Collab alert: behind our mining investigation with The Globe and Mail

In this week’s newsletter, mining reporter Francesca Fionda talks about a story idea that brought The Narwhal and The Globe together — and revealed some pretty huge gaps in B.C.’s estimated mining cleanup costs

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Water contaminated with acid mine drainage flows into a containment pond near the Tulsequah River.

It’s no secret: British Columbia has a huge and growing mining industry — with a growing cleanup bill. But just how big of a problem is it? That’s the question I started digging into about a year ago.

Amid the sea of financial data, there were the seeds of a pretty big story. And so, to get to the bottom of things, we wanted to partner with another newsroom that has a track-record of delivering big, data-driven investigations.

The result: our first collaboration with The Globe and Mail, published this week, reveals B.C. was $753 million short in collecting cleanup costs — raising questions of whether the province and industry are doing enough to make sure the public is protected if mining companies can’t or won’t pay for cleanup. And what if another incident like the Mount Polley mine disaster was to strike again?

Working on the mining beat for The Narwhal, I’ve spoken with so many people involved in this massive industry. Many of them say we need certain minerals if we want a greener future fuelled by batteries and solar panels. While they might disagree on how we get them, one shared concern is how we avoid the mistakes of the past. 

Without enough money put aside for cleanup, the environment is at risk — and taxpayers could be left covering the costs. Take the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine, for example, which will cost an estimated $72 million to clean up. The previous owners ran out of money, before making sure there was enough set aside.

Chen Wang, Francesca Fionda and Jeff Jones headshots.
Read about British Columbia’s multimillion-dollar mining problem

Over several months, the teams at The Narwhal and The Globe worked together to bring my story idea to life. We scoured publicly available records, reviewed financial data and interviewed experts about B.C.’s mine reclamation plan. I’ve always admired Globe journalists and their ability to break down complicated issues and was excited to work with reporter Jeff Jones and data journalist Chen Wang. 

“I think the highlight of this collaboration is that The Narwhal and The Globe each brought their strengths to the table,” Chen told me. With years of business reporting under his belt, Jeff lent the story his sharp eye on how government policies were affecting mining projects. Chen’s data prowess surfaced trends and her visualizations brought those findings to light. Seeing the story published on both outlets on Wednesday was a big moment for our small team. 

“From the get-go, our vision with The Narwhal was to bring environment reporting out of the margins and into the mainstream,” co-founder and editor-in-chief Emma Gilchrist said.

“Partnerships like this are the future of public-interest journalism, allowing organizations to share complementary skills, pool resources and reach wider, more diverse audiences.”

As the province looks to a new era of mining, and production and exploration reach record highs, the next few years will be crucial in ensuring there is enough to foot the cleanup bill after profits dry up. There have been improvements over the years. B.C. implemented a new interim policy aimed at reducing the risk to taxpayers, and started collecting more of the securities owed. But there’s a lot more to come.

We’ll be here, bringing you in-depth accountability reporting and following the money. Until then, pick up a copy of The Globe and Mail this Saturday to read the story in print!

Take care and don’t mine and dash,

Francesca Fionda
B.C. mining reporter

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Meanwhile, over at Queen’s Park

Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith doesn’t do too many press conferences, so when he walked into the Queen’s Park media studio, we knew this was a big deal. For the second time in the province’s recent history, the Doug Ford government is overruling an independent energy regulator — to protect natural gas, particularly Enbridge Gas. Smith didn’t hold back on his thoughts: the board was “irrational,” he said, to tell the natural gas giant it could no longer charge homeowners for new hookups. When I asked if he was just protecting Enbridge Gas, he was blunt: “I disagree” and then launched into a two-minute spiel about the benefits of the methane-heavy fossil fuel. A lot of people are concerned this move will lock Ontario into paying for the costs of pollution for many, many years. I’ll be watching its impacts closely. Until then, read about the decision here.

— Fatima Syed, Ontario reporter

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‘Tis the season of tax receipts

Did you know The Narwhal is a registered journalism organization — which means we can offer tax receipts?

And if you made a recurring donation to The Narwhal in 2023, it’s time to check your inbox for a receipt! 

Look out for an email from the past few weeks from donations@thenarwhal.ca with the subject line “Your 2023 recurring donation receipt.”

If you made a one-time donation in 2023, you should have received an email from us with your receipt on the day you contributed (except if you gave once via PayPal — stay tuned, they’re on their way!).

Want to lock in your 2024 donation receipt? Sign up as a member of The Narwhal today to support our independent, non-profit journalism.

Become a Narwhal

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This week in The Narwhal

Lululemon logo attached to a glass building.
Lululemon relying on fossil fuel-linked PR firm as it faces greenwashing allegations
By Carl Meyer
Edelman has a ‘pattern of behaviour’ showing ‘disregard for global environmental crises,’ climate communications expert says.

Close view of the backside of solar panels in a field pointing at a grey sky
Rejected: ‘greenest’ mine of its kind won’t be built in Manitoba
By Julia-Simone Rutgers

Doug Ford in a construction vest and hat walks in front of his campaign bus which says "Get it Done"
Everything you need to know about how Ontario’s Get It Done Act will impact the environment
By Fatima Syed
A road runs through a mountain valley in Kananaskis, Alberta, with treed slopes on either side and a cloud-shrouded mountain the background.
After community pushback, forestry company pauses clearcut of beloved Rocky Mountain valley
By Drew Anderson
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What we’re reading

Last year’s wildfires that shocked Canada caused the largest evacuation in the history of the Northwest Territories. For Cabin Radio, Jimmy Thomson chronicles the decision-making that went on behind the scenes as the fires raged.

Vox’s Benji Jones writes about two simple solutions that would save the North Atlantic right whale — ones we don’t use, and let the whales die instead.

dog laying on couch reading a newspaper with a head massager.

When you’re trying to relax reading the Saturday Globe while mildly stressing out about the mining cleanup costs detailed in our collaborative investigation. Tell your friends to sign up for our weekly newsletter, so they don’t miss out on big Narwhal news!

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