Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya says Imperial Oil’s application to renew its water license for drilling near Norman Wells should go to a full environmental assessment so concerns about water quality from people downstream can be addressed beforehand.
Imperial, whose water license expires at the end of August this year, is applying for a 10-year extension from the Sahtu Land and Water Board (SLWB) on its operations in the Norman Wells Proven Area.
Technical sessions regarding the company’s application took place in mid-January and public hearings are scheduled for April.
Yakeleya said the people of Fort Good Hope, who draw their water from the Mackenzie River downstream, have been asking for a water monitoring station and laboratory for years, and are concerned that 10 more years of drilling by Imperial could negatively impact the water.
“When you have 1.5 billion litres going back into the Mackenzie River, (the people of Fort Good Hope) don’t really have the resources to question Imperial’s operations, to know what types of effects it’s going to have on people in the long term,” Yakeleya said.
The license under review allows for the removal of 3.5 billion litres of fresh water from the Mackenzie River each year to be used in its operations. Between 2004 and 2012, the company drew an average of 2.63 billion litres.
Of the water drawn from the Mackenzie, about half is injected into the reservoir for pressure maintenance and the other half returned to the river.
Water used for cooling is discharged into a settling pond where it is tested for oil and grease, hydrocarbons, pH, suspended solids, chlorine and conductivity before it is released. Test results are submitted to the SLWB.
According to Imperial spokesperson Pius Rolheiser, there have been no water quality issues with the water discharged into the Mackenzie over the last decade.
“All of the downstream testing that Imperial has done to date indicates that there are no adverse effects on river water quality downstream of our operation,” he told The Journal. “We will certainly be speaking to that in much greater detail at the hearing itself, and I don’t want to preempt that.”
Aside from minor changes to the license, which do not affect water withdrawal or treatment, the application remains largely the same.
“The amount of the water that Imperial intends to withdraw remains the same,” Rolheiser said.
Though the discharged water is tested for all contaminants, Yakeleya said the release of it back into the river still raises questions about quality and the health of fish, wildlife and humans.
A study in 2010 by the department of Fisheries and Oceans showed levels of mercury, PCBs and DDT were rising rapidly in Mackenzie River fish near Fort Good Hope, a trend linked to climate change.
Yakeleya said people in Fort Good Hope complain of abnormally high rates of cancer in their community, and have not ruled out industry’s possible role.
“They should really be asking for an environmental assessment on the water. We have never taken this water license through an EA. It immediately went to the land and water board,” he said. “What are the long-term effects on the fish, on the animals and, more importantly, does it have any effects on the people, in regards to their cancer?”
He wants to see an assessment of the cumulative impacts done by independent monitors to address those concerns.
“I think it’s so important that the people in Fort Good Hope feel some sense of comfort. Their concerns are legitimate,” Yakeleya said.
Rolheiser said the company is looking forward to the upcoming hearings, where all technical staff will be on board to explain the water use, treatment and discharge process.
“There will be ample opportunity for people to voice concerns if they have them, to ask questions and to get answers to those questions,” he said.