What is more important, food or fuel? That was the thrust of a debate around a new oilfield waste landfill proposal that came forward to the board of the Peace River Regional District on Thursday.
Calgary-based Tervita, formerly CCS Midstream Services, is proposing that waste be landfilled in a new facility it is seeking to build off the Braden Road in the area of Sunset Prairie, northwest of Dawson Creek.
However, the problem for his company is that local ranchers who use the community pasture have concerns about the impacts to livestock and, potentially, to food safety.
“These animals are food – can we risk introducing a contaminant to our food supply?” asked Glyn Evans, a director with the community pasture, who has a background in soil sciences and animal health.
Evans said the 34 members of the grazing association rely on the summer pasture as a place for calves to gain weight and for cattle to breed, but that the grazing association ultimately has no say on whether the proposed landfill is approved on those lands – that decision will be made by the regional and provincial governments.
“In the pasture itself, we have 1,900 cows, their calves, 80 to 100 bulls and 1,000 yearlings to be bred for future cows or to put on weight to go to processing – that’s roughly 5,000 head [of cattle].
“Immediately to the north is Nilsson Brothers Livestock – they run 5,000 to 6,000 yearlings immediately adjacent to us. Basically, what I’m saying is there are 11,000 head of cattle within a six mile radius of this proposed site during the summer months,” he said, adding that concentration of cattle is rare outside of southern Alberta.
He estimates that is close to three million pounds of beef that come from the two operations annually. Evans said one of his concerns was the direct impact to cattle from the proposed landfill, especially on breeding stock.
“The breeding season and the first trimester for a cow is a sensitive time,” he said. “Any disruption from loud noises or equipment that disturbs them can stop the breeding season. Very small amounts of chemicals ingested can cause abortions.”
He said they already have problems with road dust created by the industry operations that have already been approved in the area.
“We have large tracts of land where we have problems getting animals to consume the grass because it’s covered in dust. I’m a little pessimistic of any agreement to control dust because every one we’ve had so far has failed.”
He added large equipment noise and night lights can also impact the rate of conception, reduce weight gain and increase the chances of illness.
“This isn’t the occasional truck, this is the continual procession of vehicles along a corridor that is surrounded by breeding animals and small calves.”
Evans said a larger concern than the health of the animals is the risk to the health of people.
He said he has no doubt Tervita would take every precaution necessary to prevent contamination, but he said even the best engineering plans of the day have failed in the past. He cited the recent oil spill near Red Deer, Alta., as an example.
“As we’ve proven repeatedly in history, we can’t engineer-out all factors – weather, human error in building the facility, and earthquakes. Earthquakes seem small, but in my lifetime we’ve had two – one just across the border in Bonanza, and one in Fort St. John – not like the ones they had in Japan and not like the ones forecasted off of Vancouver, but we have no idea what the future holds, and I don’t think a 60-millimetre liner will hold up to that.”
Evans said even one contaminated animal found in the food supply can have a devastating impact on the marketing and sale of beef nationwide, as evidenced by the BSE crisis that began in 2003.
“One cow found 100 miles down the road in northern Alberta that ended up in a packing plant closed our borders to the world,” he said. “We still, in 2012, have restrictions with our trading nations that have not been lifted. According to chief economist of the Bank of Montreal, between May 2003 and November 2004, we lost $5 billion that we would have otherwise had. Those losses have continued to this day – this year, we finally broke prices for our cattle that we had before 2003.”
He said public perception about the safety of Canadian beef is just as important to the industry as the actual health of its animals. He said the industry has political foes such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that would use even the potential risk of contamination as an advertising tool to damage the industry’s brand.
“We don’t need a spill to affect our brand. We don’t need to have an incident to hurt our brand worldwide,” he said.
Lastly, Evans said the grazing land in the area is already punctured by wellsites, processing facilities, pipelines and roads, and while he is not against the industry, he believes the priority within the ALR should be the preservation of agriculture.
Jim Shaw, manager of community and Aboriginal relations for the company, said the proposed facility would accept mostly drill cuttings from deep underground that are contaminated by hydrocarbons, and potentially heavy metals and naturally-occurring radioactive materials (NORMs).
“The material destined for this facility is primarily impacted by hydrocarbons and other contaminates,” said Shaw. “The material is dense to the nature of the contamination, and is not prone to airborne migration.”
He said the location for the facility was determined by geological and hydrological suitability, the existence of suitable road access, and the proximity to waste generators. He said the total footprint of the site would be 114 acres located in a treed area of Crown land that is within the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Tervita already operates two “secure,” or Class Two, landfills in the North Peace, but this landfill is to serve the oil and gas producers operating in the South Peace between the Peace River and Hart Highway.
Shaw said that waste is currently trucked to facilities near Grande Prairie or elsewhere, which creates increased traffic on the highways and increased potential for an environmental disaster.
“The ability of exploration and production companies to move their waste to a localized facility means an increase to public safety,” he said.
“Diverting some of the major truck traffic from major B.C. arteries that are already feeling the effects of increased economic growth is a positive impact for this area, one that further reduces our carbon footprint, and the potential for this material to come into contact with the environment.”
Shaw said the contaminated material received at the site would be placed in one of eight “cells” that would lined with a 60-millimetre-thick, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) liner, with a 600-millimetre-thick compacted clay liner underneath that. Beneath those layers would be a collection system for leachate – an industry term for contaminated water that results when precipitation infiltrates the landfill.
“We have system in place underneath to gather that fluid, bring it to a central collection area, from where we then transport it to a disposal well,” he said, adding that disposal well is at his company’s newly-opened South Taylor treatment, recovery and disposal facility, just several kilometres northeast of the proposed landfill.
He said his company would ensure the leachate isn’t contaminating groundwater through the use of monitoring wells, with sampling done bi-annually by an independent, third-party laboratory.
“Groundwater monitoring wells are in place already and we are currently developing a baseline of what is already in that particular area for groundwater,” said Shaw.
“We have placed these ‘sentinel wells’ upstream and downstream of our facility so that we know what if flowing towards us and what is flowing away from us, so that if there is any change in that, it is a trigger for us to understand that perhaps something is not doing what it is supposed to be doing at our facility and we can take measures to correct that.’
He added there are no permanent surface water bodies located within 300 metres of the proposed site, and the site is not within a designated flood plain. He said an engineered stormwater management system, including perimeter berms and drainage ditches graded away from the waste material, will divert precipitation that does not fall directly on the contaminated materials away from the site.
“Tervita will commit to establishing an air emissions monitoring protocol and testing program at this facility,” he added. “We don’t currently have that type of monitoring program at any of our other facilities, but we do understand the concerns of our neighbours with respect to any potential particulate moving off of that site.”
He said his company will also institute plans for minimizing road dust, off-site odours and noise; a plan to keep waterfowl from the leachate collection pond; and a plan for the storage and reclamation of soil before construction of the landfill begins. He added the site will be fenced and secured, with only one access point into the landfill.
Shaw said the anticipated lifecycle for the facility is between 20 to 25 years, though he said the company would be required to continue to monitor and manage the site for a minimum of 25 years.
In regards to public consultation, Shaw admitted that has been incomplete to this point.
“I must confess to the board that we, Tervita, have not done everything perfectly when it comes to getting in front of the community and stakeholders that are potentially impacted by this application and are undertaking,” he said.
“Community engagement for this proposal, while not where it needs to be, has had some limited engagement beginning in November of last year.”
He said that is a result of the restructuring of his company, the timeline for approving the suitability of the site, which was completed in April, and competing government processes. He said, though, that there are no homes located within a four kilometre radius of the site.
Shaw said his company was actually requesting that the regional district authorize a public meeting regarding the proposal so that they could meet with affected stakeholders, including from the adjacent Sunset Prairie Community Pasture, to work out any outstanding concerns before proceeding with their application to the Agricultural Land Commission for exclusion from the ALR.
The board decided to hold a public hearing on the proposal, and a date has not yet been determined.