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Frack Waste-Water Trade?

Imaginary stop-orders, questionable origins, missing documents: all part of fracking in Nova Scotia

by Miles Howe

Kennetcook Pond #2: rusting and leaking [photo: Steve Wendland]
Kennetcook Pond #2: rusting and leaking [photo: Steve Wendland]

K'jipuktuk (Halifax) – The great hydraulic fracturing fiasco in Nova Scotia's 'Windsor Block' has taken on the proportions, and tragic comedy storyline, of a Scooby Doo mystery.

Where there should be transparency, there are only clues. Where there should be due diligence, there are backtracks and subplots. And whether the end result of this mess will be a shady figure being led away in cuffs muttering “And I'd have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you pesky kids!” still remains to be seen.

Up until the end of September, the general public was being fed the message that there was a grand total of 15.5 million litres of fracked waste-water in need of attention coming from Triangle Petroleum Corp's two unsuccessful hydraulic fracturing attempts in 2007-2008.

Four and a half million litres of that water was supposedly sitting in a lagoon at the Atlantic Industrial Services water treatment facility in Debert, NS, while 11 million litres was still in need of attention in holding ponds in the Kennetcook area: ponds adjacent to the original wells that were 'fracked' in 2008.

The most recent set of alarm bells began to sound in mid-September when Colchester County CAO Dan MacDougall attempted to rush council's approval that would have seen AIS's 4.5 million litres of water, which in November of 2011 was found to contain an elevated level of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORMs), treated and disposed of down the Debert municipal sewer system. AIS had recently claimed that it had conducted laboratory tests and could remove the NORMs from the waste-water through a carbon filtration process.

Many councillors at the time expressed shock at this late — and unannounced — addition to their agenda itinerary, and more than one observer suggested that MacDougall was trying to run a fast one by Colchester County, as well as the protest movement that has been keeping a close eye on the progression of this waste-waster.

Nova Scotia NDP insiders suggest that MacDougall is destined for bigger things than CAO of Colchester County; that playing bag-man to the Kennetcook waste-water is him making his bones, and to watch for his name in a deputy ministerial position in the not-too-distant future.

By the end of September, Colchester County councillors had allowed AIS's application to be considered by municipal staff, and the end outcome of AIS's 4.5 million litres remains to be seen. There has of late been a municipal election in Colchester County, and literally weeks of potential behind-the-scenes pressure application since council's original outrage. We may yet see the Debert municipal sewer system, and the Minas Basin, as the final resting place of the waste-water.

As if this weren't enough, two weeks ago two lines in an email gleaned from an Access to Information package revealed that something sneaky had been going on between AIS and the town of Windsor the whole time. Waste-water from the Kennetcook ponds, the same water found to have elevated levels of NORMs, had been dumped down the drain of the Windsor sewage treatment plant between March 2010 and August 2011.

Not only this but Nova Scotia Environment, which had remained tight-lipped up to this point on this side deal with the Town of Windsor, had known of it the whole time. Indeed, they had issued the approval for AIS and the town of Windsor to do so; a 11-page approval that had somehow not seen it's way into the Access to Information request.

The omission of the 11-page approval isn't lost on Ken Summers, who filed the original Access to Information request and has subsequently filed an official complaint with Nova Scotia Environment's freedom of information officer.

“This is the most central document to the disposal of fracking waste, and I didn't get it,” said Summers. “I've gotten trivial little things that bite around the edges, but I didn't get this.”

It took reporting by this organization among others, and a day and a half for Nova Scotia Environment to respond, to bring to light that a full 7.3 million more litres of radioactive water had been dumped down the drain in Windsor between March of 2010 and August 2011. What was 15.5 million litres of water, was overnight acknowledged to have become 22.8 million.

In an interview with the CBC, Environment Minister Sterling Beliveau noted that once his department became aware of the radioactivity of the water heading to Windsor, a stop-order was issued to Windsor Public Works.

Not so, says Don Beatty Director of Public Works in Windsor.

“That is a little bit confusing, because it wasn't really a stop-order,” Beatty told the Halifax Media Co-op. “All we really did was receive a phone call in the fall of 2011 ... that's all we've ever received. We haven't received an official stop-order, just a phone call from a local department of Environment inspector indicating that they had found some background NORMs, and 'don't take anymore stuff.'

“The shipments had kind of petered off by that point anyway,” Beatty added.

The timing of the minister Beliveau's imaginary stop-order (or at least of the inspector's phone call) is also problematic. According to NOFRAC's Access to Information package, Nova Scotia Environment only became aware of test results showing elevated levels of NORMs in November of 2011. If an inspector called Windsor in August 2011, suggesting that they not 'take anymore stuff', this was months before there was departmental knowledge of NORMs in the water.

A different, conspiratorially-minded, explanation includes the fact that the original NOFRAC Access to Information request was filed in May of 2011. It was also around May 2011 that the Kennetcook waste-water became a 'hot topic' in Nova Scotia.

Although the waste-water had sat languishing in the Kennetcook ponds for over three years, it is only after June 2011 that Nova Scotia Environment begins to play the role of 'bad cop', and issued deadline after deadline to Triangle to re-mediate the drill sites and the ponds. These documents, unlike the 2010 approval, are front and centre in the NOFRAC Access to Information package.

Could it be that AIS's shipping of frack waste-water around the province to unequipped municipal sewer treatment plants, all under the watchful eye of Nova Scotia Environment, was simply becoming too hot a venture to go undetected?

It is also important to remember that Peter Hill, CEO of Triangle Petroleum Corp, has noted that the two ponds in Kennetcook only ever received 12 million litres of waste water from his fracked wells. The potential of precipitation adding another 10.8 million litres to the Kennetcook ponds, which would give us our current total of 22.8 million litres, since 2008, inhabits the realm of slim statistical possibilities.

To take it one step further, while keeping in mind that the NS Environment approval to the Town of Windsor says nothing about ensuring the origins of the waste water, there is no provincial moratorium on the transportation of fracked waste-water originating from the gas fields of New Brunswick. The public is thus being asked to take Nova Scotia Environment's word that the water came from Kennetcook, and not from New Brunswick. This from the same department that only weeks ago wouldn't admit to anything at all related to the mystery 7.3 million litres.

Also remember that while Energy Minister Charlie Parker has issued a temporary moratorium on the process of hydraulic fracturing, it was Parker, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, and others who voted against a motion to create a moratorium on transporting hydraulic fracturing waste-water at a recent NDP party convention.

Atlantic Industrial Services itself acknowledges that it currently has 11 million litres of New Brunswick-origin frack waste-waters at its Debert lagoons, that originally arrived in shipments in 2010 and 2011. Should we at least entertain the notion that Nova Scotia Environment has been issuing approvals to Atlantic Industrial Services to take frack waste-water from New Brunswick and use municipal sewer treatment plants around the province for it's disposal purposes, and that Windsor is only the tip of the iceberg? Ken Summers notes that AIS's trucking manifests, which might realistically require a subpoena to acquire, would end all of this sadly necessary conjecture in its tracks.


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Topics: Environment
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