Background on the Faro Mine Remediation Project

Learn about the Faro Mine Remediation Project.

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What is Faro Mine?

Faro Mine was once the largest open pit lead-zinc mine in the world. Today, it is the site of one of the biggest abandoned mine remediation projects in Canada.

It is located in south-central Yukon, near the Town of Faro, on the asserted Traditional Territory of Ross River Dena Council, Liard First Nation, and Kaska Dena Council and upstream of the Traditional Territory of the Selkirk First Nation. The Faro Mine site is 25 sq. km, an area that is roughly the size of the City of Victoria in British Columbia.

Processing the ore at the mine left behind 70 million tonnes of tailings and 320 million tonnes of waste rock, which have the potential to leach heavy metals and acid into the surrounding land and water. That's enough mining waste to cover 70 football fields, 1 meter deep.

Who is responsible for Faro Mine?

In 1998, after almost 30 years of mining, when the last owner declared bankruptcy, the Government of Canada stepped in to fund the work required to keep the site safe. Today, through a joint project team, the governments of Canada and Yukon are working to provide regular care and maintenance while a plan is developed to remediate the mine.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is leading the final design phase of the remediation plan. The Government of Yukon's Department of Energy, Mines and Resources is leading the ongoing care and maintenance of the mine site. All funding for these activities is provided through the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan. Both governments are working closely with the Kaska Faro Secretariat in all phases of the project.

The Devolution Transfer Agreement identifies the First Nations affected by the Faro Mine site as Ross River Dena Council, Liard First Nation, Kaska Dena Council and Selkirk First Nation. A key aspect in managing and remediation planning for the Faro Mine Remediation Project has been ongoing consultation and engagement with these First Nations.

A strong partnership with the Kaska Faro Secretariat

In partnership with the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon, the Kaska Faro Secretariat was established in 2016 to represent the interests of Ross River Dena Council, Liard First Nation and the Kaska Dena Council in the Faro Mine Remediation Project. The secretariat coordinates Kaska participation in the planning process to further enable the Kaska to be an effective and contributing partner in all phases of the project.

Some of the Kaska Faro Secretariat activities include:

The objectives of remediation

What we're going to do

  1. protect human health and safety
  2. protect and, to the extent practicable, restore the environment including land, air, water, fish and wildlife
  3. return the mine site to an acceptable state of use that reflects pre-mining land use where practicable
  4. maximize local and Yukon socio-economic benefits
  5. manage long-term site risk in a cost-effective manner

The approach to remediation: the "stabilize in place" approach

How we're going to do it

Collect and treat contaminated water: the contaminated water management system will collect, store, transport and treat contaminated water. This system will help protect the downstream environment from contaminants found in seepage and groundwater.

Divert clean water: The clean water system will ensure that clean water is kept away from contaminated water. This will involve diversions and ditches, and may also include some settling or polishing ponds. Reducing the amount of clean water that becomes contaminated will be critical to reducing the volume of water and contaminants that need to be treated by the contaminated water management system.

Covers: Earth and rock covers will be placed across the site to keep ore, waste rock and tailings waste away from humans and wildlife. The covers will also reduce the infiltration of water into the affected areas and provide an area to support new vegetation growth. As with the diversion of clean water, reducing the volume of water and contaminants that are draining from the waste rock dumps and tailings areas will be important to decrease the amount of water needing to be treated.

Adaptive management: Adaptive management means being flexible. The Faro Mine site is complex and experience shows that it is impossible to foresee all problems that can arise. By monitoring the site, we can watch contaminant levels and take action if unacceptable levels of contaminants enter the downstream environment.

Urgent works projects

What are urgent works projects?

The remediation of the Faro Mine is a large and complex project and the development and implementation of a site clean-up will take many years. Two urgent works projects have been identified as needing immediate action in order to protect the health and safety of people and the environment. These projects include the North Fork of Rose Creek Realignment and the Down Valley Hydraulic Upgrades.

North Fork of Rose Creek realignment

Issue: Contaminated seepage with high levels of zinc that is draining from rocks near the intermediate and main waste rock dumps is impacting the North Fork of Rose Creek at some locations. As the waste rock dumps get older, it is expected that seepage will increase, which will damage water quality and impact fish and their habitat. Environment and Climate Change Canada has called for immediate attention to this issue.

Solution: The realignment of the creek will separate the clean surface and groundwater from the mine-impacted water via a realigned channel. This will result in a lower volume of impacted water which can be effectively captured and treated before being released to the environment.

Down Valley hydraulic upgrades

Issue: When Faro Mine was in operation, Rose Creek was diverted to accommodate the tailings that were created as part of the milling operation. The Rose Creek Diversion Channel and the tailing dams do not currently have the hydraulic capacity to successfully pass a probable maximum flood (a major flood event). This could lead to dam failure and a loss of tailings to the downstream environment. The hydraulic capacity of the down valley system must therefore be increased in order to safely pass a major flood while maintaining the physical stability of the dams. This includes upgrading the dam and building a spillway to divert water around the dam in extreme events.

Solution: The Down Valley Hydraulic Upgrades will increase the flow capacity to modern engineering standards.

Next steps: environmental and socio-economic assessment

Once the selected remediation approach is designed at a conceptual level and the environmental and socio-economic effects of the proposed remediation activities are assessed, then a project proposal summarizing the project and its effects is prepared and submitted to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB). It is expected to be submitted to YESAB In spring 2018.

Timeline: Faro Mine Remediation Project

1998

  • Faro Mine is abandoned as Anvil Range Mining Corporation seeks protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and enters into receivership
  • Deloitte and Touche is appointed by the court to manage the environmental care and maintenance of the mine site

2003

  • Devolution Transfer Agreement takes effect: Faro Mine identified as a shared responsibility between the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada
  • an oversight committee is formed involving key representatives from the Government of Yukon, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Kaska and Selkirk First Nations to help develop the Faro Mine remediation plan

2002–2004

  • technical studies begin and continue until 2008 to better understand potential issues at the mine site
  • technical consultation sessions are held to gather input from First Nation communities, the Town of Faro, subject-matter experts, governments, and regulatory agencies

2005

  • the project objectives are selected 12 ‘sample remediation alternatives' are developed which represent the full spectrum of remediation options that are technically possible for the site

2006–2008

  • the remediation options are refined following a series of consultation sessions involving the Kaska, Selkirk First Nation, the Town of Faro, governments, and regulatory agencies and scrutiny by independent experts

2009

  • Government of Yukon takes over responsibility for care and maintenance at the site from Deloitte and Touche, the interim receiver
  • groundwater with high levels of zinc is discovered near a waste rock dump and a system is installed to collect this water for treatment
  • the remediation option is selected and signed off by Canada, Yukon government, the Kaska and Selkirk First Nation
  • public meetings are held to present the remediation approach selected in Faro, Ross River, Pelly Crossing, Watson Lake and Whitehorse

2010

  • Grum sulphide cell constructed with engineered covers to protect environment from contaminants

2010–2015

  • project status updates are provided in communities, primarily relating to onsite care and maintenance activities, while the remediation plan is developed

2011

  • contractor hired to work on research to help with remediation plan design

2013

  • old water treatment plant closed due to health and safety concerns

2015

  • new state-of-the-art water treatment plant in operation
  • seepage collection system installed at the North Fork Rose Creek as a temporary measure to reduce zinc levels in water

2016

  • the Kaska Faro Secretariat is established to coordinate Kaska Nation's participation and interests in the remediation planning process
  • contractors hired to work on regulatory applications and design plans for urgent works and remediation

2017

  • public consultation on key aspects of the environmental and socio-economic assessment process, potential effects and proposed mitigations required for site remediation is initiated with First Nations, Yukoners and other stakeholders

2018

  • construction begins on North Fork Rose Creek diversion
  • environmental assessment process begins
  • remediation plan design at 30% and detailed design work begins

2019

  • construction begins on Down Valley hydraulic upgrade
  • water licence application submitted

2021

  • all regulatory authorizations issued
  • remediation plan design complete
  • construction manager hired for site remediation

2022

  • site remediation begins

History of the Faro Mine site

1953

  • the Vangorda deposit is discovered

1964

  • the Faro deposit is discovered

1969

  • Anvil Mining Corporation begins production at Faro Mine

1973

  • the Grum deposit is found

1982

  • due to low metal prices, mining operations cease

1985

  • Curragh Resources Inc. acquires the property and reactivates the mine facilities

1988

  • development begins at the Vangorda Plateau sites

1990

  • mining begins at the Vangorda Plateau

1993

  • Curragh Resources Inc. is placed into receivership and operations cease

1994

  • Anvil Mining Corporation takes over the mine and resumes mining operations at Vangorda and Grum

1998

  • with the mining of Vangorda deposit complete, Anvil Range Mining Corporation seeks protection under the companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and enters into receivership 
  • Deloitte and Touche, appointed by the court, manages the environmental care and maintenance of the mine site

Key terms

Diversion:  an artificial channel that changes the natural course of a creek or stream. There are three major diversions at the Faro Mine site:

  1.  Faro Creek diversion is a rock-lined channel that allows Faro Creek to flow around the edge of Faro pit.
  2.  Vangorda Creek diversion is a metal half-culvert that allows Vangorda Creek to flow around the edge of Vangorda pit.
  3.  Rose Creek diversion is a 5km long channel that diverts Rose Creek around the tailings storage area.

Milling:  the process used to separate metals from ore. The first stage of the milling process involves crushing and grinding the ore into sand-sized particles. The ground-up ore is then processed in flotation cells. This flotation process uses both chemicals and air to separate the metal containing minerals from the crushed-up ore and produces a concentrate. At Faro, the metal concentrates were transported to a smelter outside of the Yukon for further processing.

Ore: rock containing sufficient quantities of metals or other minerals that make it valuable for mining. The ore at the Faro Mine site contained valuable quantities of lead, zinc, gold and silver. During 29 years of operation, over 70 million tonnes of ore was removed from the ground and processed.

Pit:  a large hole created when ore and waste rock is removed from the ground. The Faro Mine site contains three pits: Faro, Vangorda and Grum. Faro pit is the oldest and largest, covering an area of approximately 1 sq km.

Probable maximum flood:  the largest flood that could conceivably occur at a particular location, usually estimated from probable maximum precipitation, including snow melt, coupled with the worst flood producing catchment conditions.

Remediation plan:  a plan that outlines a specific work intended to address existing and anticipated impacts of a contaminated site.

Tailings:  the waste material left after metals have been removed from ore by the milling process.

Urgent works: specific components of the remediation plan deemed urgent and requiring implementation ahead of the overall remediation plan schedule.

Waste rock:  rock of little economic value that must be removed to access the ore at Faro, for every one tonne of ore mined, four tonnes of waste rock had to be removed; this resulted in nearly 320 million tonnes of waste rock during 29 years of operation.

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