The Alberta government has slapped an environmental protection order on Coal Valley Resources and Sherritt International (TSX:S) after last month’s waste water spill in the Athabasca River.
The spill occurred on Oct. 31 following a breach in a containment pond at the companies’ idled Obed Mountain coal mine near Hinton, AB. As a result, 670,000 m3 of process water and sediment – containing mostly clay, mud, shale and coal fines – gushed into two creeks that flow into the Athabasca River. This created a stretch of murky water, measuring about 150 km and travelling down the province’s longest river at the rate of 2 to 5 km per hour.
On Nov. 19, Alberta’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) department ordered Sherritt – Coal Valley’s parent company – to immediately clean up the mess. Specifically, the ESRD told the miner to create detailed plans to contain the mine waste water solids remaining in the Apetowun and Plante creeks and to stop any further solids from entering the Athabasca River. It also requires Sherritt to put in place a sampling and monitoring plan.
In its own preliminary tests on water quality, the Alberta government said there doesn’t appear to be any immediate risk to humans in communities along the Athabasca River that use proper water treatment plants. But as a precaution, it notes community water treatment plants should avoid processing water from the river when the plume is near.
Individuals that use the river for drinking water or for their livestock should also seek an alternative source, it adds.
“Water quality samples collected within approximately 40 kilometres downstream of the release point contain elevated concentrations of many organic and inorganic contaminants,” the report states.
Among the contaminants were arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese, iron and aluminum.
The provincial government in its report dated Nov. 17 said the brownish coloured stretch of water was about 178 km upstream from Fort McMurray, AB, that day.
It notes it will continue to assess the potential long term impacts of the mine release on human health, drinking water, fish and wildlife.
“We are deeply concerned about what’s happened here and we are committed to making this right,” Sean McCaughan, Sherritt’s senior VP for coal, said in a release. Sherritt has started its sampling tests that show the water “poses no risk to human health or safety,” he adds.
Obed on its website noted that the clean-up is underway and that it is working to minimize any potential environmental impacts.
Sherritt closed the day down 2¢ at $3.42, within a 52-week range of $3.25-$6.18. It has a $1 billion market capitalization and 297.3 million shares outstanding.
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