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ENVIRONMENTAL WATCHDOG CALLS ON FEDS TO TAKE OVER ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT OF FRACK SAND MINE IN MANITOBA
By Suzanne Forcese
A frack sand mine is proposed by Canadian Premium Sand (CPS) along the east shore of Lake Winnipeg in Hollow Water First Nation Territory. CPS is proposing to develop annual high grade silica sand quarries which will be sequentially closed and rehabilitated each year, a sand wash and dry facility, two access roads and a powerline on provincial Crown Land west of Hollow Water First Nation within the core area of their Traditional Territory, referred to as Hollow Water First Nation's Home Block. The Project will have a lifespan of 54 years with an estimated production of approximately 1 million tonnes/year of silica sand product. Frack sand, or silica sand, is sought after by the fossil fuel industry for hydraulic fracking for oil and gas.
WaterToday spoke with Eric Reder who is Director of the Manitoba field office and Wilderness and Water Campaigner of Wilderness Committee Manitoba.
Reder says that the Manitoba Government permitted clearcutting of the project's plant site and roadways despite the lack of required project information or an Environment Act Licence which is "destructive to the lands, waters and the community of Hollow Water First Nation and in no way allows for informed discourse or consent for this project."
Reder, who grew up in Hollow Water in the 1970’s and 80’s says this is tearing up the community. In 2012 the company San Gold, proposed a sand gold tailings pond expansion. That year Reder attended a community meeting. "After the meeting I drove up to the proposed site with a councillor and a trapper and discovered that 100 hectares were already clear cut. Before government approval."
In 2013, a spokesperson returned for the mining company Hudbay. According to Reder, Hudbay did not provide the opportunity for public comment on the project from those in opposition. Reder adds "the company had already built their mine and had already extracted 50,000 tonnes of ore before even applying for a licence with Manitoba Conservation."
Reder and his group wrote a report, sent it to Manitoba Law Reform. The Manitoba Law Reform Commission was tasked with revising the Environmental Act and produced recommendations in 2015. It has since been shelved with no explanation.
"This provincial government is removing protections that were in place on an Environmental Act in 1988," Reder added in his movement to take environmental issues to the federal level.
WaterToday contacted MLA, Judy Klassen, who is now seeking federal Liberal nomination. Klassen responded promptly to WT in an email stating that she would be unable to respond on the proposed CPS project until she would have access to the EAP. She did however state, "In my experience projects of this nature only harm the environment."
It is exactly this harm to the environment that Reder and Wilderness Committee Manitoba are fighting to stop. Three reports to Environment Manitoba have been submitted "each having been returned as missing information. Meanwhile Section 35 has been wrapped up, public comment is closed, and the company files are still deficient," Reder reported. "Development work is ongoing at the mine site even though more information is required in an EAP."
After several telephone calls and emails, WaterToday was unable to elicit a response from Mr. Archibald, CEO of CPS.
WaterToday contacted the engineering consultant in Winnipeg who is the author of the EAP. In a phone call to Marlene Gifford, spokesperson for ACEOM, WT was told "I have to redirect your questions to Canadian Premium Sands. All questions about the Wanipigow project are on the company website." WT checked out the website finding the statement "The Environment Act Licence application for Project approval was submitted to Manitoba Sustainable Development on 2018 which triggered the start of the formal government consultation process for the Project."
WaterToday spoke with Bronwyn Weaver, Communications and Community Liaisons officer for CPS. Weaver told WT that "this is standard process. We are on our third reiteration and there is likely to be one more as it gets fine-tuned."
According to Weaver this is the first sand mine undertaken by CPS and although she knew about other previous projects in the area, it was her understanding that "no one in CPS knew anything about them. CPS however has on their team the best industry experts," she claimed. The previous project in the area that she was referring to is the one on Black Island. WT discovered, "The mining project here was 51% owned by Claim Post Resources". (Marketwire, Jan 25, 2013)
Claim Post Resources was the previous name of Canadian Premium Sand.
Reder informed WT that, "The Government mandated a meeting with Hollow Water First Nation in April. However, there was no one there representing the Crown. Facilitators were there - ACEOM - who were hired by Archibald and his company CPS. Everyone there was still trying to sell us the same crummy used car."
Weaver stated that all the meetings with the surrounding communities "were unanimously in favor of the project. We did have a meeting with the dissenters, and it was basically a free for all. We let them have their say. And we respect their opinion."
Some of the aspects of the proposal in question involved air quality (silica dust is a known carcinogen), noise, wildlife habitat, fishing and trapping concerns, man camps, trucks running 24/7/365 on a 2 lane highway from Hollow Water to Winnipeg and back...and of course...water.
When WT asked Weaver about these concerns she was very clear that all would be dealt with "in the best practices of industry standards. We are very open to all possibilities for a good relationship in the community."
Reder and What the Frack Manitoba Inc., Director, Don Sullivan, both confirmed that answers to all their questions were inadequate.
"Our community members have not been given all the information from the company, CPS. Our community members have not been informed of the impacts of this development, so our consultation can't even begin yet," said Lisa Raven, organizer of Camp Morningstar. Camp Morningstar was established as a sacred camp on Hollow Water traditional territory to protect the land from the proposed frack sand mine. Camp Morningstar organizers are asking that consultations and development not start until after the government's technical experts have agreed the company has filed all the necessary information about the project.
Weaver indicated that this is a process. Step one is to procure a licence from the government of Manitoba. Once that is in place "we will be more forthcoming with our answers as we work together with the experts on our field and the government."
The one question that was not answered to anyone's satisfaction had to do with the aquifer that would be "killed forever by acid leaching". According to Sullivan and data based on heavy metal content in sand wash ponds adjacent to frack sand mines obtained in the U.S. the same issue arises in frack sand mining. "The more acidic water allows heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, lead, manganese and copper to leach into water supplies at toxic levels. This issue also extends to reclamation processes."
Biophysicist Dennis LeNeveu, member of What The Frack Manitoba, Inc., also brought up the acid leaching serious concerns.
It was not mentioned in the EAP. Then in the first round of response to review CPS wrote:
In the areas where the shale layer is encountered during extraction, the shale will be isolated and extracted separately, placed in a prepared clay lined pit at the floor of the current active extraction area and capped with limestone prior to further containment in the restoration process. This is the environmentally accepted process to both permanently neutralize potential acid forming iron elements in the minerals as well as isolate the material from the environment.
At a meeting on April 17, LeNeveu asked how the shale would be protected from acid generation while stockpiled outdoors awaiting burial in the pit in the active excavation area. The ACEOM spokesperson replied that it would be put in a storage shed. LeNeveu did not see that as possible. "The shale layer can be 5 meters thick covering the entire active cell area of 5 hectares,"
Weaver told WT "there will be no stockpiles." The buildings themselves "have a lot of equipment so there is not that much room for sand."
In the final reiteration of comments, Le Neveu says the Proponent stated:
For quarry cells that have a potentially acid-generating black shale layer, a clay-lined pit will be prepared in advance of sand extraction activities adjacent to the location where the black shale layer will be immediately deposited in the clay-lined pit. If water seepage occurs within the clay-lined pit where black shale is deposited, accumulated water will be pumped from the pit for use in the sand wash facility.
LeNeveu adds. "Where this pit will be is a mystery because in already excavated areas rolling restoration has already been done according to their proposal."
LeNeveu also pointed out that the acid from the pyrite could deteriorate the clay causing acid seepage. Using seepage (containing acid) will be used in the water facility. Again, LeNeveu states that acid will corrode all the tanks. "And what happens to acid seepage after they restore and move to the next cell and pump elsewhere – or shut down eventually? Won't it seep into the environment?"
WT wondered where CPS was drawing their water supply for the extensive project that is expected to last 54 years. "From the wells on our quarry land for the initial draw," Weaver said. "It will then be recycled."
In the Groundwater Management Section of the Project found in the Public Registry the following was found:
The proposed water source for the project is a combination of groundwater, water from seepage within the annual open quarry pit, and supplemental water that will be trucked to the Project site from a licenced source. To confirm sufficient and sustainable groundwater volumes for the mining operation the proponent is expected to undertake a hydrogeological testing. It is recommended that the hydrogeological study should be designed to collect the necessary information to determine whether there is potential for impacts on groundwater users or the ecosystem. If monitoring wells are installed during hydrogeological testing the proponent must adhere to applicable provisions of the Groundwater and Water Well Act and Well Standard Regulation.
WaterToday questioned Weaver about the acid leaching. "It is a topic that will be addressed once we have our licence. There is a very small portion that has the black shale and the process we will use is part of what is being drafted. When we come across it, we will use best industry practices."
In the same section of the groundwater management in the Public Registry WT found this recommendation:
Manitoba Energy and Mines, Minerals Division collected samples at the former quarry on Black Island to assess the metal contents of the shales. The geochemical analysis of these samples showed that the shales are strongly enriched in heavy metals. Therefore, it is a concern that during the mining operation, tailings composed 1 of the shale layer has the potential to leach metals into the environment.
The recommendation: Evaluate the potential risk of metals leaching to an aquifer or nearby surface waters.
Weaver reiterated that the first step is in acquiring the licence and this is a lengthy process that is "common practice".
According to Reder, land has already been clear cut. Hollow Water First Nation has a timber licence. Following that thread, that would mean that HWFN has done the clear cut. Although Chief Larry Barker was not available for comment, he issued a statement in a press release on December 11, 2018 that states: "I really don't care what environmentalists have to say about it."
Why is the sand so valuable? "These sand grains are almost pure silica. As the sand has been exposed in geological processes they are like little round marbles." Weaver maintains that because this sand is perfect there will be no silica dust. "Silicosis is something that occurs when the sand is fine but this is like crystal."
And why is CPS so intent on mining here? "The sand will be used in glass making and ceramics mainly." What about fracking? Weaver replied that yes indeed "the oil and gas industry uses sand." Is the purpose of sand mining in this Project to supply the oil and gas industry with frack sand? "We will be open to all markets," Weaver concluded.
WT spoke with Alan Septoff, Strategic Communications Director with Earthworks: Protecting Communities and Environment. The not for profit organization in the U.S. has worked with groups in Wisconsin where fracking has taken place. "Sand mining companies overpromise," Septoff said. "Now the industry is facing trouble since the fracking companies have realized they do not need high quality sand as a proppant. They can use the cheapest inferior grade and still achieve the same result. The bottom has fallen out of sand mining."
Weaver is excited about the industry and development that CPS will bring to the area. "For instance, a company from China is looking for sand and a cheap source of energy. We are hoping to attract other industries."
"People here are excited about the job opportunities. We feel great about our relationship with the community. After all we are going to be here a very long time."
Being in Hollow Water and the surrounding communities for a very long time is precisely what The Wilderness Committee, What the Frack Manitoba and Camp Morningstar fear.
The Wilderness Committee is asking that a public comment period be held after the technical experts publicize their review of the company's plan.
"Rare ecosystems and threatened species have been harmed, old forests have been clear cut," Reder said.
The Wilderness Committee is asking the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna to step in and take federal control of the assessment. "We cannot lose more nature and wilderness for fossil fuel expansion. It's the stark truth. Our planet will not endure."
Wilderness Committee has field offices in Manitoba, Ontario, and British Columbia. Their grassroots campaigns are dedicated to preserving wilderness, defending parks, safeguarding public resources and fighting for a healthy climate.
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