ESAA Weekly News – Week ending May 14th, 2021


(Source: Globe and Mail) Some herds of Alberta’s provincial animal are heavily contaminated with selenium from old coal mines, says research from a retired senior government biologist.

Jeff Kneteman said Alberta Environment has known about the problem in bighorn sheep for years. But it has yet to commission any studies about the effects on the three herds and how far the contamination has spread through the local ecosystem.

“There was no interest,” said Mr. Kneteman, who left government in March, 2020. “Why wasn’t any of this stuff ever followed up?”

The research comes to light as the United Conservative government tires to persuade Albertans that the province’s regulatory and monitoring systems are capable of ensuring an expansion of coal-mining in the Rocky Mountains can be done safely.

An Alberta Environment spokesman said the government is aware of the issue.

“Alberta Environment and Parks has engaged with researchers and mining companies and their consultants in the [area] regarding selenium levels in bighorn sheep,” John Muir said in an e-mail.

Mr. Kneteman’s work dates from 2015. It was his thesis for a master’s degree and not provincially funded.

He was investigating selenium, a naturally occurring element associated with coal mines that is healthy in small doses but toxic in excess. Mr. Kneteman’s study looked at what levels of selenium were normal for animals, including bighorns, deer, elk and caribou, by considering 85 different herds from across North America.

Two herds in northwestern Alberta stood out – those on the sites of the Smoky River, Gregg River and Luscar coal mines.

“[Levels in] bighorn that occupied coal mines were miles away from everybody,” he said.

Both herds averaged well outside the safe range for selenium. One of them almost doubled that level.

“They’re getting it from the coal mines,” Mr. Kneteman said. “We found no evidence of elevated selenium in Alberta in any of the other populations that we sampled.”

The Rockies are naturally low in selenium. As well, when bighorns from one of the coal-affected herds were transferred to Nevada, their selenium levels dropped to normal within a year.

Mr. Muir said a consultant found selenium levels to be high but below those that would produce toxic effects.

Selenium is known to damage reproduction. That effect was present, Mr. Kneteman said.

“The sheep on the mines have the lowest reproductive potential and reproductive output that we’ve ever measured in Canada.”

The province’s 2015 draft management plan for bighorns found the ratio of lambs to ewes was lower at coal mines than native range every year from 2008 to 2013.

Referring to unpublished government data, that plan says: “High selenium levels in blood samples from bighorns feeding in reclamation areas associated with a coal-mine site … are of concern to sheep managers.

“No examination of possible population effects attributed exclusively to selenium toxicity has been undertaken to date.”

Research suggests selenium is widespread in the ecosystem in question.

Mr. Kneteman previously found elevated levels in dippers, small birds that feed on aquatic insects. Other studies have found excessive selenium in at least three area waterways.

“[Selenium] is throughout the system,” Mr. Kneteman said.

Although his data are years old, there’s little reason to believe things have improved, he said.

“[Selenium] hasn’t declined at all since the first measurements in the late nineties,” he said.

“The assumption could be made it’s the same today as it was in 2015. Why would we expect it to have changed?”

The province’s 2019 five-year monitoring plan mothballed all the area’s water-monitoring stations.

Since last spring, Alberta has sold tens of thousands of hectares of exploration leases for new coal mines along the summits and eastern slopes of the Rockies.

In response to public concern, Energy Minister Sonya Savage has paused all work on the most sensitive landscapes, stopped further lease sales and struck a panel to hear concerns from Albertans.

She has asked Albertans to have faith in the province’s regulatory agency and monitoring programs and has referred to Alberta Environment’s “stringent environmental protections.”

Mr. Muir said the province is monitoring selenium levels in wildlife, fisheries, soil and vegetation.

Mr. Kneteman said he tried repeatedly to get his former department to study a toxin from resource development contaminating the animal that is supposed to symbolize the province.

“No one’s made any measurements, which is maybe dereliction,” he said.

“The only reason we’ve got any measurements is that I went and got them. There wasn’t any effort to find out what was going on.”


Small Modular Reactors Study Released and MOU Expanded

 (Source: The premiers of New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta joined virtually recently to release a study by provincial power utilities to formally welcome Alberta as a signatory to the small modular reactor (SMR) memorandum of understanding previously signed by New Brunswick, Ontario, and Saskatchewan.

With the addition of Alberta to the memorandum, all provinces involved have agreed to collaborate on the advancement of SMRs as a clean energy option to address climate change and regional energy demands, while supporting economic growth and innovation.

The SMR Feasibility Study, formally requested as part of the memorandum of understanding signed in December 2019, concludes that the development of SMRs would support domestic energy needs, curb greenhouse gas emissions, and position Canada as a global leader in this emerging technology.

SMRs are nuclear reactors that produce 300 megawatts (MW) of electricity or less. They can support large established grids, small grids, remote off-grid communities, and resource projects.

The study, conducted by NB Power, Ontario Power Generation, Bruce Power and SaskPower, identifies three streams of SMR project proposals for consideration by the three governments.

Stream 1 proposes a first grid-scale SMR project of about 300 MW constructed at the Darlington nuclear site in Ontario by 2028. Subsequent units in Saskatchewan would follow, with the first SMR projected to be in service in 2032.

“This study confirms the feasibility of small modular reactors in Canada and outlines a path forward to deploy this new clean, safe, reliable and competitively priced power. This new technology will help attract investment, create high-skilled jobs and contribute to our growing economy,” said Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.

Stream 2 involves two 4th generation, advanced small modular reactor designs that would be developed in New Brunswick through the construction of demonstration units at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station.

By fostering collaboration among the various research, manufacturing, federal, and provincial agencies, an initial ARC Clean Energy demonstration is planned to be ready by 2030, and Moltex Energy Inc.’s waste recycling facility and reactor is planned to ready by the early 2030s. Through ongoing support and collaboration, these advanced technologies could start being deployed as early as 2030 in support of the industrial needs in areas like Saskatchewan and Alberta, and around the globe.

“Our government believes that the best way to ensure that Canada becomes a leader in advanced small modular reactor development and deployment is through continued engagement and partnerships,” said New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs. “New Brunswick has already attracted two tremendous vendors in ARC Clean Energy Canada and Moltex Energy who are now developing their capacity and generating local economic development in the province. New Brunswick is well positioned to be a world leader in the SMR field.”

Stream 3 proposes a new class of micro-SMRs designed primarily to replace the use of diesel in remote communities and mines. A 5 MW gas-cooled demonstration project is under way at Chalk River, Ontario, with plans to be in service by 2026.

“It is important that our provinces take these next steps together to continue leading the development of cutting-edge small modular reactors for the benefit of future generations,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford. “Ontario is home to a world-class nuclear industry, which we will leverage as we continue our critical work on this innovative technology in order to provide affordable, reliable, safe and clean energy while unlocking tremendous economic potential across the country.”

The report identifies the potential for all three streams to create employment and economic growth benefits for Canada, as well as opportunities to export technology and expertise to address global issues such as climate change and energy reliability.

The next action identified in the memorandum of understanding is the development of a joint strategic plan, to be drafted in collaboration by the participating governments. The plan is expected to be completed this spring.

“Alberta has always been committed to clean, affordable energy,” said Albert Premier Jason Kenney. “SMRs are an exciting new technology that could be used in the future to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, for example by generating power for Canadian oilsands producers. Nuclear is the cleanest form of electricity production and with SMRs, is now more affordable and scaleable for industrial use. We are excited to be part of this group that will help develop Canadian SMR technology.”

The partner provinces have indicated they will continue to work together and across the nuclear industry, to help ensure Canada remains at the forefront of nuclear innovation, while creating new opportunities for jobs, economic growth, innovation and a lower-carbon future.

An executive summary of the feasibility study is available online.


Study unearths new assessment of arsenic in Yellowknife soil

(Source: Cabin Radio) Current guidelines for the remediation of contaminated NWT sites are based in part on a five-fold overestimation of naturally occurring arsenic levels in Yellowknife soil, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found elevated levels of arsenic trioxide in soils as far as 30 km from the site where Giant Mine roasters once released billows of the toxic dust.

“We call that a smoking gun, or a fingerprint of Giant Mine or Con Mine emissions, because that’s the form released by old roaster stacks in the region,” said Mike Palmer, manager of Aurora College’s North Slave Research Centre and the study’s lead author.

Giant and Con, both no longer operational, were Yellowknife’s biggest gold mines. Giant is considered one of Canada’s most contaminated sites and a billion-dollar, federally led cleanup operation is beginning.

The new study establishes a lower figure for how much arsenic would naturally occur in Yellowknife soil if it weren’t for human activity like those mines, known as the background concentration.

Soil quality guidelines are based in part on background concentrations of arsenic. NWT soil guidelines outlined in a 2003 report reference an estimate that placed the background concentration of arsenic in Yellowknife-area soils at 150 parts per million.

Palmer’s study instead sets the upper range at just 30 parts per million, a fifth of the earlier estimate – which is still in use.

He said previous attempts at estimating naturally occurring arsenic in Yellowknife soil used different methods and likely sampled too close to the roasters to get a meaningful number.

“It answers a longstanding question in Yellowknife about whether our soils within the region are just naturally elevated,” said Palmer.

“We’re essentially saying no, that’s not necessarily the case. The general concentrations and soils in our region aren’t that much different from the rest of Canada.”

No change planned at Giant cleanup

The plan to clean up Giant Mine is based on existing soil quality guidelines. That plan aims to restore the Giant Mine site to the current industrial standard for arsenic contamination, which is 340 parts per million, and the townsite to the current residential standard of 160 parts per million.

“That’s what our approved plan is, so we don’t envision any of those changing,” said Natalie Plato, deputy director of the Giant Mine remediation project.

“We did a human health ecological risk assessment, which looks at the levels we’re cleaning to – post-remediation – to determine if there are any residual risks,” said Plato. “The overall summary of that risk assessment determined that risks are low or, in some cases, even very low.”

Palmer said his findings do not necessarily indicate elevated risk to the public. He said his team is working closely with the NWT government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources to ensure future risk assessments reflect the newest data.

“What it really does is allows those risk assessments to be based in the most contemporary and the most up-to-date information,” he said.

By email, the department said it is working to revise its soil remediation guidelines and will be sharing an updated human health risk assessment alongside Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs in a series of public webinars this summer.

The department said the NWT’s soil remediation criteria differ in part from Palmer’s evaluation because the existing criteria focused on a tighter area surrounding Yellowknife.

But Palmer says samples must be taken further from the sites of past emissions to get an accurate measurement of what the arsenic concentration would be without human pollution.

“All the evidence presented in the paper shows that soils within 20 km of town are just not a reliable source of background,” said Palmer.

How the study worked

Palmer’s team collected almost 500 soil samples in the Yellowknife area over three summers, starting in 2015. Team members collected samples within a 30-km radius of Yellowknife by pushing aluminum tubes into the ground, or driving them in with a sledgehammer where the terrain was dense or rocky. Samples came from undisturbed locations outside city or industrial sites.

The tubes were sealed, frozen, and the samples shipped to Queen’s University. There, researchers sawed the tubes open and chopped them into smaller pieces for analysis.

The study found arsenic trioxide in 80 percent of samples as far as 30 km away from Yellowknife. The concentration of arsenic in the soil was higher closer to Giant Mine’s roasters.

Palmer said his team was surprised to find arsenic trioxide persisting in the soil 60 years after most of the dust was emitted. He said Giant Mine released nearly 90 percent of its lifetime emissions in its first 10 years of operation after opening in 1948.

Giant Mine and the neighbouring Con Mine released an estimated 22,000 pounds of arsenic trioxide per day in the early 1950s. Giant Mine accounted for the bulk of emissions and took longer than the smaller Con Mine to install scrubbers to limit its environmental impact.

The primary job of the Giant Mine remediation project is to freeze 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide in underground chambers beneath the mine.

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is calling for an apology and compensation from the federal government for the lasting impacts of the mine. A petition and TikTok awareness campaign prompted a recent statement from the federal government, which the First Nation says falls short of correcting historical wrongs.


(Source: New York Times) LAGOS, Nigeria — Gas flaring worldwide decreased by 5 percent in the pandemic year, mostly because of lower demand for oil, according to a recent report from the World Bank.

While the overall drop was expected, the report offered a detailed picture of the flaring activities around the world, with steep declines in some areas, like the United States, and surprising increases in others, notably China.

Flaring occurs when the gas that emerges with crude oil is burned off rather than captured. That burning emits carbon dioxide, a gas that is the main contributor to climate change. According to World Bank officials, flaring adds roughly 400 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions to the atmosphere every year.

According to the report, Russia was responsible for more flaring overall than any other country in 2020, contributing 15 percent of the global total. But within Russia, there were areas of progress. Burning continued to decrease in the Khanty-Mansi region of Siberia, where flaring volumes have dropped by nearly 80 percent over the previous 15 years.

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The other top flaring countries, according to the report, were Iraq, Iran, the United States, Algeria, Venezuela and Nigeria.

China saw the biggest percentage increase among the top 30 countries, with a surge of 35 percent despite the country’s oil production remaining flat. The report cited testing in new oil fields in the country’s remote northwest. The increase moved China up to 9th place overall in flaring volume, from 15th in 2019.

The United States recorded a significant 32 percent drop in 2020 from the year before, mainly because of new infrastructure to capture gas that otherwise would have been flared.

The report, published at the end of April, relied on data collected by two satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and analyzed at the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines.

In addition to contributing planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, routine gas flaring can harm the health of people who live near gas sites. It also wastes a potentially useful energy source, a problem that is especially acute in poorer countries.

According to the World Bank report, 700 million people currently lack steady access to energy, and more than 620 million, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa, could still be without reliable power in 2030.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and the biggest gas-flaring country in the sub-Saharan region, has reduced gas burning by 70 percent in the last 15 years, the World Bank report said. That reduction was partly because of projects that have helped the country convert waste gas into liquid fuels for exports.

Recently, though, Nigeria has struggled, with gas flaring volumes rising slightly between 2018 and 2019. A promise to eliminate flaring by 2020 never materialized and two other deadlines, one in 2004 and another in 2008, were also missed. The pandemic has also slowed projects aimed at capturing more gas.

But the main problem, according to Afolabi Elebiju, a corporate lawyer based in Lagos who follows the energy industry, is that under Nigerian law, which is often weakly enforced, unauthorized flaring carries relatively light penalties.

Mr. Elebiju called flaring “a monster” in Nigeria. “The government is thinking, ‘If we drive these guys too hard, they will run away,’” he said, referring to foreign oil companies operating in Nigeria. “But in many other countries where they are forceful, operators are complying, including in their own home countries.”

Analysts emphasize that there is no single solution to the global flaring problem. While the main obstacle in Nigeria is lax enforcement, other countries face different challenges. In the United States, for example, there are thousands of small scale flaring sites that are difficult to connect to a single market. In Russia, the remoteness of some sites would mean high costs for transporting gas to market even if it were captured.

Although the overall decline worldwide gave cause for optimism, Zubin Bamji, who leads the gas flaring program at the World Bank, predicted that rates could rise when the global economy fully reopens.

“In the U.S., we expect an increase in gas flaring in 2021 as operators start to increase oil production again in response to oil price increases,” Mr. Bamji said, though he also noted that improved gas infrastructure could mitigate the rebound.

“We need to see movement from the top seven flaring countries to see dramatic change,” Mr. Bamji said. “Plans put in place now will likely not bear fruit until close to 2030 because projects take years to see results, so investment and flaring reduction programs must start now.”


An earlier version of this article described incorrectly the scope of flaring activity in China. The country saw the biggest percentage change among the top 30 flaring nations, not the biggest overall change of all countries. 

New ESAA Members

ESAA welcomes the following new members.  If you are not a member of ESAA you can join now via:


Full Members:

Geotech Drilling Services

713066 Range Road 72 County
Grande Prairie, AB T8W 5H9
Phone: (250) 309-4883

Brant Jackson, Marketing Manager
[email protected]com


Geotech provides industry leading environmental geotechnical, exploration, and construction drilling services by providing a safe working environment for our solution minded personnel, maintained and current equipment, and long-term client relationships. Since 1996, Geotech has achieved ongoing growth while remaining focused on the long-term objective of being operationally excellent. By adhering to Geotech’s core values and committing to a behaviour based safety culture, Geotech is able to maintain a leading position in the drilling industry. Geotech Alberta is focused on Alberta’s oil and gas markets, and as of December 2020 has established a permanent operation center in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Geotech is immediately pursuing infrastructure (geotechnical and environmental) projects in support of abandoned well-sites, oil sands and pipeline projects in and around the Grande Prairie and Northeast BC regions. A strong focus of Geotech’s new operation in Alberta will be Phase 2 environmental investigations of oil and gas sites throughout the regions surrounding Grande Prairie and Northeast BC.

Thurber Engineering Ltd.

4127 Roper Road NW
Edmonton, AB T6B 3S5
Phone: (780) 438-1460

Neal Fernuik, Principal
[email protected]


Thurber Engineering Ltd. is an environmental, geotechnical, geological and materials engineering and testing services consulting firm with over 60 years of experience. Thurber is privately owned by senior personnel with offices in major western and eastern Canadian cities. We have built our reputation by working closely with our clients to provide fresh business ideas with integrity and quality. Consulting services include Phase I, II and III environmental site assessments, soil and groundwater investigations, remediation and reclamation planning and supervision, project management, environmental liability assessments, compliance monitoring, hydrogeology and groundwater supply evaluations, risk assessment and management and mine closure.

Triton Environmental Consultants

1300, 144 – 4th Ave SW
Calgary, AB T2P 3N4
Phone: (587) 572-1708

Craig Vatcher, Senior Project Manager
[email protected]


Triton Environmental Consultants is a team of experienced, collaborative professionals that offer local relevance and practical solutions to enable responsible development. With seven offices strategically located across British Columbia and two in Alberta, we’re always ready to identify opportunities and support our clients on the ground or in the water. Our partners and clients trust us to provide a wide range of professional services, and our approach is to always offer thoughtful, highly practical environmental solutions and consistent, timely results. Our team members are knowledgeable, collaborative, trustworthy and professional. Yet our greatest strength has always been our local field experience and the valuable connections we’ve built in the communities we serve. We don’t just know how to find our clients’ development projects on a map; we call these places home. Triton Environmental Consultants has always been mindful of its responsibility to facilitate sustainable use of the environment in the best interests of our clients and their stakeholders. From power projects and mines to interprovincial pipeline projects, clients have relied on us to successfully steward their projects from inception through approval to completion since 1989.


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ESAA has listened to all of the feedback we received through 2020 and we have made a number of major changes to the delivery of EnviroTech 2021. 

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The Agenda
  • Opening Keynote – Balancing People and Nature – Simon Jackson, Spirit Bear Youth Coalition
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Put on your thinking caps – it is Trivia Time.  Join us for the first ever Virtual ESAA Trivia Night.  Okay it really isn’t night time – just the end of the day.   ESAA has partnered with Nice Guys Trivia for a little virtual trivia. Compete for prizes and bragging rights.  There is sure to be some laughs and good networking.
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McLennan Ross Webinar

Leases and More: Environmental Issues For Commercial Landlords and Tenants

Contamination and other environmental issues are of increasing concern for property owners and tenants. Investigation and clean-up costs can add up quickly. Determining who is liable for what can also be costly and complicated. This presentation will discuss lease provisions and other legal principles that often arise in these situations. The focus will be on practical considerations for commercial and industrial landlords and tenants.

Join Sean Parker and Student-at-Law Kyle Trolley as they discuss:

  • Tenant/landlord liability for contamination
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  • Selecting and retaining a consultant

Who Should Attend: This webinar is designed for in-house counsel, property managers, environmental professionals and anyone who owns or occupies a property that could have contamination issues.

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ESAA Job Board

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Current Listings:
  • Intermediate Reclamation/Remediation Specialist – NorthWind Land Resources
  • Environmental Geologist, Hydrogeologist, Engineer or Scientist – Langan Engineering and Environmental Services
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