Six incidents of pollution occurred in the prospecting phase at Dalradian Gold’s Sperrins mine, according to a Stormont committee that was heard on Thursday.
To explain their oversight of the mining company, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency chiefs were called before the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs sub Committee.
It was following a Spotlight program about the Canadian company that has been in operation near Greencastle, Co Tyrone, for more than 10 years.
It wants to mine precious metals in Sperrins Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. However, a decision on the Planning Application was delayed until a public inquiry is conducted by the Planning Appeals Commission.
Many residents oppose the mine due to environmental and health concerns. However, others support the jobs and investment promised.
Neil McAllister, a scientist at NIEA, stated to AERA members that they regulate Dalradians discharge consents, water abstractions, and have been regulating the site appropriately despite claims to contrary.
He spoke out to MLAs about six pollution incidents that involved the mining company. Five were low-level, one medium-level, and that the firm was given a warning and ordered by the court to pay.
McAllister stated that NIEA has been monitoring Dalradian discharges each month since 2012, and that the water quality and burns they flow into is still good.
He also admitted that the status of the Owenkillew River downstream, which is a Special Area of Conservation to the Atlantic Salmon and pearl mussell, was not favorable after being asked by Clare Bailey, Green Party leader.
It was not suggested that this is due to Dalradians upstream releases.
Ms Bailey wanted to know if he feels satisfied everything is in order relative to priority species and habitats.
He stated: We are still in the process of the full application for planning. There have been some back and forths, but it is now at a point where DfI believes it can be issued to Planning Appeals Commission.
There are still many issues that need to be resolved. We have big problems with discharges that have not been confirmed.
Rosemary Buchanan from South Tyrone UUP was asked why NIEA had not responded to criticisms raised by Spotlight.
McAllister stated that a response was prepared, but it may have been delayed due to the timings involved.
Mid Ulster SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone probed further into claims by Professor Emerman, an international mining expert, that he had never interacted with a regulatory body as incompetent and inept as NIEA.
McAllister said that while everyone does not like to hear criticism, everyone is entitled and free to form an opinion.
The Water Quality in the Owenkillew, tributaries, and their water quality has remained stable during the entire period Dalradian was operating. However, some elements have improved.
This to me shows that the site is being properly regulated.
He also said to the committee that NIEA has the expertise and capability to oversee the mine if it is approved and that they can call upon other bodies and experts if necessary.
A spokesperson for Dalradian claimed that the Committee hearing was prompted from claims made in a TV program broadcast in 2021, which Dalradian rejected because they were unfair, unbalanced or simply inaccurate.
Today’s evidence is a welcome and factual representation of how Dalradians operations coexist with the local environment.
We appreciate the opportunity that the Committee provided NIEA officials to answer questions, and in particular the confirmation of no breaches of water discharge consents nor abstraction licences related to the Dalradian project.
We are pleased that officials have confirmed that the water quality in nearby watercourses has not only maintained good standards, but has also improved. This is due to the extensive and long-term nature of NIEAs testing.
Dalradian is a leader in environmental management and corporate governance. We monitor a 30-km network of local rivers and carry out independent verification. This is in addition to our regulatory requirements.
We look forward the public inquiry, where all of these issues will be fully considered and addressed by the Planning Appeals Commission.
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