Ajax mine: Working to put all the pieces together
As the Ajax mine battle heats up, it offers an interesting case study in the use of propaganda and rhetoric to persuade we ignorant masses toward particular points of view.
And, because billions of dollars are at stake for a huge multi-national mining company and the quality of life is potentially at risk due to the mine's location perched on and above Kamloops, emotions and passions are running high.
The "yea-sayers" are accused of seeing only the pot of gold sitting in the midst of environmental armageddon. The "fear-mongerers" with their Chicken Little notions simply don't understand it's "jobs, jobs, jobs" that will keep Kamloops moving forward.
In the midst of all this, two recent and rather low-key events caught my mind's eye.
A few months ago, a suggestion by Pierre Gratton, the president of the Canadian Mining Association, that Kamloops has the “potential to become the hub of the mining industry for Western Canada” tweaked my curiosity as it seemed a rather lofty claim.
Then, the recent announcement that another mining exploration company, Discovery-Corp Enterprises, was planning to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars this summer exploring the open-pit mining potential of the land just above the Pineview neighborhood left me questioning whether Ajax is simply the starting point of a much larger mining plan for the Kamloops region.
Unwilling to continue suspending judgment until the environmental-assessment process is complete, I set out on a research and discovery mission to find out as much as I could from the various perspectives.
First, I went to the KGHM Ajax and the Abacus Mining websites and plodded meticulously through hundreds of pages of maps showing the numerous mine sites being considered in the Kamloops region, geological profiles of the mineralization potentials, assay results from tens of thousands of metres of drilled core samples, recommendations for mineral recovery and financial records detailing projected costs and profit returns.
I visited stopajaxmine.ca and read about the potential risks to our quality of life and how it will change the Kamloops vision.
The government website on the environmental-assessment process gives a blow-by-blow description of the approval process for major projects. I even went to the websites of the cities that Ajax lists as existing quite nicely next to open-pit mines.
(Yikes! Not a pretty picture. If I was an Ajax official, I'd drop this line of defence).
What I found were a few facts, plenty of projections, lofty goals and promises, and gloom-and doom-predictions — all with a litany of numbers and graphs masquerading as facts.There were also a number of nice photos, ranging from what looks like a rainbow coming out of the old Afton pit to a ferocious sandstorm obscuring Kamloops.
But, through this process, I now know that Discovery-Corp's exploration announcement is simply one of a number of much larger proposals waiting in line for an Ajax mine go-ahead to open the door and, as a result, why Gratton sees Kamloops as a potential mining mecca.
The scope of this mine-on-the-edge-of-a-city issue is considerably broader than the Ajax mine itself. Kamloops is at the crossroads of what has the potential to be one of the more significant and defining directions in its 200-year history.
Do we continue to venture down the path of the past 20 years of evolving into an increasingly diversified city, both economically and demographically? O,r do we return to the days when a single-resource economy was the predominant driver and influence on the character of our community (check out those "mine cities")?
Most of the Kamloops region is covered in a patchwork of subsurface mining claims, which is not particularly uncommon as much of the province is covered in "just in case there's gold in them there hills" claims and remain inactive.
However, since 2002, Abacus Mining has spent millions of dollars acquiring the mineral rights in large tracts of land both within and on the edge of the city boundaries, and millions more on explorative drilling and analysis.
The claims have been grouped into three large projects.
In the "Featured Projects" section of its website, Abacus introduces the "Ajax Extension area, a copper-rich zone lying immediately adjacent to the Ajax deposit . . . [it] offers significant potential to add additional resources."
At least that project is in the same area. The company's other two projects described on the website, complete with the full PDF geological mining reports and a “coming soon” teaser, are not adjacent to the Ajax site.
The Rainbow project is within the city boundary in an area bordered by highways 1 and 5 and Lac le Jeune Road and "could contain 358-million pounds of copper and 127,000-ounces of gold."
Keep in mind that the projections for Ajax mine are 109-million pounds of copper and 99,000-ounces of gold.
The DM-Audra project is partially within city limits and covers a larger area, straddling the Coquihalla Highway and across Highway 1 toward the Thompson River (the "Welcome to Kamloops" sign would need to be moved).
Its extensive drilling results suggest that it "could contain 185-million pounds of copper and 140,000-ounces of gold."
Collectively, these two projects could produce five times the amount of copper and nearly three times the amount of gold as the Ajax mine — a pretty attractive prospect for large-production mining companies.
These projects in production would offer huge economic benefits to the region, but they also would carry huge implications on the character and environment of Kamloops.
Consider some of the information on the Ajax mine alone and then compound that by several times:
• On a daily basis, there would be 40-million litres of water used at Ajax, 60,000 to 80,000 tonnes of rock blasted and large amounts of chemical reagents and suppressants applied;
• The pit surface area would grow to over five times the size of McArthur Island to a depth of a half-kilometre;
• After 23 years of sifting and shifting the natural landscape, Ajax projects there will be 852-million metric tonnes of waste left in 50-storey mountains of sludge and in large lakes of tainted water;
• The size and scope of the Ajax project is reflected in the expenditure of almost $800 million just to get to production (one-seventh the projected cost of the entire 1,200-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline proposed for Northern B.C.).
Of course, these projects would also be subject to review, but one has to wonder if the approval of the Ajax project would create a domino effect, making it easier for other projects to get off the ground.
And, one is also left to wonder if the environmental-assessment process tilts the table toward the mining companies by its very nature. Unlike the more rigorous and extensive panel review chaired by impartial experts in the arena, the environmental-assessment process is simply a government review of submissions by various parties.
Obviously, many of the submissions are partial and subject to spins and those with the most money to spend can afford to collect the most technical and environmental "data" (so, are these the "facts" people are waiting for?). And, being a government agency, might it be more susceptible to the political will to add hundreds of millions of tax dollars to diminishing government coffers?
At the least, this provides a few more talking points and, at the most, it might encourage people to wade in and become more informed and engaged about an issue that has the potential to dramatically alter all aspects of the Kamloops landscape, either positively or negatively — depending on your perspective.