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Today, Environment Minister Herb Cox announced conditional approval of the environmental assessment (EA) for the proposed Yancoal solution potash mine near Southey, allowing the project to advance for further provincial and local approvals prior to construction.
“The ministry’s regulatory role is to ensure environmental responsibility is appropriately and comprehensively managed for developments such as potash mines,” Cox said. “We are confident in the independent review provided by professional engineers and environmental experts on the Yancoal project. Given the degree of public interest in this proposal, one of our conditions of approval calls for Yancoal to conduct additional consultation and engagement activities in the area before construction can begin.”
As part of the EA approval, Yancoal must meet several conditions.
Yancoal must submit a development agreement with the RM of Longlaketon prior to the commencement of construction activities to ensure that the RM is involved in the planning and development of the project.
Yancoal must submit a community involvement plan that commits to establishing a community advisory committee, community monitoring program, and further collaboration with community members.
Yancoal must submit an environmental protection plan that includes monitoring of agriculture land, Loon Creek, and water quality.
In addition, Yancoal must meet other conditions of approval and permitting requirements, including:
Acquiring a permit to construct and operate the facility under The Mineral Industry Environmental Protection Regulations, 1996 pursuant to The Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2010.
Acquiring a water allocation licence from the Water Security Agency for the use of water from Buffalo Pound Lake.
Acquiring a licence from the Ministry of the Economy for wells used in the mining process for the injection of brine.
Obtaining approval from the Ministry of Environment for a decommissioning and reclamation plan and providing a financial assurance prior to project construction to address any environmental considerations that occur from the operation and eventual decommissioning of the facility.
Water availability was a focus for consideration of this project. A previous EA was undertaken for the Buffalo Pound Non-Potable System Expansion Project, which considered the availability of water sourced from the lake for multiple future users. The assessment showed that the volumes of water potentially diverted for multiple industrial users would not result in significant impacts to water levels in Buffalo Pound Lake or downstream areas.
The Water Security Agency (WSA) has confirmed the capacity and reliability of Buffalo Pound Lake to supply water to the project sustainably and without significant negative impact to downstream areas. On average, more than 6.0 billion cubic metres of water flows into Lake Diefenbaker each year. Yancoal’s maximum usage is estimated at 13 million cubic metres per year, roughly 0.2 per cent of the total flow into Lake Diefenbaker.
Yancoal will need to apply to WSA for a water rights license, which would be issued subject to a number of conditions, including the requirements to monitor and report on water use, the adoption of water conservation measures and paying industrial water use charges for the volume of water used annually. The licence will be issued for a defined period of time and any future reissuance will be conditional upon Yancoal’s compliance with the terms of the licence and a re-evaluation of the current and future sustainability of the water source. The issuance of a licence is not a guarantee that water will be available for use by Yancoal at all times during the term of the licence. The WSA reserves the right to restrict the use of water due to shortage or pressing necessity and may cancel, amend or suspend a licence due to non-compliance with the specified terms, or if it is in the public interest to do so.
In addition, the EA considered concerns regarding potential impacts to water quality downstream in Loon Creek and the Qu’Appelle system. Yancoal has committed to measures to prevent water impacted by the core facility from reaching these downstream areas. These includes isolating the site from natural drainage to ensure no off-site impacts to water quality. In addition, regular water quality monitoring in Loon Creek is required as a condition of approval to ensure there are no downstream impacts.
The Ministry of Environment oversees Saskatchewan’s environmental assessment process, which includes a comprehensive cross-government review component, as well as a public review period. The EA process focuses on the potential environmental impacts of a project, and relies on professional and unbiased expertise to help reach objective and science-based conclusions.
The Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment Review Panel (SEARP), a team of technical and regulatory experts with professional designations and experience, scrutinized a 3,000 page environmental impact statement prepared by Yancoal. SEARP found the company had addressed key environmental issues, such as potential impacts to groundwater and the storage of tailings.
The Ministry of Environment received more than 800 submissions during an extended 45 day public review period that ran from April 23 to June 6.