(Adds quote from minister, detail on reviews)
By Julie Gordon
VANCOUVER Aug 18 The Canadian province of British Columbia said on Monday it has ordered an independent review of all tailings ponds at every permitted mine in the province in the wake of a major spill at Imperial Metals Corp's Mount Polley mine.
Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett also said an independent panel would investigate the tailings dam breach, which sent billions of gallons of mine waste, or tailings, into waterways in central British Columbia.
"Of course we're concerned about what this accident has done to public confidence, not only in mining but in the natural resource sector generally," said the minister at a press conference, even as he emphasized how rare the accident was. "The public's confidence, I think, is shaken."
Since the Aug. 4 breach, calls for more oversight in British Columbia's mining sector have become louder. The disaster comes at time when energy and resource projects in the province already face increased scrutiny from aboriginal groups and environmentalists, who worry that their risks may outweigh their rewards.
Bennett said mining companies will have to conduct a dam safety inspection by Dec 1, 2014, have it reviewed by an independent engineering firm and submit it to the government.
Miners are already required to submit the results of annual dam inspections, but not all are vetted by outside engineers, and they are usually due later. The previous deadline was March 31, 2015.
Meanwhile, a panel of three technical experts will complete an inquiry into the cause of the Mount Polley dam failure. Bennett said they will look at the dam's design, maintenance, changes made to the structure, government regulation, the government's inspection regime and any other matters they deem appropriate. Imperial will pay for the review.
Canadian diversified miner Teck Resources Ltd has a number of operating mines in British Columbia. Other companies that operate in the province include Thompson Creek Metals Co Inc and Taseko Mines Ltd. (Reporting by Julie Gordon; Writing by Allison Martell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)