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NDP Government Gives Fracking Waste Handler Free Ride: Colchester County Left Holding Bag

Short deadline for appeals leaves groups scrambling

by Ken Summers

Report Release Monday 7:00 22 April Kennetcook Fire Hall [behind Home Hardware]
Report Release Monday 7:00 22 April Kennetcook Fire Hall [behind Home Hardware]
Atlantic Industrial Services is the Maritime's largest processor of industrial wastewater. They are looking to dump fracking wastewater down the Debert sewer system. [Photo: K. Summers]
Atlantic Industrial Services is the Maritime's largest processor of industrial wastewater. They are looking to dump fracking wastewater down the Debert sewer system. [Photo: K. Summers]

Noel, Nova Scotia - Fracking waste water has now been sitting in two Kennetcook storage ponds for 5 years. In 2011 one third of the frack wastes still there was transferred to a facility in Debert, where it has been in a pseudo-regulatory purgatory ever since. Also 5 years ago, another 4 plus million litres of untreated waste water was taken to some unknown location and just dumped. Our government says it does not know where, and did not need to know. 

Three years ago, 7.3 million litres of fracking wastes was dumped untreated into the Town of Windsor's Sewage Treatment Plant, with the blessing and facilitation of our provincial government.  The government’s approval of that was secured on the basis that the waste water would come from the Kennetcook waste ponds, and was based on an analysis of those wastes. That analysis was fundamentally inappropriate for the environmental risks involved. 

At least another 10 million litres of fracking wastes has been brought into Nova Scotia from New Brunswick by Atlantic Industrial Services (AIS). Apparently the company was not required to report that fact to anyone in the Nova Scotia government, and no one made it their business to know until the process was well underway.

Some of those fracking wastes did eventually make their way to the AIS Debert facility, after Nova Scotia Environment realized the New Brunswick wastes were being brought in, and retroactively deemed that AIS “had always been approved to process fracking wastes”…

The facility is NOT approved to process Waste Dangerous Goods (WDG); fracking wastes are treated as WDG across Canada, and the Department of Environment had classified the Kennetcook fracking wastes as waste dangerous goods. 

Out of Control: Province Abdicates as Regulator

The thread in all this willful abdication of regulatory responsibility is that the government of Nova Scotia decided early on that, “As the Department did not attribute a significant risk associated with these (Kennetcook) ponds and the water contained in them, the Department had no reason to verify where the water was ultimately disposed.”

Department of Environment spokesperson Lori  Errington followed up that the department was unable to release the data that this decision was based on, even through Freedom of Information [FOIPOP], because it was ‘proprietary information’. But the list of chemical compounds used in the fracking compound did make it into NOFRAC’s Freedom of Information trove, and the documented correspondence establishes that the Department simply accepted Triangle Petroleum’s assertion that the amounts used were “minimal.” [pages 183-5]

Very late in the process- more than 3 years after the fracking in Kennetcook, Nova Scotia - Environment took note of a crucial and commonly occurring issue with high volume hydraulic fracturing of shale beds: elevated levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials [NORM] brought to the surface with the “flowback wastewater.”

Given the arduous process that has unfolded since test results showed elevated NORMs, one might expect that Nova Scotia Environment would revisit their early acceptance of the presumption that the chemical compounds in the Kennetcook fracking wastes is not an issue requiring their attention.

But no attention has been forthcoming.

Instead, the NDP government has passed the buck on regulating the chemical compounds in the fracking wastes, which has landed by default in the lap of the Municipality of the County of Colchester- home to Atlantic Industrial Services' Debert waste treatment facility, which discharges into the municipality’s Debert sewage treatment plant.

Since another Media Coop article first brought the very unresolved radioactivity issue to light last year, the public focus of the fracking wastes has been on that vexing question. What to do with it is indeed a very complex and contentious question. The glare of public scrutiny and need to literally invent a regulatory process has been neatly downloaded onto a municipal government.

Colcehester County Municipality Forced to Fill Void Left by NDP Government

To its credit, Colchester County has addressed the issue of radioactivity in the waste water, and has taken a step back and away from the NDP government’s abdication of responsibility to at least look at the issue of what toxic chemicals in the fracking wastes need to be tested for.

Spurred by the issue of the fracking wastes, Colchester County has drafted and enacted a new Sewer Use By-Law. And they have determined the need that the wastewater be tested at many stages of processing for the what are known as the BTEX group of chemicals. 

 These are toxic volatile organic chemicals [VOC] commonly used in hydraulic fracturing. The suite of chemicals the County is requiring tests for can be seen here

Many Parties Appeal After County Approves AIS Discharging Fracking Wastes

Council and staff of Colchester County have spent many hours discussing the substantive issues surrounding the proposed discharging of fracking wastes, and in re-vamping their by-laws, policy and decision process. The Public Works Director’s Approval of discharge by AIS into the Debert Sewage Treatment Plant has always been seen as the first step of a process, and formal appeals of the decision were expected.

Despite most appellants having less than 2 weeks notice before the April 10 filing deadline, County Council received more than 30 appeals, many with substantial documentation prepared on the short notice. Appeals were filed by Millbrook First Nation, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs, the Sierra Club, the Council of Canadians and the Ecology Action Centre, among others. As Chief Julian opened in the Assembly’s appeal,“The primary concern for the Mi'kmaq is to avoid any irreparable harm to the environment and we wish to ensure that our lands and waters are protected.”

Adequacy of the Information Gathering and Decision Making Process

Without being provided documentation of the chemicals known to be present in the fracking fluids, the County made a prudent choice in requiring tests for the BTEX group. But both the Province and AIS do have documentation

It is a mystery why the provincial government has always accepted the dismissal of a need to test for chemicals documented to be present in Triangle Petroleum’s Kennetcook fracking wastes. Given the vested interest AIS has, it is easy to understand General Manager Andre Lachevrotiere  waving off any concerns in his submission to the County.

Colchester County’s conditions for the discharge of the fracking wastes were recently developed. Since they required testing only for the BTEX group of chemicals, apparently they accepted the earler assurances of AIS General Manager Lachevrotiere about other chemicals present that “these two chemicals at the time of their use comprised less than 0.1% of the total volume of the fracturing fluid”. [page 1]

Reasonably accurate estimates cannot be calculated from the documentation AIS and the provincial government have, so the basis for that claim is another mystery. Even if the volume of a chemical is known, that is only relevant in the context of information on its toxicity.

In fact, the two “chemicals” that Lachevrotiere is referring to are actually commercial products that are a combination of chemical compounds [pages 29-37] . Since there a number of other products documented as used in the Kennetcook frack fluids, it is unclear why he refers only to these two. But there is one very notable risk in just these two, that should have jumped out at somebody.

Biocides are used in most high volume shale bed hydraulic fracturing. The documents submitted by AIS include data for the product ‘B4,’ which contains significant amounts of Methylene Bis (Thocyanate) and 2-(Thiocyanomethylthio) Benzothiozole

Both of these biocides are rated with the highest toxicity category of the US EPA. The concentration of 0.1% which AIS minimized in its submission, would be hundreds of times greater than any of the exposure thresholds of concern for Toxicity Category 1.

Emblematic of the strains this issue has put on the municipal government’s process and capabilities, is that the crucial documentation of the AIS application and submissions for discharging the wastes, including those that entail the presence of chemical compounds, only became available on the deadline day for filing appeals. Appellants seem generally to see this as a consequence of the County having to scramble.

This obviously raises a number of specific questions about the adequacy of the appeal process, and of the information that is being put to the Sewer Use Committee. But perhaps it most of all illustrates that no municipal government should be responsible for such complex regulation that is the responsibility of the provincial government.

“The provincial government needs to take some leadership on this issue. Nova Scotians need to be protected against an industry who as we have seen through AIS will try to push against what the precautionary principle demands of us,” said Angela Giles, Atlantic regional organizer with the Council of Canadians.



                             FRACKING WASTEWATER TIMELINE


March-April 2008 Triangle fracks two wells in Kennectccok- 7 million litres of flowback wastes into two waste ponds.

June 2008 Kennetcook #2 mostly drained. 3.5 million litres required to be taken to an “approved facility” [none in the Martime region then]. Nova Scotia Environment [NSE] says it does not know where because chemical composition of wastes not a concern. No testing done.

June 2008 Additional frack treatment for Kennetcook #2. Large amount of “formation water” returns to surface and into the waste pond.

April 2009 Triangle fracks well at Noel Lake. No storage pond, and wastewater taken away as produced. Again, dumped at a location still unknown to NSE. No testing of wastes.

September 2009  AIS gets approval of provincial government for its 200 page environmental assessment submitted so that it can construct expansion allowing it to process Waste Dangerous Goods. Business opportunity of processing fracking wastes emphasized.

September 2009  Expansion of Debert facility is not undertaken, ever. AIS instead proposes dumping of untreated Kennectook fracking wastes into Town of Windsor Sewage Treatment Plant.  NSE approval process concerns itself solely with salinity.

March 2010 to August 2011  AIS discharges 7.3 million litres of frack wastes at Windsor. Mathematical impossibility that amount came from the Kennetcook waste ponds. During the same period, AIS brings more than that amount of frack wastes from New Brunswick.

During 2011  Environment allows AIS to begin bringing New Brunswick frack wastes to the Debert facility. When questioned about the change, NSE claims AIS "was always approved to process fracking wastes”.

October 2011  AIS contracts with Triangle Petroleum to bring the14.5 million litres of frack wastes in the Kennetcook ponds to the Debert facility for processing. NSE requires Triangle to test wastes for radioactity [NORM], but allows transport of wastes to begin.

December 2011  NORM test results show elevated levels. Transport suspended, with 4.5 million litres of the frack wastes now at the AIS Debert facility.

August 2012   AIS gets NSE Pilot Project approval to remove sufficient radioactive material to make possible treated frack waste discharge into Colchester County Debert Sewage Treatment Plant. Project completed in October.

March 2013   Colchester County Public Works Director approves discharge of the treated wastes into their sewage system. Appeals known in advance to be virtually guaranteed.

May 2013  Effective date of County's Approval for AIS to discharge fracking wastes.

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