining industry takes very seriously its responsibility towards offering Yukoners real full-time work and career opportunities. Since its inception in 2006, the Yukon Mine Training Association – YMTA, a partnership of mining companies and First Nations- has been busy providing training at all stages of mining activities and in many Yukon communities, from exploration, to open-pit and underground mining training, health and safety and environmental monitoring, etc.

Again, I would like to reiterate the need to work on achieving a constructive dialogue amongst all concerned parties.

Only short-term gains benefiting a limited group can be expected if we continue to fight and pitch one Yukon industry group against the other. It does not help to deny progress made in the past 20-plus years by natural resource-based industries in managing, mitigating and preventing the negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of their activities.

One should also not deny the positive contribution that modern mining is making and will continue to make to Yukon.

Claire Derome, vice-president

government and community relations

Western Copper Corp.