Nova Scotia accepting fracking waste from New Brunswick

Nova Scotia accepting fracking waste from New Brunswick by John Gillis, September 2012, The Inverness Oran
With a provincial review on the controversial oil and gas practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) underway in Nova Scotia, many people were surprised to learn this week that Nova Scotia has been accepting fracking waste from New Brunswick. Thirty or so people attended a rally in Truro last Thursday evening, organized by the Sierra Club of Canada Atlantic Canadian Chapter to raise awareness of the situation. Citizens of Nova Scotia are becoming increasingly concerned that hydraulic fracturing operations will be conducted in Nova Scotia and are unaware that waste from hydraulic fracturing is being treated in Nova Scotia, says Heidi Verheul, Sierra Club Canada-Atlantic Canada Chapter, one of the organizers of the Truro event. The Oran received confirmation of this report from a Nova Scotia Department of Environment spokesperson, Karen White. I can confirm that a private company, Atlantic Industrial Services (AIS) is under approval with Nova Scotia Environment to accept and treat industrial wastewater, including wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations, said White. Atlantic Industrial Services has accepted ‘flow back fluid’ from oil and gas exploration in Nova Scotia in 2008, New Brunswick companies in 2010 and a small amount from New Brunswick in spring, 2011, White added. This upsets Verheul, and she says many she has spoken to are becoming very vocal in their opposition. They are receiving the waste, storing it in uncovered lagoons, treating it, and then are handing the treated industrial waste over to the Debert Waste Water Facility (Atlantic Industrial Services), where it is eventually dumped into the mouth of the Chiganois River that flows into the Minas Basin. That is the river that I learned how to swim in and fished with my family, says Verheul. The Nova Scotia Department of Environment gave AIS permission to expand its waste management services in an environmental assessment approval process in September, 2009. Karen White says AIS is in compliance with Nova Scotia Department of Environment approval.

Flow back fluids are what comes out of a site once it has been fracked, and it is very diluted: 96 percent is water, 3.5 percent is silica sand, and 0.5 percent (so less than half of a percent) is additives, said White. When asked for figures on the amount or volume of fracking waste treated to date in Nova Scotia, White could not say precisely except that she had put in a request to the company for that information. Although it’s not believed that Nova Scotia has received fracking waste from provinces other than New Brunswick to date, White could not rule out whether that might be the case in the future. Atlantic Industrial Services has a large facility that can handle large volumes of water, which is why a company may decide to have them treat their industrial wastewater, White added. That possibility also upsets fracking opponents. It seems that Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment seems to think that this waste isn’t any different than any other industrial waste, but I think quite a few folks that I have spoken with see it very differently. Nova Scotians are bearing some of the risk associated with this industry as this waste is being trucked into the province. If Nova Scotia decides it should have no part in hydraulic fracturing, then we shouldn’t be accepting the waste from elsewhere, says Verheul. Verheul says she fears the NDP government is moving in the wrong direction on this issue.

There have already been fracking operations in Nova Scotia (Stealth Ventures in Stellarton and Elmworth Energy in Windsor/Kennetcook area). We have leased blocks of the province for onshore oil and gas exploration, and we are accepting the waste from this industry from other provinces; and I’m aware of two documented spills that have already occurred in Atlantic Canada. Still, I do remain hopeful that more Nova Scotians will become politicized on the issue. Nova Scotia Department of Environment summarized the approval process:

  • Before accepting industrial wastewater, AIS gets a description of the wastewater to determine the best way to treat it. Under their approval with Nova Scotia Environment, they must also test any new sources of wastewater to ensure they can treat it properly to meet the approved discharge limits.
  • Wastewater that is treated by AIS is then discharged to the municipal collection system (Municipality of the County of Colchester). To discharge to the collection system the wastewater must meet the limits established in the municipal wastewater bylaw.
  • The AIS wastewater combines with the municipal wastewater in the collection system and is delivered to the municipal treatment plant for further treatment.
  • The municipally-treated wastewater must meet the limits in the approval with Nova Scotia Environment before being released into the environment. [Emphasis added]
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