The Tyee, a local Vancouver e-newspaper with a decidedly liberal bent today published an article on peer review of Mt Polley. David Ball is the author of the piece. I think he did a good job in balancing the opinions.
I admit to being hopelessly prejudiced in this opinion. For if you read David’s piece, you will note that he quotes me and Nordie Morgenstern. David called me a while ago and asked how I would have gone about preventing Mt Polley and how I would go about preventing future Mt Polleys. We talked long about peer review. To his credit he checked what I was telling him by contacting Nordie Morgenstern. He also established that there is currently only one tailings facility in BC that has a peer review board.
Here is what David writes of Morgenstern’s opinions about peer review boards:
In a 2010 edition of Tailings and Mine Waste, Morgenstern extolled the benefits of independent review boards, arguing that they are a “valuable component in the safety system applied to all tailings storage facilities.” He added that the World Bank and other lenders already require independent review boards for projects they fund. Review boards provide advice on “all geotechnically sensitive matters” from a mine’s opening to its closing, Morgenstern noted. But most importantly, review boards play the role of sober watchdog in the face of pressures to work faster or save money, he wrote.
The thing that amazes me from the Tyee report is this:
Amy Crook, executive director for the nonprofit B.C. Fair Mining Collaborative, said she isn’t familiar with such peer review boards but called the idea “intriguing.” The collaborative recently released a weighty tome of proposed guidelines for mining in the province, including improvements in mine oversight, community transparency and safety.
Hmm? That weighty tome had no weight?
The Tyee got Scott McCannell, executive director of the Professional Employees Association to rebut David Ball’s piece. See this link. McCannell writes:
In “An Engineer’s Idea to Prevent Future Mount Polleys,” published today on The Tyee, the notion of voluntary peer reviews is promoted as a means of preventing mining disasters similar to Mount Polley. More due diligence relating to approval of mining and other resource development projects is certainly needed, but the best approach is to ensure that government knows what is happening on Crown land.
No harm in the government knowing what is going on, but it is hard to see how any government, anywhere could assemble Morgensterns, Vicks, or Robertsons to keep an eye on all a jurisdiction’s tailings facilities. I still maintain the best way to safe tailings facilities is peer review and not more inexperienced government employees sitting on unread reports.
McCannell continues his attack:
The peer review concept proposed relies on a process of voluntary reviews. This still doesn’t solve the problem of government knowing what’s happening on Crown land. The costs of voluntary reviews would average $300 an hour for panelists. This hourly rate would be the approximate equivalent of three professional engineers working directly for the province. Hiring more professional staff in mining ministries with the expertise needed to ensure mining takes place safely, along with an appropriate level of professional development, would allow the province to ensure they have required staff expertise.
No way you will get $300 per hour expertise from a government employee costing $100 an hour. It just won’t happen. It is an idle dream of full employment for advocacy associations, but not a solution to stopping tailings failures. Still that is only my opinion—and Morgenstern’s. I am sure the commenters to this posting will have more insightful and varied opinions. Let us hear from them. And follow the debate on the Tyee.