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The Wildsight report adds to heightened scrutiny on the issue of selenium leaching from Teck’s Elk Valley coal mines in southeastern B.C. to river systems in Canada and the United States.Rich Landers/The Canadian Press

It will cost at least $6.4-billion to tackle selenium contamination from Teck Resources Ltd.’s TECK-B-T Elk Valley coal mines, according to a new report – far exceeding a $1.9-billion security bond required by the B.C. government to cover cleanup costs.

The report, commissioned by environmental group Wildsight, bases its price tag on calculations of what it would cost to implement Vancouver-based Teck’s current plan of building water treatment plants through to 2027 and then running them for 60 years.

The resulting estimates raise concerns that B.C. taxpayers could be stuck with a hefty cleanup bill, said Simon Wiebe, mining policy and impacts researcher at Wildsight, which released the report on Tuesday.

“We’ve been concerned for quite a while that the amount of money that Teck has put aside for selenium remediation with the B.C. government would not be enough to cover the actual cost,” he said.

The Wildsight report adds to heightened scrutiny on the issue of selenium leaching from Teck’s Elk Valley coal mines in southeastern B.C. to river systems in Canada and the United States. Earlier this month, the governments of Canada and the United States, along with the Ktunaxa Nation, agreed to put the issue before the International Joint Commission (IJC), a body that tackles transboundary water issues between the two countries.

Asked to comment on the Wildsight report, Teck said the report’s estimates are inaccurate and that the company is in full compliance with provincial bonding requirements.

The Wildsight report uses simplified assumptions for ongoing water treatment costs that “result in significant overestimations,” said Dale Steeves, a Teck spokesperson, in an e-mail.

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This past November, Teck announced a US$8.9-billion deal to sell its steelmaking coal operations, with a minority stake going to Japan’s Nippon Steel Corp. and South Korean steelmaker POSCO, and a majority stake to Swiss mining giant Glencore. The sale of the minority interest closed in January and the sale of the majority stake is expected to close this year, pending regulatory approvals.

Wildsight is “concerned that the new owners may be even less receptive to actually fixing the pollution issue than Teck has been,” Mr. Wiebe said of the sale.

In Canada, mining companies are typically required to provide some sort of financial guarantee to provincial governments to cover mine remediation if an owner doesn’t clean up a site. A joint Globe/Narwhal investigation found a shortfall in such funds in B.C., although its government says it has been closing that gap.

Both Teck and the B.C. government have in the past resisted a reference to the IJC, citing steps Teck was taking to reduce water pollution in the region, including building new water treatment plants under a 2014 provincially-approved water quality plan.

Under that plan, Teck says it has spent $1.4-billion to improve water quality and that it plans to invest up to $250-million more by the end of this year.

Glencore declined to comment on the Wildsight report, but the company is committed to implementing the Elk Valley Water Water Quality Plan, spokesperson Charles Watenphul said in an e-mail.

The Elk River rises in the Canadian Rockies and flows into the U.S. at Lake Koocanusa, a reservoir on the Kootenay River, known as the Kootenai in the U.S., and from there through Montana and Idaho, and then back into B.C.

In an e-mailed statement, B.C.’s Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, Josie Osborne, said her staff are conducting a “thorough review” of the Wildsight report.

“Ministry staff regularly review securities and liabilities for all mines in the province, including those in the Elk Valley, ensuring they are consistent with our policy and updated in accordance with the latest information, “ she said.

90 per cent of mining liabilities are currently covered by securities, compared with 40 per cent before the NDP took office, Ms. Osborne added.

B.C. government officials this month also voiced support for the joint reference to the IJC.

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