Nahanni Park and the Prairie Creek Mine: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

The Prairie Creek Mine, located just outside the boundary of the Nahanni National Park Reserve and World Heritage Site, is an environmental and financial disaster waiting to happen. The issues are numerous and somewhat complex. They involve the mine's poor location, toxic substances, regulatory oversight, Aboriginal lands, and the expansion of one of Canada's most famous National Parks. MiningWatch Canada and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) have just released a document setting out the history of the mine and the company that owns it, problems at the site and other related issues in a manner that will assist people who care about the situation to act on it. It can be viewed at on our web site.

The mine, which includes complete mining infrastructure built in 1982 but never operated, is located on the flood plain of Prairie Creek, a tributary of the South Nahanni River, upstream from world-renowned Nahanni National Park Reserve, and poses serious threats to the ecosystem and wildlife.

The mine is in the Deh Cho First Nations (DCFN) traditional territory and poses a threat to traditional livelihoods and to future opportunities to develop their land in a sustainable fashion. The DCFN want the lands around the Park, known as the South Nahanni Watershed (SNW), to be protected. They are currently in court challenging the water licence.

Canadian Zinc Corporation (CZN), which owns the mine, has no history of operating a mine and is depending on a sustained rise in the price of zinc and silver to make the mine profitable.

There have been environmental assessments on small individual projects and activities at the mine, but there has not been an assessment of the overall impact of this 20 year old site. This despite a history of fuel spills, heavy metals being discharged into Prairie Creek, and the presence of large amounts of toxic substances. Environmental assessments that have been completed have found the likelihood that proposed mining activities would likely cause significant adverse environmental impact, unless subjected to stringent conditions.

Parks Canada has identified mining activity as "the single greatest threat to the ecological integrity" of the South Nahanni River Watershed (SNW) in the Ecological Integrity Statement of September 2001.

The ores that CZN hopes to mine have high levels of mercury, arsenic and antimony. This calls into question the mine's economic viability, as it would be difficult to sell such ore concentrates to smelters, especially given the poor markets for zinc and silver at this time.

Despite the Prairie Creek mine facility being 20 years old, it appears that no reclamation bond has ever been posted by the company. Independent analysis estimates the current costs of cleaning up the mine site are between $3 million and $5 million.