Yukon’s NDP Opposition is accusing the government of a lack of transparency over the disposal of drilling waste brought to Whitehorse two years ago.
Over three days in the legislative assembly last week, NDP MLAs Kate White and Jim Tredger grilled the government about why some cuttings from Northern Cross Yukon’s drilling program in the Eagle Plain basin ended up in Whitehorse, what was in them and where they were delivered.
“We have been told that (they’ve) been disposed at… an approved facility in Whitehorse,” White told the News on Wednesday. “We have no idea where that is.”
Initially, the government refused to answer the questions directly. “When it comes to the specifics of a permit, I’m not going to speak to that on the floor of the House,” Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Scott Kent told the assembly on Wednesday.
But on Thursday, in response to further questioning, the government changed tactics and explained that the waste was delivered to the Arctic Backhoe land treatment facility in Whitehorse to be treated for hydrocarbon contamination.
Currently, it does not appear that any rules were broken or that the material poses a health or safety risk.
As far as the News can verify, this is what happened:
Northern Cross Yukon disposed of about 6,350 tonnes of drilling fluid and cuttings from its 2012-13 exploratory work in the Eagle Plain region.
Most of that waste was trucked to a Tervita disposal facility in Fort Nelson, B.C. But 225 tonnes of it came to Whitehorse instead.
According to Northern Cross, that material “was delivered to KBL in Whitehorse.” KBL is an environmental and waste management company.
But the material wasn’t actually received by KBL. Jeff Dirks, a business manager for KBL, explained that his company received a chemical analysis of the waste and directed it to an appropriate treatment facility. In this case, that was Arctic Backhoe.
“The material went directly from site to Arctic Backhoe,” Dirks said.
Arctic Backhoe has a waste facility that is equipped to treat hydrocarbon contamination. Company co-owner Wayne Dear said the process involves microbes in the material that break down the hydrocarbons over time. But because of the Yukon’s cold climate, that process can take years.
“We turn it over till it’s clean,” he said. “It’s not rocket science.”
Once the material is clean, Arctic Backhoe typically takes it to the landfill to be used as a cover. It could also be used on industrial sites.
“Basically, we’re recycling,” Dear said.
It’s unclear whether the specific cuttings from Northern Cross are still being treated at Arctic Backhoe, or whether they’ve been transported to the landfill or elsewhere.
According to the Yukon government, those cuttings were contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons including benzene and metals including barium, which is used in drilling mud.
But the metal concentrations were apparently not high enough to be a serious concern.
“Based on metal concentrations in this material, the material, once treated for petroleum hydrocarbons, is suitable for use at any commercial or industrial site (such as a landfill),” wrote Eric Clement, a spokesperson for the Department of Environment, in an e-mail.
Dirks explained that most of the waste was delivered to Fort Nelson because “the Northern Cross representative didn’t realize that there would be a more localized option.” He said the company was “quite perturbed” when it realized it hadn’t been taking advantage of the Whitehorse facility.
But Dirks also said other types of contaminated waste cannot be treated in the Yukon. Instead, things like batteries, glycol or drums of used oil are delivered to KBL, which then arranges for them to be transported out of the territory to an appropriate facility.
He said it’s unlikely that those types of hazardous waste would ever be treated in the Yukon.
“The territories would never ever have the waste volumes to substantiate a processing or receiving facility,” he said. “The economics aren’t there.”
Northern Cross CEO David Thompson said that the company’s future wells will be “much shallower” than the four wells drilled during the 2012-13 season, and will produce fewer cuttings.
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