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The Supreme Court of Canada to Decide who pays to Clean-up Toxic Industrial Sites

The Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a controversial case this week concerning who is responsible for cleaning up toxic industrial sites when a company goes bankrupt.

At stake is potentially billions of dollars in environmental clean-up costs. And entities ranging from governments to Canada’s big banks to oil and gas companies and farmers are all looking to ensure that they don’t end up on the hook for cleaning up toxic sites – many of them in remote rural and northern areas of the country.

The case itself focuses on a small Alberta oil company, Redwater Energy, which entered creditor protection in 2015. Only a few of the company’s assets had value, so the bank wanted to sell those wells to recover some of its debt and abandon the rest of the oil and gas sites. The question became whether Redwater’s assets should help pay its debts or be used to pay for the cleanup cost of its worthless oil and gas wells?

The case will address a fundamental public policy dilemma about what happens when a resource company bites the dust. For instance, every mine in the country has environmental regulations attached to its licence about reclaiming the site when the mine closes.

But if the company goes belly up, does the bank take over those end-of-life responsibilities? If not, is the site abandoned or do taxpayers pick up the hefty tab?

The question for the Government of Alberta and area farmers that had Redwater oil and gas wells on their land became whether Redwater’s assets should help pay its debts or be used to pay for the clean-up cost of its worthless and contaminated work sites?

The Supreme Court case addresses a fundamental public policy dilemma about what happens when a resource company fails. Every mine operation in Canada has environmental regulations attached to its licence about reclaiming the site when the mine closes. But if the company goes belly up, does the bank take over those end-of-life responsibilities? If not, is the site abandoned or do taxpayers pick up the hefty tab when the provincial government pays to clean it up? And how much cost should farmers and other landowners bare for clean-up and reclamation costs?

“We need to be able to ensure the people of Alberta, collectively, are protected,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told reporters earlier this week.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) says there are approximately 1,800 abandoned oil and gas sites in that province alone and pegs the cost to remediate them at $8.6 billion.

If the Supreme Court sides with previous court rulings, the AER will likely respond by increasing the orphan levy imposed on well licensees. However, a portion of the expense will inevitably fall to the provincial government, and thus to taxpayers. But if the Supreme Court decides to reverse the decision, it will create hesitancy among lenders. Financial institutions will likely respond by tightening their purse strings as they begin pricing the risk into new loans made out to the industry.

This case has consequences that reach far beyond one small energy company. The Redwater case could act as precedent in other provinces. If the previous rulings are upheld, it will send a clear signal to natural resource companies’ creditors that bankrolling fossil fuel infrastructure, mining projects, and pulp and paper mills without accounting for clean-up costs is not only acceptable, but encouraged in a legal climate where the public—not the polluter—pays.

“The Redwater decision impacts Alberta’s constitutional right to manage its own resources,” said AER spokeswoman Cara Tobin, adding that “By rejecting the polluter pays principle that underlies virtually all of Alberta’s oil and gas legislation, it’s shifted liability from the polluter to innocent third parties and the public.”

The provincial governments of Ontario, which currently has about 2,400 oil and natural gas producing wells, along with British Columbia and Saskatchewan have also joined the Supreme Court Case, which will be heard in Ottawa this week. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is also an intervener in the legal case.

Long Lake Gold Mine remediation project hits stumbling block

As reported by the CBC, the Long Lake Gold Mine Remediation Project near Sudbury, Ontario will not be getting started until 2019.

The Province on Ontario first announced its commitment to remediate the abandoned gold mine back in 2013.  The lake, located near a popular recreation area, had high levels of arsenic.

Long Lake Gold mine operated intermittently from 1908 to 1937 and produced approximately 200,000 tonnes of tailings.  The tailings were discharged directly to the environment without containment.  The tailings have since eroded into Luke Creek and Long Lake.  The tailings are acid generating and leach acidic water that is high in metal contamination, specifically arsenic.  The Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNMD) sampling in the south end of Long Lake identified arsenic contamination above the Ontario Drinking Water Standard.

Long Lake (Photo Credit: Markus Schwabe/CBC)

The MNDM initiated a review of remediation alternatives to clean up the tailings area and has selected a preferred method of relocating all fugitive tailings to a new containment facility that will be constructed on site.  The objective of remediation efforts is to reduce the arsenic concentration in Long Lake below the provincial drinking water limit, such that water quality in the south bay of Long Lake will recover to background conditions.

The latest delay in the remediation project is the result of the MNDM addressing some concerns of nearby residents who are concerned that the clean-up will result in increased truck traffic on the existing road to the lake.

The chair of the Long Lake Stewardship group says residents are aware of the notion “short term pain for long term gain” when it comes to the completion of the remediation project.

“But I think the concern I heard was the number of trucks that would be travelling on the road, day-in and day-out through the restoration phase,” Scott Darling said.

“Primarily what I heard in terms of the concerns were the traffic, the increased traffic that’s going to occur over the two-year period on Long Lake Road and Tilton Lake Road and South End Road — the wavy trail.”

Roads in the area will see 50 to 60 trucks a day hauling out contaminated material and bringing in clean fill.

The remediation project is expected to run between two and three years.

Darling says it could be closer to 2019 before the project gets started.

More information on the proposed clean-up of the Long Lake can be found in the MNMD environmental assessment document.

 

Phytoforensics: Using Trees to Find Contamination

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recently prepared on Fact Sheet on how phytoforensics can be used to screen for contamination prior to traditional sampling methods.  Phytoforensics is a low cost, rapid sampling method that collects tree-core samples from the tree trunk to map the extent of contamination below the ground.

By utilizing phytoforensics, environmental professionals can save the cost and time associated with traditional methods of subsurface investigation – drilling boreholes, installing monitoring wells.

Scientists at the Missouri Water Science Center were among the first to use phytoforensics for contamination screening prior to employing traditional sampling methods, to guide additional sampling, and to show the large cost savings associated with tree sampling compared to traditional methods, to guide additional sampling, and to show the large cost savings associated with tree sampling compared to traditional methods.

The advantages of phytoforensics include the following: quickly screen sites for subsurface contamination; cost- and time-effective approach that uses pre-existing trees; non-invasive method (no drill rigs or heavy equipment required); and representative of large subsurface volumes.

Phytoforensics testing involves the collection of a tree-core sample with necessary sampling equipment including an incremental borer, forceps, a sample vial, and gloves.  Samples are collected at about 3 feet (1 metre) above ground surface, placed into vials for subsequent laboratory analysis.

Similar to phytoforensics, phytoremediation is the field of looking to use plants to mitigate environmental pollutants and human exposures. As plants are efficient, key components in local and global water, carbon and energy cycles, they can influence pollutant transport and availability in many different ways.

Dr. Joel Burken, Missouri S&T professor of civil and environmental engineering, tests a tree in Rolla’s Schuman Park with then high school senior Amanda Holmes and S&T graduate student Matt Limmer. Photo by B.A. Rupert

Potential $9 million incentive to Developer for Clean-up and Develop Brownfield Site in Ottawa

As reported by the CBC, Ottawa city staff are proposing to offer a developer more than $9 million in incentives to build a multi-use building with three residential towers across from the future Bayview Station light rail station, approximately 2 kilometers (one mile) west of Parliament Hill.

TIP Albert GP Inc. owns the property at 900 Albert St. at the corner of Albert and City Centre Avenue, and is proposing a building that would have 1,632 residential units as well as retail and office space.

The site, a one-time rail yard and later a storage yard and snow disposal site, is eligible for the city’s brownfields rehabilitation grant program.  Under the program, developers can apply to have municipal development charges and soil remediation costs reduced, up to about half the expected cost of the cleanup.

City staff are recommending a grant not exceeding $8,255,397 over a maximum of 10 years, according to a report tabled in advance of next week’s finance and economic development committee meeting.

The property is also along the path of city sanitary and storm sewers, and for the development to go forward, the builder will have to move that infrastructure to an adjacent city property.

While the developer would pay for that work to be done, the city would have to release their eight easements on the property.

While normally the city would get market value from a developer for giving up those easements — an estimated $920,000 — city staff are proposing waiving that policy to make the project happen.

Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney, in a comment appended to the report, wrote that while she supported the brownfield grant, she couldn’t support waiving the encroachment fee, calling it “premature.”

“As this application is still under negotiation I believe it would be more prudent to measure the total monetary value to be waived against measurable features of the proposed development in its final form as ultimately presented to committee and council,” she wrote.

McKenney said such features would include affordable housing and contributions to active transportation networks like cycling and walking paths.

The development is not the only project being considered for a grant at next week’s committee meeting.

City staff are also proposing a grant of up to $2,320,420 over a maximum of 10 years to Colonnade Development Inc. to build a hotel near the Department of National Defence headquarters.

That grant, for the property at 300 Moodie Dr., would come from the Bells Corners Community Improvement Plan, which aims to encourage development in the area.

It would provide what would amount to a 75 per cent property tax break after the property is developed. If the development doesn’t happen, no grant would be paid.

Colonnade is proposing a restaurant with a drive-thru and a six-storey, 124-room hotel. Right now, the site is home to a Salvation Army thrift store, an automotive repair garage and auto parts distributor.

The finance and economic development committee will consider both proposals.

One Proposal for Development of 900 Albert Street, Ottawa

Events

Canada: RPIC Federal Contaminated Sites National Workshop – June 2018

June 13-15, 2018

Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Toronto, ON

The RPIC Federal Contaminated Sites National Workshop is the leading professional development workshop for federal and industry environmental professionals involved in the management and remediation of federal contaminated sites.

Registration Fees: 

Professional Development Training Day – June 13, 2018 

Fees include session on June 13, materials, refreshment breaks and lunch. Those wishing to attend the Welcome Reception and the Awards and Recognition Dinner must purchase a ticket.

Early Bird Rate  (before March 31, 2018) – $400 + HST
Regular Rate (on or after March 31, 2018) – $450 + HST

Two-day Workshop – June 14 and 15, 2018 

          Early Bird Rate  (before March 31, 2018) – $800 + HST
Regular Rate (on or after March 31, 2018) – $925 + Tax

Concurrent registration includes sessions on June 14 and 15, the Welcome Reception and the Awards and Recognition Dinner as well as breakfasts and refreshment breaks.

**The cost of the Welcome Reception and Awards and Recognition Evening ticket is included in each Two-day Workshop registration, but a ticket is not automatically provided. As space is limited, the box must be checked off on the registration form to receive a ticket if you wish to attend.

 

Submit Your Abstract Here

The 2018 RPIC Federal Contaminated Sites National Workshop will provide a forum for the contaminated sites community to learn about technical, scientific and organizational innovations, and best practices for the management of contaminated sites. The Workshop will offer a unique opportunity for the public, private, and academic sectors to meet and exchange new ideas and information with colleagues and industry representatives from across the country and abroad.

The Real Property Institute of Canada (RPIC) and the Contaminated Sites Management Working Group invite you to submit presentations on technologies and issues related to the assessment, remediation and management of federal contaminated sites. Abstracts are encouraged in, but not limited to the following topics:

  • Future of FCSAP
  • Climate Change Adaptation
  • Intergovernmental Collaboration
  • Contaminants of Concern
  • Socio-economic and Indigenous Engagement
  • Legal Considerations and Requirements
  • Brownfields
  • Risk Management/Remediation
  • Innovative, Sustainable Green
  • Northern/Remote Site Challenges
  • Information and Technology Management

GUIDELINES FOR SUBMITTING ABSTRACTS
All abstract submissions will be done through RPIC’s online submission system by January 8, 2018, https://2018rpicfcsnw.exordo.com/loginPlease note that no submissions sent via email will be considered. All presenters are required to register for the Workshop. Authors will be notified of acceptance by February 12, 2018. All authors accepted for presentation at the Workshop will receive comments on their abstract after the Technical Review Committee has reviewed it. The revised abstract, based on these comments, is due by February 19, 2018. If the submission deadline is missed for the revised abstract, the translation is due by February 26, 2018.
*Presentation proposal submissions should be no more than 500 words and must include a presentation objective and biographies for all presenters.

To submit your abstract, please visit https://2018rpicfcsnw.exordo.com/login. You will be prompted to set up an account. Once logged in you will have the option to “Submit a Paper” where you will enter your abstract. The workflow will then walk you through all of the steps to complete your submission.

POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS
All PowerPoint presentation submissions will be done using RPIC’s online submission system with a file size is limit of 10MB. All abstracts accepted for presentation at the Workshop will be required to submit a draft PDF and a final PowerPoint presentation prior to the Workshop. Draft presentations will be due by April 3, 2018 and all presenters will receive comments on their draft presentation after the Technical Review Committee has reviewed. The revised PowerPoint presentation, based on these comments, is due by May 7, 2018. If the submission deadline is missed for the final PowerPoint, the translation is due by May 14, 2018.

DEADLINES

ABSTRACT SUBMISSION DEADLINE
AUTHOR NOTIFICATION
REVISED ABSTRACT DUE
DRAFT PPT PRESENTATION DUE
FINAL PPT PRESENTATION DUE
January 8, 2018
February 12, 2018
February 19, 2018
April 3, 2018
May 7, 2018

OFFICIAL LANGUAGES
RPIC will be taking on the responsibility and cost of translating all final abstracts and final PowerPoint presentations. If the submission deadline is missed for either, the author is automatically responsible for providing the translation at their own expense and no extensions will be granted. This applies to both the public and private sectors. All translations must be done by the same translation company, which will be selected by RPIC. If any changes are made to either the final abstract file or the final PPT after the submission deadline, the author will be responsible for updating both versions of the file (English and French) using the translation company selected by RPIC.

TRANSLATED ABSTRACT DUE – February 26, 2018
TRANSLATED PPT DUE –  May 14, 2018

PRESENTER REGISTRATION
All presenters are required to register for the Workshop by April 3, 2018.One discounted delegate registration ($675 + HST) for the June 14-15 Workshop will be made available for each accepted presentation. Additional presenters will be required to register at the full rate. The discounted registration can only be claimed by filling out the PDF registration form and returning it to fcsnw@rpic-ibic.ca. Be sure to mention which presentation it is being claimed for by the same title as the submitted abstract. Presentations will be selected for inclusion in the preliminary program on the basis of a peer review by the Technical Committee. Authors will be notified of acceptance by February 12, 2018.

For more information please visit the 2018 RPIC Federal Contaminated Sites National Workshop website:
http://rpic-ibic.ca/en/events/federal-contaminated-sites-fcs-national-workshop/2018-fcs-national-workshop.