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Boom in southern Quebec mining claims, including under people's homes, causes anxiety

In the quiet Township of Low, Quebec, a surprising and unsettling trend is emerging - a boom in mining claims, including those beneath people's homes, causing anxiety among residents like Ellen Rice-Hogan. The influx of mining claims is driven by the growing demand for minerals essential in electric vehicle batteries, primarily graphite and lithium. While traditionally the mining industry in Quebec has been concentrated in the north, prospectors are expanding their search to the unfamiliar southern regions, prompting concerns from locals and municipalities.

Ellen Rice-Hogan, a farmer in Low, was taken aback when she discovered that someone had purchased a mining claim beneath her farm. In a recent interview, she expressed her shock and concern, emphasizing the potential negative impact on their small community. The rush for mining claims has prompted residents and municipalities to push for tighter regulations to safeguard their territories.

The numbers tell a compelling story - in 2023 alone, Quebec's Natural Resources Department approved 112,477 mining claims, a significant increase from 72,631 the previous year. In the Outaouais region, where Low is located, the number of active mining claims has more than doubled since 2019. The surge in claims is particularly evident in areas with no historical mining activity, causing anxiety among residents and local governments.

Manon Cyr, the mayor of Chibougamau and a member of the UMQ (Union des municipalités du Québec), revealed that there has been an "explosion in claim requests" in regions where mining was previously unheard of. The ease of claiming online, with a cost of approximately $77, grants exclusive mining rights for three years. However, concerns are raised about the lack of expertise required, allowing individuals with no serious mining intentions to acquire mineral rights.

The implications are reaching beyond the Outaouais region, with over 200 mining claims made in the past 60 days in the Outaouais and another 166 in the Laurentians region, home to the only active graphite mine in North America. Residents and municipalities are advocating for increased costs and a mandatory demonstration of expertise for claimants.

The UMQ is actively lobbying for changes, emphasizing the need to protect territories by designating them as incompatible with mining. However, the current trend of individuals buying mining rights to their land complicates the matter. Land without active claims is necessary for declaring areas off-limits to mining, creating a dilemma for those seeking to protect their territory.

The imbalance in the law, assuming mining is the optimal land use, is a point of contention. Communities are required to justify why they want specific territories declared incompatible with mining, creating a challenge in areas where mining claims are on the rise.

Alain Poirier from Quebec's mineral exploration association argues that much of the concern stems from a lack of knowledge about the sector. He emphasizes that landowners have the right to give or withhold consent for mining-related work on their property, even if they don't hold the mining rights. Poirier believes that the current system of uniform regulation across Quebec works well, expressing concerns that empowering municipalities could lead to diverse and potentially conflicting regulatory frameworks.

While the surge in mining claims in southern Quebec is causing anxiety, Poirier contends that the competition for land in these regions is not primarily driven by the mining sector. Instead, it includes agricultural land, real estate development, roads, and other factors unrelated to mining exploration. Communication and understanding, he suggests, could be improved to address the concerns of residents and ensure a balanced approach to mining in the region.