Federal Government Passes Controversial Environmental Legislation and Tanker Ban

Written by Blakes Environmental Law Group

The Government of Canada has enacted two new pieces of environmental legislation, significantly altering the process for federal project approvals in Canada. It has also passed extensive amendments to the rules regarding navigable waters and fish habitat protections that had been previously changed through omnibus legislation in 2012.

On June 20, 2019, the Senate passed three bills:

  1. Bill C-69, the controversial Act entitled An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
  2. Bill C-48, Oil Tanker Moratorium Act
  3. Bill C-68, Act to Amend the Fisheries Act

All three bills received royal assent on June 21, 2019. Bill C-69 and significant portions of Bill C-68 will come into force later, through orders-in-council. Once in force, the bills will result in significant changes to how the government manages and approves projects in Canada. For more information on Bills C-69 and C-68, please see our February 2018 Blakes Bulletin: Federal Government Overhauls Canadian Environmental Legislation.

BILL C-69

Originally introduced in the House of Commons in February 2018, Bill C-69 toured the country and was amended three times before ultimately receiving royal assent over a year after its introduction. The final Senate vote was 57 to 37 with one abstention. Highlights of Bill C-69 include the repeal of the National Energy Board Act (NEB Act) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA), signalling the end of the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. To replace them, the new Canadian Energy Regulator Act (CERA) and Impact Assessment Act (IAA) respectively, will create two new regulators: the Canadian Energy Regulator (CER) and the Impact Assessment Agency (Agency).

The CER, like the NEB, will continue to govern the lifecycle of federal energy projects, including interprovincial and international pipelines and transmission lines, offshore energy projects, and international energy trade. However, the new Agency will take over all impact assessments and evaluate projects based on several mandatory factors, including project need, economic and social effects, and Indigenous knowledge related to the project. The Agency or appointed review panel must report to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (Minister) or the governor-in-council on the positive and negative impacts of the project. This is in contrast to the existing procedure, where the NEB presides over project reviews and makes recommendations to the government. Cabinet or the Minister, however, will remain responsible for final determinations on the public interest.

The new IAA process will include an early planning stage and proponent impact statement prior to the commencement of an impact assessment. An impact assessment may be led by the Agency or a review panel, which may include panel members from lifecycle regulators such as the CER. Like the CEAA, the IAA will apply to designated projects; however, the regulations indicating which projects will be designated have not yet been finalized.

Bill C-69 was not passed with flying colours. The first round of amendments to the bill were made on the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI). The ENVI Committee Report was prepared with input from Indigenous Peoples, companies and individuals. The initial round of amendments included changes such as clearer timelines, clarification around factors to be considered in project review (only feasible alternatives to be considered, both positive and negative impacts), clarification of transitional provisions and allowance for integrated review panels to ensure projects are subjected to only one review.

The first round of amendments was approved and Bill C-69 was sent to the Senate, where it was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (Senate Committee). After touring the country to hear from interested parties nationwide, in May 2019, the Senate Committee recommended, and the Senate subsequently adopted, nearly 200 amendments to the bill.

After the extensive amendments were approved by the Senate, Bill C-69 went back to Parliament. On June 13, 2019, the federal government accepted 99 of the amendments passed by the Senate and rejected the remainder. Of those 99, the majority were accepted as drafted, but a substantial portion were further amended. The resulting version of the bill (which has not yet been consolidated and released) was passed by the Senate on June 20, 2019.

Amendments

The accepted amendments are primarily amendments to the IAA. Among those amendments approved by the government and ultimately passed by the Senate are several changes to the IAA which re-allocate powers from the Minister to the Agency. For example, the ability to suspend time limits, or to determine relevant factors to consider in an assessment. Also, the Minister is not allowed to direct the Agency, its employees, or any review panel members with respect to a report, decision, order, or recommendation to be made under the IAA.

Several amendments recommended by the Senate Committee would have modified the mandatory considerations for project approvals set out in section 22 of the IAA, but all were ultimately rejected. Also included in the rejected Senate amendments were those which would have decreased the IAA’s obligations to consider the impacts of proposed projects on climate change. The resulting version of the IAA does not require the Agency to consider a project’s impact on climate change on a global level, to account for provincial enactments respecting climate change, or to explicitly exclude greenhouse gas emissions generated from another downstream physical activity or project from the definition of direct or incidental effects. The requirement to consider a project’s impact on Canada’s ability to meet its international climate change obligations remains.

Amendments that were accepted clarify that the Agency is responsible for determining the scope of the factors that must be considered when conducting an impact assessment. A clarifying amendment that appointed review panel members will be “unbiased and free from any conflict of interest” was also included, as well as those clarifying timelines for review panels. Obligations to consult with the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and lead Commissioner of the Canadian Energy Regulator (depending on the designated project) when establishing a review panel’s terms of reference are also included.

Global amendments include changing the adjective “adverse” to “significant” when referring to project effects, and clarifying that Indigenous knowledge includes the knowledge of Indigenous women.

Transitional Provisions and Coming into Force

Some of the accepted amendments clarify the transitional provisions and coming into force of the acts in Bill C-69. For example, the new section 182.1 clarifies that an environmental assessment commenced under the CEAA for which a decision statement has not yet been issued upon the coming into force of Bill C-69 is continued as if the CEAA had not been repealed. The new section 187.1 also confirms that a regional study commenced under the CEAA but not completed until after Bill C-69 comes into force is continued as an assessment under the IAA. Also, a regional report under the CEAA is deemed to be report under the IAA.

Completed studies, assessments and approvals under the NEB Act or the CEAA will be continued under the new legislation. If a designated project under the CEAA was determined not to require an environmental assessment, the IAA will not apply. Incomplete assessments or applications will be completed under the legislation they were commenced under, although by a new regulatory body (the Agency or the CER). NEB members may be requested to continue to hear applications that were active before them upon the coming into force of the acts.

Bill C-69 received royal assent on June 21, 2019. It will come into force on a day specified by the governor-in-council.

BILL C-48

The Oil Tanker Moratorium Act was also passed on June 20, 2019 in a Senate vote of 49 to 46, with one abstention. Like Bill C-69, Bill C-48 went on tour and faced two rounds of amendments before making it through the Senate. The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications ultimately rejected the Bill. Interestingly, one of the reasons the Senate Committee recommended that Bill C-48 not proceed was that it felt, should Bill C-69 be passed into law, Bill C-48 would be unnecessary. Despite this recommendation, the Senate rejected the Senate Committee’s recommendation and passed Bill C-48 with minor amendments. The House of Commons accepted the amendments in part, resulting in a requirement to review the act in five years.

The Oil Tanker Moratorium Act will prevent all oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of crude oil or persistent oil as cargo from stopping or unloading at ports or marine installations north of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border. It is particularly criticized as being prejudicial to Western Canadian interests.

BILL C-68

Originally introduced in the House of Commons in February 2018, Bill C-68 was amended at the third reading stage in the House of Commons, and then further amended by the Senate after consideration by the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. It was passed by the Senate after the House of Commons agreed to accept 30 of the amendments proposed by the Senate and the Senate agreed to the House’s rejection of the rest of the Senate’s amendments.

Significant parts of Bill C-68 relate to the fishery itself but there are some key changes to the fish and fish habitat protection and pollution prevention provision of the Fisheries Act which are of relevance to project development and ongoing operations affecting fish and fish habitat. Of most importance is the repeal of the prohibitions against causing serious harm to fish and the return of the separate prohibitions on death to fish, and causing harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, or HADD as it is usually called. A last-minute amendment at the third reading stage had been added to create a provision which deemed the: “quantity, timing and quality of water flow necessary to sustain freshwater or estuarine ecosystems of a fish habitat” to be fish habitat. However, with significant opposition to the deeming provision from stakeholders across the country, the Senate voted to remove it, and the House of Commons agreed.

The amendments to the act expand the authority of the Ministry to establish standards and codes of practice, and also broaden the exceptions to the prohibitions not to cause HADD or the death of fish to allow for the Minister to prescribe classes of works or undertakings that can be carried out. The amendments also allow for fish habitat banks and habitat credits granted in relation to conservation projects carried out by a project proponent for the purpose of creating, restoring or enhancing fish habitats within a prescribed area.

Most of Bill C-68 will not be in force until the government issues new and revised regulations necessary to implement the amended provisions.

CONCLUSION

The adoption of Bills C-69, C-48 and C-68 completes a legislative overhaul of environmental assessment laws in Canada. This multi-year process commenced in early 2016 and included recommendations from expert panels, significant nation-wide debate and travelling Senate Committees. While the changes to the Fisheries Act would appear to set back the clock somewhat, expanded regulatory powers may offset the retroactive aspects of the amendments for new projects impacting Canadian waters.

Bills C-69 and C-48 in particular have been highly controversial, with some provinces arguing that they constitute an invasion on provincial jurisdiction to develop natural resources. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced his intention to challenge both of the new acts in court. Critics are concerned that project approvals, in particular for pipelines, will not be forthcoming, and that the tanker ban is a targeted attempt to interfere with bitumen production in Alberta.

Although we now have certainty regarding the specifics of the legislation that new projects will be subject to, questions remain regarding whether the implementation of the legislation will achieve one of its main objectives, which is to enhance “Canada’s global competitiveness by building a system that enables decisions to be made in a predictable and timely manner, providing certainty to investors and stakeholders, driving innovation and enabling the carrying out of sound projects that create jobs for Canadians.”


Republished with permission from Blakes. This article was originally published Blakes Business Class website.

For further information, please contact any member of Blakes’ Environmental Law group.

U.S. Ecology Inc. and NRC Group agree to Merge

US Ecology, Inc. (Nasdaq-GS: ECOL) recently announced that it has entered into a definitive merger agreement with NRC Group Holdings Corp. (NYSE American: NRCG), a company that provides comprehensive environmental, compliance and waste management services to the marine and rail transportation, general industrial and energy industries, in an all-stock transaction with an enterprise value of $966 million.

The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019. The transaction will create a company specializing in industrial and hazardous waste management services.

U.S. Ecology Inc. owns the Stablex hazardous treatment facility and landfill in Blainville, Quebec.

Stablex diposal cells

“The addition of NRCG’s substantial service network strengthens and expands US Ecology’s suite of environmental services,” said Jeffrey R. Feeler, President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of US Ecology. “This transaction will establish US Ecology as a leader in standby and emergency response services and adds a new waste vertical in oil and gas exploration and production landfill disposal to further drive waste volumes throughout the Gulf region.”

Headquartered in Great River, New York, NRC operates from over 65 offices and facilities throughout the Pacific (including Alaska and Hawaii), Southwest, Southeast, Atlantic, and Northeast regions.

As a nationally-recognized Oil Spill Removal Organization, NRCG generates a recurring, compliance-driven revenue stream, with upside from spill events and international expansion, particularly in Mexico and Canada.

NRCG is one of two leading national Oil Spill Removal Organizations (“OSRO”) that provide mandated standby emergency response for the transportation of oil products.  With more than 50 service centers, NRCG has a national service network providing emergency and spill response, light industrial services, hazardous and industrial waste management and transportation services.  From a growing base of disposal assets in the two key oil basins in the Gulf region, the Permian and the Eagle Ford, NRCG provides landfill disposal of waste from oil and gas drilling, treatment and handling of residual waste streams and rental and transportation services to support its disposal operations.

The combined company will use the US Ecology name, and its shares will continue to be listed on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker ECOL.  Jeffrey R. Feeler will continue to serve as President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Husky Oil fined $2.7 million for oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River

Husky Oil Operations Limited recently pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Canadian Fisheries Act and one count of violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 in a Saskatchewan court.

The company was ordered to pay a fine of $2.5 million for violating the Fisheries Act and a fine of $200,000 for violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. The fines will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund and will be used to support projects within the North Saskatchewan and/or Saskatchewan River and their associated watersheds related to the conservation and protection of fish and migratory birds.  

The charges related to an incident that occurred between July 20 and 21, 2016, when an estimated 225,000 litres of blended heavy crude oil leaked from a Husky Oil Operations Limited pipeline. Approximately 90,000 litres of the oil entered the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone, Saskatchewan. The oil was found to be deleterious, or harmful, to fish and migratory birds.   

Environment and Climate Change Canada’s National Environmental Emergencies Centre (NEEC) responded to the July 2016 spill. Environmental emergency officers were onsite from July 22, 2016 until early October 2016 to provide regulatory oversight and guide efforts to protect the environment. A year after the spill, in 2017, and once again in 2018, NEEC’s Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team returned to the North Saskatchewan River to assess the water and shorelines following the spring ice breakup.

Clean-up Activities of the North Saskatchewan River

The spill resulted in a number of communities having to stop taking water from the North Saskatchewan River for drinking water purposes. The cities had to shut off their intakes and find alternate water sources after the oil plume from a Husky Energy pipeline spill moved downstream. The cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert, and Melfort were ordered by Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency to stop taking water from the river.

In addition to pleading guilty to offences under federal legislation, Husky Oil Operations Limited has pleaded guilty to one count under the provincial Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2010

Southern Railway pleads guilty to Canadian TDGA violations

New Brunswick Southern Railway recently pled guilty to two of the 24 charges that had been laid against it under the Canadian Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act (TDGA). The charges deal with the mislabeling of tank cars by untrained staff.

The case stems from a Transport Canada investigation triggered by the Lac-Mégantic derailment and fire that killed 47 people in Quebec in July 2013.

Although that train the derailed at Lac-Mégantic  belonged to another railway — Montreal, Maine and Atlantic — and was travelling on that company’s track, the crude rail cars were destined for Saint John, New Brunswick and were to travel on NB Southern Railway track.

“The offences that we had in this case has no relation to Lac-Mégantic whatsoever,” federal prosecutor Denis Lavoie told reporters outside the courthouse following the guilty pleas made by Southern Railway

Investigators found that 6,800 tank cars of crude sent out prior to the Lac-Mégantic disaster had incorrect documentation prepared by untrained and uncertified NB Southern staff.

Twelve of the initial charges, under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, related to failing to create proper shipping documents for the purpose of transporting petroleum crude oil. The other 12 charges related to having unqualified personnel complete the documentation.

Through a settlement, New Brunswick Southern Railway agreed to pay $10,000.00 in fines and $40,000 to be invested in improving the safety of the transportation of dangerous goods in Canada.

The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, stated the following in a press release: “As Minister of Transport, my thoughts continue to go out to the community of Lac-Mégantic and all those affected by this tragedy. Today, we close another chapter in this tragic event through a settlement that we have reached with New Brunswick Southern Railway.”

When Is It Too Late to Sue for Environmental Contamination? The Alberta Court of Appeal Rules

Written by Laura M. Gill, Stephanie Clark, and Justin Duguay, Bennett Jones LLP

On February 6, 2019, the Alberta Court of Appeal (ABCA) released its first ever decision on section 218 of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA), which may extend limitation periods applicable to environmental contamination claims.

By a unanimous decision in Brookfield Residential (Alberta) LP (Carma Developers LP) v Imperial Oil Limited, 2019 ABCA 35 [Brookfield], the ABCA upheld a lower court decision where the judge refused to exercise his discretion under section 218 of the EPEA to extend the limitation period for an environmental contamination claim. Extending the limitation period would have likely been prejudicial to the defendant’s ability to maintain a defence to the claim, as the alleged cause of the environmental damage occurred over 60 years ago. We previously discussed the 2017 Court of Queen’s Bench decision in an earlier post, When is an Environmental Contamination Claim Too Old to Extend the Limitation Period?

Background

Brookfield Residential (Alberta) LP (Brookfield) brought a negligence claim in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench (ABQB) against Imperial Oil Limited (Imperial) for environmental contamination from an oil well. Imperial drilled and operated the well between 1949 and 1950, and disposed of it in either 1950 or 1954. Multiple owners operated the well between 1950 and 1957 and then used it for salt water disposal between 1958 and 1961, at which point the well was decommissioned and abandoned. After several additional transfers of ownership, the site was issued a reclamation certificate in 1968. Contamination requiring remediation was not discovered until 2010, when Brookfield was preparing the site for residential development.

Brookfield brought an application under section 218 of the EPEA to extend the limitation period, and Imperial cross-applied with a summary dismissal application, asserting that the limitation period had expired. Since it was clear that the ten-year ultimate limitation period under the Limitations Act had expired, Brookfield’s negligence claim was entirely dependent on an extension of the limitation period under section 218. The ABQB refused to extend the limitation period and summarily dismissed the action against Imperial. Brookfield appealed.

The appeal was dismissed. In its reasons, the ABCA provided guidance on three important aspects of section 218 applications: (i) procedure and timing; (ii) the impact of the passage of time on prejudice to the defendant; and (iii) policy considerations relevant to the fourth factor in section 218(3).

1. Applications Under Section 218 of the EPEA Should Be Decided Prior to Trial

The ABCA in Brookfield ruled that applications under section 218 of the EPEA should be decided prior to trial, overruling the two-part test in Lakeview Village Professional Centre Corporation v Suncor Energy Inc, 2016 ABQB 288 [Lakeview]. In Lakeview, the ABQB set out a two-part approach to section 218 applications where the court may make a preliminary determination on limitations and allow the action to proceed subject to a final determination on the merits of the limitations issue at trial. Lakeview became the leading case on the procedure for section 218 applications.

In overturning the Lakeview test, the ABCA found two problems with the approach of deferring the decision on extending limitation periods until trial. First, the Lakeview approach “is inconsistent with the wording of section 218, which provides that the limitation period can be extended ‘on application'”. Second, the approach defeats the whole purpose of limitation periods because it forces a defendant to go through the expense and inconvenience of a full trial on the merits for a determination on limitations, notwithstanding that a limitation period is intended to eliminate the distractions, expense, and risks of litigation after the prescribed time has passed.

2. The Passage of Time Increases the Likelihood of Prejudice to the Defendant

The ABCA affirmed the approach of balancing the four factors in section 218(3), which in this case revolved primarily around the third factor (prejudice to the defendant). The ABCA found that it was reasonable for the ABQB to infer prejudice from the passage of time, noting that this is the presumption behind statutes of limitation. The allegations in Brookfield’s claim occurred over 60 years ago, and as such, witnesses and documentary evidence were difficult to identify and were no longer available. The passage of time also made it difficult to establish the proper standard of care. The ABCA agreed that attempting to determine 1949 industry standards and the standard of care at that time would prejudice Imperial.

3. The Competing Policy Objectives of the Limitations Act and the EPEA

The ABCA also provided guidance on the fourth factor listed in section 218(3), which grants judicial discretion to consider “any other criteria the court considers to be relevant”. The ABCA found that policy considerations behind limitations statutes were relevant criteria that should be weighed. In particular, the ABCA noted the policy objectives of statutes of limitations that actions must be commenced within set periods so that defendants are protected from ancient obligations, disputes are resolved while evidence is still available, and claims are adjudicated based on the standards of conduct and liability in place at the time. However, on the other hand, the ABCA highlighted that the EPEA has a “polluter pays” objective where a polluter should not escape responsibility by the mere passage of time.

Implications

The ABCA’s decision in Brookfield changes the procedure for extending limitation periods in environmental contamination claims. Rather than waiting until trial, parties must bring section 218 applications early on. As a result, plaintiffs in contaminated sites claims should also carefully assess the impacts on defendants of the passage of time in making section 218 applications. Brookfield reinforces that a court will likely presume greater prejudice from a longer passage of time, especially if witnesses and evidence may be difficult to identify and the standard of care may be difficult to assess. Going forward, Brookfield suggests that the Court will take a practical approach to assessing prejudice against a defendant when deciding whether to extend limitation periods in contaminated site claims where the ultimate limitation period has passed.


This article has been republished with the permission of the authors. It was first published on the Bennett Jones website.

About the Authors

Laura Gill is called to the bar in Alberta and British Columbia and has a commercial litigation practice specializing in energy and natural resources, First Nations issues, and environmental matters. Laura advises clients on disputes in a wide range of corporate matters, including complex breach of contract claims and joint ventures.

Laura’s experience in the energy industry includes litigating disputes involving leases, right-of-way agreements, ownership stakes, royalties, gas supply contracts, farmout agreements, and CAPL operating agreements. Laura also acts on appeals and judicial review proceedings following decisions of regulatory bodies, in particular with respect to regulatory approvals for energy-related projects in Alberta and British Columbia.

Stephanie Clark has a general commercial litigation practice. Stephanie has assisted with matters before all levels of the Alberta court system. During law school, Stephanie held a student clerkship with the Honourable Mr. Justice Nicholas Kasirer at the Court of Appeal of Quebec, competed in the 2015 Jessup International Law Moot, and was awarded with the Borden Ladner Gervais Professional Excellence Award. Stephanie articled with the firm’s Calgary office prior to becoming an associate. 

Justin Duguay is an articling student at Bennett Jones.

Halliburton building explosives facility in Nova Scotia

As reported by the CBC, International oil services company Halliburton is preparing to open an explosives storage facility in Nova Scotia’s Hants County next month. The location of the facility is the former barite mine, approximately two kilometres off the main road. It will be used to store explosives that are used in oil and gas exploration.

Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) Explosives Safety and Security Branch (ESSB) administers the Canadian Explosives Act and Regulations. Manufacturers, importers, exporters, transporters, sellers, or users of explosives are all subject to the Explosives Act and Regulations.

The buildings the explosives will be stored in are specially designed to help contain explosions.  Emily Mir, a spokesperson for Halliburton, said the facility will be comprised of several secured storage modules surrounded by a steel fence.

Explosives will be trucked from Halliburton’s Jet Research Center in Alvarado, Texas, to the Nova Scotia storage facility, where they will be stored until they’re needed at other locations in Eastern Canada. Explosives are used to create holes in the steel pipes at the bottom of exploration wells to allow oil or gas to flow into the pipe for extraction. They are also used to help remove pipes from wells when they are no longer in production.

The approximate location of a Halliburton storage facility that will begin operating at the end of February. – Google

Local politicians and residents have raised concerns about the facility and claim they have been kept in the dark about the construction and operation of the facility.

Abraham Zebian, the warden of the Municipality of the District of West Hants, said he was caught off guard by CBC’s questions about the project, as he had little information about it. But he said he does have concerns.

“That would be concerning to any resident, to have that in their backyard,” he said to the CBC. “Disasters ring a bell to me that have happened in Nova Scotia historically. That’s the first thing you start thinking about.”

The Barite mine where the explosives storage facility will located operated for approximately 40 years and used dynamite on a daily basis. An an unfortunate blast was made in one of the large fault zones in 1970 which resulted in flooding of the mine. It ended production 1978. During its operation it was Canada’s largest barite mine and one of the largest deposits in the world. 

The previous owner of the site had a tailings pond that overflowed into the Minas Basin. After Halliburton acquired the property they demolished the old buildings and built a safer berm around the tailings pond.

Ms. Mir told the CBC that the explosives will have the same grade of charges as those used in the mining industry. The amount of explosives stored on site will depend on demand, she said, adding that Halliburton expects to store substantially less than the company’s permit allows.

Legislation

Explosives are highly regulated by Natural Resources Canada under the Explosives Act and Regulations. Transportation of the explosives would need to conform with the federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and Regulations. Ms. Mir said Halliburton received all necessary permits from Canada’s Department of Natural Resources – Explosives Regulatory Division for storage.

The Nova Scotia Environment Ministry, Margaret Miller, confirmed with the CBC that no provincial permits were required for the storage site.

The company did apply to Municipality of the District of West Hants and received a permit for the facility. The permit allows for an industrial accessory steel storage building for storage relating to future offshore oil and gas industry. The permit was issued Nov. 13, 2018, for a 16-foot by 60-foot single storage building.

The explosives storage facility is being built on a piece of property near Walton, N.S., that is owned by Halliburton. (Photo Credit: Robert Short/CBC)

​Ms. Mir said Halliburton has obtained all the necessary permits for the project from Natural Resources Canada as well as a building and development permit from the municipality.

The company said it has hired for three positions at the facility, which is expected to begin operations at the end of February.

Cost of Nuclear Waste Clean-up in the U.S. estimated at $377 Billion

A new report by the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates the total cleanup cost for the radioactive contamination incurred by developing and producing nuclear weapons in the United States at a staggering $377 billion (USD), a number that jumped by more than $100 billion in just one year.

The United States Department of Energy (DoE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) is responsible for cleaning up radioactive and hazardous waste left over from nuclear weapons production and energy research at DoE facilities. The $377 billion estimate largely reflects estimates of future costs to clean up legacy radioactive tank waste and contaminated facilities and soil. 

The U.S. GAO found that EM’s liability will likely continue to grow, in part because the costs of some future work are not yet included in the estimated liability. For example, EM’s liability does not include more than $2.3 billion in costs associated with 45 contaminated facilities that will likely be transferred to EM from other DOE programs in the future.

In 1967 at the height of the U.S.–Soviet nuclear arms race, the U.S. nuclear stockpile totaled 31,255 weapons of all types. Today, that number stands at just 6,550. Although the U.S. has deactivated and destroyed 25,000 nuclear weapons, their legacy is still very much alive.

Nuclear weapons were developed and produced at more than one hundred sites during the Cold War. Cleanup began in 1989, and EM has completed cleanup at 91 of 107 nuclear sites, Still, according to the GAO, “but 16 remain, some of which are the most challenging to address.” 

EM relies primarily on individual sites to locally negotiate cleanup activities and establish priorities. GAO’s analysis of DOE documents identified instances of decisions involving billions of dollars where such an approach did not always balance overall risks and costs. For example, two EM sites had plans to treat similar radioactive tank waste differently, and the costs at one site—Hanford—may be tens of billions more than those at the other site. 

Each of the 16 cleanup sites sets its own priorities, which makes it hard to ensure that the greatest health and environmental risks are addressed first.
This is not consistent with recommendations by GAO and others over the last two decades that EM develop national priorities to balance risks and costs across and within its sites. 

By far the most expensive site to clean up is the Hanford site, which manufactured nuclear material for use in nuclear weapons during the Cold War. In 2017, the DoE estimated site cleanup costs at $141 billion.

Environmental liabilities are high risk because they have been growing for the past 20 years and will likely keep increasing.

EM has not developed a program-wide strategy that determines priority sites. Instead, it continues to prioritize and fund cleanup activities by individual site. Without a strategy that sets national priorities, EM lacks assurance that it is making the most cost-effective cleanup decisions across its sites.

The GAO is made three recommendations to DOE: (1) develop a program-wide strategy that outlines how it will balance risks and costs across sites; (2) submit its mandated annual cleanup report that meets all requirements; and (3) disclose the funding needed to meet all scheduled milestones called for in compliance agreements, either in required annual reports or other supplemental budget materials.

When Oil and Water Mix: Understanding the Environmental Impacts of Fracking

Dan Soeder, director of the Energy Resources Initiative  at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, has co-authored the cover article titled “When oil and water mix: Understanding the environmental impacts of shale development,” in the recent issue of GSA Today, a magazine published by the Geological Society of America.

The article explores what is known and not known about the environmental risks of fracking with the intent of fostering informed discussions within the geoscience community on the topic of hydraulic fracturing, says Soeder. Soeder’s co-author is Douglas B. Kent of the United States Geological Survey.

In this paper, Soeder and Kent bridge the gap in consensus regarding fracking, providing current information about the environmental impacts of shale development. The article is open access and adheres to science and policy, presenting a complicated and controversial topic in a manner more easily understood by the lay person.

“Geoscientists from dinosaur experts to the people studying the surface of Mars are often asked by the public to weigh-in with their opinions on fracking. We wanted the broader geoscience community to be aware of what is known and not known about the impacts of this technology on air, water, ecosystems and human health.  A great deal has been learned in the past decade, but there are still critical unknowns where we don’t yet have answers,” Soeder says.

Development of shale gas and tight oil, or unconventional oil and gas (UOG), has dramatically increased domestic energy production in the United States and Canada.  UOG resources are typically developed through the use of hydraulic fracturing, which creates high-permeability flow paths into large volumes of tight rocks to provide a means for hydrocarbons to move to a wellbore. This process uses significant volumes of water, sand, and chemicals, raising concerns about risks to the environment and to human health.

In the article, Soeder and Kent address the various potential impacts of fracking and how those impacts are being addressed.  Risks to air include releases of methane, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter. Water-resource risks include excessive withdrawals, stray gas in drinking-water aquifers, and surface spills of fluids or chemicals. Landscapes can be significantly altered by the infrastructure installed to support large drilling platforms and associated equipment. Exposure routes, fate and transport, and toxicology of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process are poorly understood, as are the potential effects on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and human health.

Schematic diagram illustrating unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development activities relevant to research on human-health and environmental impacts (not to scale): well-pad construction (1); drilling (2); completion/stimulation (3, 4); production of natural gas (5) and oil (6) with well casings designed to protect drinking-water aquifers; ultimate closure (plug and abandon), illustrating legacy well with leaking casing (7); wastewater disposal (8); induced seismicity (9); landscape disturbance (10); and potential for transport pathways from deep to shallow formations (11). Also represented are water supply wells in shallow and deep aquifers (12). Photographs by Dan Soeder.

 

CHAR Announces Successful Commissioning of Biocarbon Facility

Andrew White, CEO of CHAR Technologies Ltd.

CHAR Technologies Ltd. (“CHAR”) (YES – TSXV) recently announced that it has successfully commissioned its biocarbon production facility.  CHAR creates two types of biocarbon, an activated charcoal “SulfaCHAR” and a solid biofuel (bio-coal) “CleanFyre.”  At full capacity, the facility will be capable of producing up to 5 tonnes per day of biocarbon.

“Successful commissioning is a very significant milestone for CHAR,” said Andrew White, CEO of CHAR. “We are now able to produce commercial quantities of SulfaCHAR, as well as enough CleanFyre to test as part of our project with ArcelorMittal Dofasco and Walker Environmental.”

The completion of commissioning is the next milestone in CHAR’s Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) project.  Upon acceptance of the milestone report by SDTC, the next progress payment can be processed.

CleanFyre is a carbon neutral solid biofuel, and through its implementation will allow users to significantly reduce their GHG emissions.  SulfaCHAR is a zero-waste activated charcoal, with application in the desulfurization of renewable natural gas.  Both are made from low-value materials, including anaerobic digestate and wood-based by-products.

About CHAR

CHAR Technologies Ltd. is a cleantech development and services company, specializing in biocarbon development (activated charcoal ‘SulfaCHAR’ and solid biofuel ‘CleanFyre’) and custom equipment for industrial air and water treatment, and providing services in environmental management, site investigation and remediation, engineering, and resource efficiency.

CHAR Pyrolysis Unit, pre-installation and commissioning (Photo Credit: CHAR)

B.C. spill response plans in limbo after Trans Mountain decision

The recent Federal Court of Appeal delaying approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project coast has put the B.C. spill response in limbo.  The proposed pipeline expansion project would see an oil pipeline expansion from Alberta to the British Columbia coast.  The Federal Court of Appeal denied approval of the project pending greater consultation with indigenous communities and greater need for mitigating environmental risks.

The oil spill response plan, as part of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project, is to build six new spill response bases along B.C.’s coast that would be the home port of 43 new spill response vessels and 120 new crew members.

Map of proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Configuration.

The oil spill response plan is to be funded, in part, from a $150 million that is to be collected by Western Canada Marine Response Corp. (WCMR Corp.) from tolls for use of the expanded pipeline.  WCMR Corp. is an industry-funded organization tasked with responding to and cleaning up spills along B.C.’s coast.

When the project gets approval for construction is uncertain.  The federal government is considering a number of options including appealing the Court decision and enacting legislation.

The delay in building additional pipeline capacity from the Alberta oil sands has resulted ins an increase in rail shipment of oil.  More than 200,000 barrels of oil are now carried by rail in Canada each day, up from less than 30,000 in 2012.

In 2017, Canadian crude oil supply grew to 4.2 million barrels a day — exceeding total pipeline capacity leaving Western Canada. As a result, a record-setting volume of oilpatch output is now moving by rail to refineries in the U.S.

If the proposed spill response enhancements are built, the response to an oil spill on Canada’s west coast will be reduced from six hours to two hours for Vancouver Harbour and down from 18-72 hours to six hours for the rest of the coast.

The six bases would have been built in Vancouver Harbour, near Annacis Island in the Fraser River, in Nanaimo, Port Alberni, the Saanich Peninsula and Beecher Bay near Sooke.