The B.C. government has ordered an independent engineering investigation and inquiry into the failure of a tailings pond dam at Imperial Metal's Mount Polley mine.
A three-member panel, appointed with the support of the Soda Creek Indian Band and Williams Lake Indian Band, will submit its final report by January 31, 2015, to the province and the First Nations.
The panel members are Norbert Morgenstern, an advisor to consulting engineers; Steven Vick, a Colorado-based geotechnical engineer; and Dirk Van Zyl, a professor with UBC's Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering.
"We have a responsibility, as the jurisdiction where this failure took place, to find out exactly why it happened, ensure it never happens again and take a leadership role internationally in learning from this serious incident," Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett said in a news release.
According to the release, the panel will look at "geotechnical standards, design of the dam, maintenance, regulations, inspections regimes and other matters the panel deems appropriate". Section 8 of the Ministry of Energy and Mines Act "provides the panel with the ability to compel evidence and authorizes the Minister to require the company to cover costs of the inquiry".
The province has also ordered dam safety inspections—and third-party reviews of those inspections—for every tailings pond at a permitted mine by December 1.
"Under the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia, the deadline for annual Dam Safety Inspections would have been March 31, 2015, and would not have required an independent third-party review. The order accelerates the deadline and establishes the requirement for an independent review," the release states.
The release notes B.C. is home to 98 permitted tailings facilities at 60 operating and closed metal and coal mines.