No Social Licence And A Long List of Inadequacies, Yet Federal Review Panel Recommends Approval of Matoush Uranium Exploration Project
MiningWatch Canada is puzzled and concerned by a recently released federal environmental assessment report endorsing Strateco Resources Inc.’s proposed Matoush Uranium Exploration Project. The project is subject to environmental review by federal and provincial panels under the James Bay-Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) and by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The recently-released report presents the analysis of the project by the federal review panel. Despite acknowledging that project does not have a social licence to proceed and identifying a long list inadequacies in the environmental assessment, the panel makes a finding that the exploration project is unlikely to have significant environmental effects and recommends approval of the project, albeit with a host of conditions.
During the review process of the exploration project in 2010, MiningWatch along with other members of the Coalition Quebec Meilleure Mine participated in hearings held by the federal and provincial panels and submitted written comments that identified serious flaws in Strateco’s environmental impact statement. During the hearings the Cree Nation of Mistissini rejected the project and has since demanded that Quebec institute a moratorium on uranium exploration within their territory. This demand is supported by the Grand Council of the Cree.
Due to the opposition to the project from Mistissini and from provincial organizations questioning Quebec’s entry into the uranium mining sector, the panel concluded that the project had not achieved social acceptability. The panel, however, seems to assume that achieving social acceptability will be a relatively straightforward matter and is largely an issue of better communication. This assumption is in contrast to the panel’s finding that the relationship between the Cree and Strateco has been deteriorating, not improving, and their recognition that for some Cree the project is in conflict with their “fundamental values”.
In addition to the fundamental issue of social acceptability the report identifies numerous inadequacies in important aspects of the proponent’s environmental impact studies. These include:
- Poorly explained rationale of the need for the project
- Poorly described and selected methods of baseline data collection
- Inadequate baseline data including wildlife and fish
- Inadequate consideration of impacts on woodland caribou
- Lack of a completed water balance
- Inadequate eco-toxicology assessment
- Inadequate consideration of cumulative effects
- Inadequate consideration of traditional activities, culture and community life of the Cree
- Lack of consideration for organizational structures integral to Cree society
- Significant omissions in describing the impacts of increased access to the area
- Incomplete appraisal of economic benefits
- Highly speculative estimates for employment potential for local communities
- Poor consideration of economic opportunities for Cree businesses
MiningWatch Canada’s Ramsey Hart commented, “Given all the flaws that were raised during the review process and that are affirmed in their report, the federal panel’s conclusions seem totally inconsistent with the rest of the report.” Of particular concern is how the panel reached a conclusion that there will not likely be significant effects in the absence of key information. Says Hart, “We don’t even have a legitimate estimate of the volume of effluent coming from the shaft that would be blasted into a highly permeable sandstone well below the water table.”
Though the panel’s recommendation of approval has conditions attached to it, fulfilling these conditions may be left to the voluntary action of Strateco and the regulatory agencies as neither the panel nor the Environmental Assessment Agency have any authority to ensure that these conditions are met once the project is approved. “The federal government could and should refuse approval until the long list of issues is dealt —but why are we even talking about approval when there are such fundamental issues to be addressed?” questioned Hart.
The recommendation of the panel only applies to the advanced exploration phase of Strateco's plans to develop a uranium mine. If the project is allowed to proceed, MiningWatch supports the panel’s recommendation that the development of the mine itself should be assessed by a joint CEAA-JBNQA review panel. The current federal panel’s observations about the need for public dialogue on uranium extraction in Quebec and the need for better integration and regional planning for the multiple projects in the area are also in line with recommendations made by MiningWatch and the Coalition Quebec Meilleure Mine.