N.S. deadline to clean up fracking waste site impossible to meet: company
Published Tuesday, October 2, 2012 6:38PM ADT
HALIFAX -- The head of an oil and gas exploration firm says the company can't meet a deadline to clean up holding ponds in Nova Scotia filled with contaminated water from hydraulic fracturing.
Peter Hill, executive chairman of Denver-based Triangle Petroleum, says the provincial government wants the two ponds near Kennetcook cleaned up by Nov. 30.
But that won't happen because the province keeps making new demands, Hill said in an interview, adding that his request for an extension has been ignored.
"It's impossible to get that stuff out of there," he said. "We're in a complete logjam here."
Residents living near the ponds -- containing almost 15 million litres of brine water -- have been pushing for a cleanup of the five-year old site.
Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau would not say what action he would take if the deadline is missed, aside from resuming talks with the company.
"We're committed to working with the company ... and we're also committed to making sure that this gets cleaned up," he said in an interview Tuesday.
The minister noted that in April, the NDP government imposed a two-year hold on all hydraulic fracturing in the province, saying it needed more time to study the controversial practice.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well bore to split the surrounding rock and release trapped hydrocarbons, usually natural gas, coal bed methane or crude oil.
Triangle fracked three shale gas test wells drilled in 2007. The wells were the first and remain the only wells to be fracked in Nova Scotia.
The project has cost Triangle about $30 million so far.
Hill said the company's three vertical test wells are nothing like the high-volume horizontal wells that have attracted so much attention in the United States, where images of flaming tap water has led to a backlash against the industry.
"These are very early stage frack jobs, using ... very small amounts of water and small amounts of sand," he said.
Hill said the mixture of water, sand and chemicals going into the wells wasn't toxic.
"I wouldn't recommend you go drinking the stuff, but then you wouldn't drink sea water either."
After the mix was injected into the wells, gas was expected to flow back through the well bores, which extend more than 1,400 metres underground.
But that didn't happen. The company installed pumps to suck the gas out of the ground.
The wells then spewed brine water, which was pumped into the two holding ponds, said Hill.
The original plan, according to Hill, was to get rid of the brine water by injecting it back into the holes, a standard practice in Alberta and British Columbia.
But the province has steadfastly rejected that option.
"We do not currently have evidence that points to this as being the best practice for Nova Scotia," Environment Department spokesman Lori Errington said in a recent e-mail. "We want to see the fluids removed and properly treated."
In November 2011, the province approved Triangle's plan to send the brine water by tanker truck to Atlantic Industrial Services in Debert, N.S., where it would be treated and disposed of.
The following month, when about five million litres had already been transferred to a lagoon, the province suspended the cleanup when it learned the water contained levels of naturally occurring radioactive material in excess of Health Canada guidelines for potable water.
Hill said the low-level radiation was picked up by the water as it moved through clay and rock that is naturally radioactive, a common geologic trait in Nova Scotia.
Earlier this year, Triangle submitted a plan to use coal filters to remove the solids from the water containing the radioactive material.
Errington said AIS has been granted approval for a pilot project.
But Hill said the idea was put on hold last month when the Municipality of Colchester said it was concerned about having the water dumped into its treatment plant.
"They have a lot of work to do to satisfy our people ... this would be acceptable," said Mayor Bob Taylor.
Hill said he's fed up with the province.
"I've gotten hugely frustrated with these people," he said in an interview from Florida.
Hill said the company is committed to cleaning up the ponds and the well sites, but it is finished doing business in the province.
"We're going to leave Nova Scotia," he said.