ESAA Member News


 

Alberta: Keeping upland bird habitat intact

New funding for the Pheasants Forever Calgary chapter will help protect wildlife habitat along public rights-of-way on rural roads. Alberta’s Recovery Plan is building a healthier, stronger, more biologically diverse environment for the benefit of all Albertans.

Alberta’s government is providing a $256,200 grant to the organization to better protect ditches and rights-of-way in southern Alberta against trespass farming, an illegal practice where producers either plant crops beyond their property lines – for example, in ditches or on public or Crown lands – or squat on sections of property they do not own or have a lease agreement to operate on.

The Pheasants Forever Canada project includes a public awareness campaign to explain how healthy rights-of-way lead to improved biodiversity outcomes. This is part of the government’s platform commitment to implement a common-sense conservation plan for a balanced approach to environmental stewardship.

Alberta’s Recovery Plan is a plan to breathe new life into Alberta’s economy and create new opportunities for every Albertan. It is a plan to build, to diversify, and to create jobs.

“The reality is environmentally protected public rights-of-way provide erosion control, carbon sequestration, cleaner air, cleaner water, flood and drought protection, as well as important habit for wildlife like upland game birds.”

Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks

“The leadership and public service provided by Pheasants Forever in helping protect public rights-of-way has benefits for farmers, hunters and the environment of rural communities across the province.”

R.J. Sigurdson, MLA for Highwood

“Healthy ditches and public rights-of-way have real value for farmers and their communities by providing important habitat but also other natural benefits, such as carbon sequestration, flood and drought mitigation, nutrient filtration and biodiversity.”

Harvey McKernon, president, Pheasants Forever Calgary chapter

Environmentally protected ditches and right of ways provide erosion control, carbon sequestration, cleaner air, cleaner water, flood and drought protection as well as important habit for wildlife like upland game birds. Trespass farming leads to a loss of vegetation along ditches and rights-of-way which has a negative impact on the habitat of game birds and other species, including some endangered species.

Pheasants Forever Canada will meet with 14 municipalities over the term of the grant to identify gaps, best practices and opportunities for strengthening protection of ditches and rights-of-way. The project will run through 2023.

Quick facts
  • Pheasants Forever Canada was formed in 1992 in response to a continuing decline of the Chinese ring-necked pheasant and other upland game bird populations in Western Canada.
  • Species that nest in shrubs and trees along road rights-of-way include the endangered ferruginous hawk and loggerhead shrike, a species of special concern.
  • When nest cover is removed, upland birds have fewer places to nest and nests are more easily detected by predators.

 

Alberta government cuts funding for household hazardous waste disposal

(Source: Yahoo News) Alberta municipalities are upset they are facing larger bills for the disposal of hazardous waste like bleach, paint and antifreeze after the province ended subsidies and made changes to a program that helped mitigate the cost.

The changes came into effect on June 1 when the provincially-owned Swan Hills Treatment Centre stopped taking hazardous household waste.

Swan Hills stopped accepting the material after the province contracted plant operations to private waste management company SUEZ.

“The Swan Hills Treatment Centre … is designed to treat high concentration polychlorinated biphenyls (HCPCBs), and is inefficient and expensive to operate when treating other materials like hazardous household waste,” said Paul Hamnett, press secretary to Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon.

“The cost to the province to operate the centre has continually increased to approximately $30 million per year.”

Municipalities always covered some of the cost of collecting hazardous household waste. But much of the cost was off-set by the provincial government.

Alberta Infrastructure subsidized the program by waiving disposal costs at Swan Hills. The government estimates these fees were $3.7 million over two years.

Environment and Parks helped with collection, transportation and disposal.. The Alberta Recycling Management Association (ARMA) was given $1.4 million each year to assist with the collection and transportation of waste from municipalities.. Alberta Environment and Parks gave Swan Hills another $480,000 to help with disposal. .

Participating municipalities say they are now stuck with extra costs, estimated at $2 million a year, until the new extended producer responsibility (EPR) program comes into effect two to three years from now.

The Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA) is working with municipalities to find new places to send their hazardous waste.

‘Another download’

Christina Seidel, executive director of the Alberta Recycling Council, said municipalities were caught off guard by changes to the program. They now have to choose between making room in their budgets to keep collecting hazardous waste or to discontinue it, which could see hazardous materials in people’s household trash.

“If it just ends up going into regular landfill, how does that affect things like groundwater?” Seidel asked. “How does that impact the actual waste management system? Because that material does not belong in a regular landfill.”

The province expects to enact new regulations for EPR in the spring of 2022 with a full roll-out within 18 to 24 months.

Tammy Burke, mayor of Rocky Mountain House, said her municipality will continue with collections but is frustrated by the decision.

“It’s just another download on our municipality,” she said. “We don’t want household hazardous waste to end up in our landfill.”

Seidel and Burke, who is a director of the Recycling Council of Alberta, are calling on the government to continue funding the extra costs until producers are made to take responsibility for their products.

“We’re not talking a huge amount of money,” Seidel said. “We would love to see some sort of interim funding that actually helps municipalities through this period before EPR comes in. That, I think, is the ideal solution.”

Ed Gugenheimer, the CEO of ARMA, said the closure of the Swan Hills site meant his organization had to scramble to find new accredited facilities that would take hazardous waste and dispose of it properly, he said.

ARMA is in talks with Alberta Environment about accessing the funding it used to provide to Swan Hills. He said municipalities will take on a bigger portion of the shared costs in the interim.

“With Swan Hills being shut down or not accepting that material anymore, that portion of whatever those costs are going to be borne probably by many municipalities at this time,” he said.

Gugenheimer said officials with Alberta Environment have been forthcoming in working with him on the issue.

 

Environmental groups worry about logging in Alberta caribou habitat

 

(Source: Global News) The Alberta government has directed a forestry company to harvest old-growth trees in caribou habitat where the province has already spent millions and signed agreements to help the herds survive, environmental groups say.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Alberta Wilderness Association said Thursday that government maps show West Fraser Timber has been directed to clear-cut blocks that contain century-old trees next to a park in northwest Alberta.

They said some blocks next to the Willmore Wilderness Area are in caribou ranges that are already more than 90 per cent damaged and are covered under agreements signed with Ottawa supposed to protect the herds while land-use planning continues.

“It’s one of the last remaining intact pieces of the winter range for caribou here,” said Gillian Chow-Fraser of the wilderness association.

“It’s really important to be conserving what caribou habitat you have left.”

West Fraser said it’s following direction from the government.

“We have been directed by government to operate in this specific area and away from other areas… until the Berland Sub-Regional Taskforce on caribou recovery completes its work,” spokeswoman Heather Colpitts wrote in an email.

“The province’s direction to operate in these areas is intended as an interim measure to allow harvesting and protect jobs and caribou.”

The logging plans, which are supposed to begin this month, would affect the A La Peche and Little Smoky herds, two of Alberta’s most endangered. The Alberta government has spent millions to keep the threatened herds alive, trying to restore disturbed forest and — since 2005 — shooting hundreds of predatory wolves from helicopters.

Government documents suggest the plans date from 2018, but Chow-Fraser said much has changed since then.

Recovery plans under the Species At Risk Act have begun. Land-use plans are nearing completion. Athabasca rainbow trout, also native to the area, have been listed as an endangered species and their critical habitat identified.

As well, the herds are now covered by a federal emergency protection order. That would normally allow Ottawa to step in with conservation measures, but it’s in abeyance after the two governments signed a deal to come up with a caribou recovery strategy.

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry spokeswoman Mackenzie Blyth said in an email that the province’s plans accord with that agreement.

“Alberta’s forest management plans are designed to align with sub-regional planning and the work being done by the caribou sub-regional task forces,” she wrote.

“Sustainable forest management seeks to balance a variety of environmental, Indigenous, social and economic values and can be used to help promote forest resilience and restore critical wildlife habitat over the long term.”

Chow-Fraser said the blocks slated for logging are a small part of West Fraser’s tenure and the company should be directed to harvest elsewhere, at least until land-use plans are complete.

“It kind of undermines the commitments (the governments have) made to regional planning.”

While parts of it have been cut before, she said those cutblocks date from the 1960s and have almost grown enough to match the nearby untouched forests.

“If you log it now, you’re back to square one,” she said.

“It’s such a rarity to have trees that are this old and this intact in a caribou range. I really would hope that all effort is put in to save it.”

Alberta’s United Conservative government has put a priority on the province’s forestry industry. Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen has said a 33 per cent increase in harvest is sustainable.

 

Feds give Medicine Hat $18 million for well cleanup

(Source: Medicine Hat News)  The City of Medicine Hat could cut its entire abandonment costs at the controversial Manyberries oilfield in half thanks to a newly awarded $18 million from a federal government fund to pay for well cleanup in environmentally sensitive areas.

The work – closure and reclamation of up to 118 wells – appeared on a public tendering website last week.

Officials revealed to the News on Friday that the cash from the provincially administered federal fund, along with up to $4 million in city spending, will reduce the city’s liabilities in that field by “about 60 per cent.”

“We’re very, very pleased,” said Kevin Redden, the city’s director of environmental and intergovernmental relations, of the recent $18 million allocation from the Alberta Site Rehabilitation program.

As well, he said, a city lawsuit filed against Ottawa to seek compensation for increased environmental regulations on sage grouse range has been suspended, with parties working toward “an amicable resolution.”

If so, that would end litigation that has carried on since early 2014, when the city and several other oil companies in the area challenged the federal government’s consultation process and jurisdiction.

A separate claim from the group asked for $124 million in total compensation for economic losses after the Conservative government of the time imposed noise, operation and development restrictions to go along with the Species At Risk Act following a lawsuit by environmental groups.

That derailed a drilling program at the field that administrators said would boost production and pay off the field’s $48-million purchase price in four years.

During a special council meeting to approve the deal, several council members expressed reservations about a foray into oil to diversify the natural gas division, but still voted 8-1 in favour

Coun. Phil Turnbull voted against, and the now-chair of the city’s Utility and Infrastructure committee said Friday it is time to lower the city’s liability exposure.

“We can shake our heads all we want – I voted against it, thought it was terrible – but it’s done,” said Turnbull. “We’ll never be able to do what we want there (drilling to boost production), we’ve spent money in court – enough money in my opinion – and $18 million can go a long way.”

Redden said for the time being the city will retain producing wells in the field which are producing a profit or are not covered by the specific grant qualifications.

“We’re focusing on the marginal wells that are connected with (specific) habitat related to the grant,” he said, stating the city will retain about the same number of wells at the field.

“At current prices we’re doing OK there; we’re turning a profit.”

Bids from oil patch servicing and environmental reclamation firms are now being accepted.

The new money arrives in the latest $100-million tranche of the $1 billion awarded to Alberta by Ottawa last year as a lifeline to producers and oil services agencies during a steep decline in oil and gas prices caused by the pandemic.

The city has been allocated those funds, but the program requires contractors to apply for grants that factor into final payment, so the scope of work and costs will not be final until bids are evaluated.

Work will begin this fall, with in whole work schedule to be complete by next spring. Reclamation and monitoring can take years before certified as complete.

The city has also received about $3.5 million in earlier phases of the site reclamation program in Alberta, and about $2.5 million from a similar program in Saskatchewan.


Audit found 87 high-risk B.C. dams with ‘deficiencies,’ but doesn’t say where

(Source: The Narwhal)  B.C.’s auditor general is urging people not to be alarmed after releasing a 35-page report that found provincial officials weren’t doing enough to prevent dam failures that could lead to deaths and destruction

British Columbia had 87 high-risk dams with “significant deficiencies” in 2020, according to an audit released on Tuesday that warned the provincial government was not doing enough to ensure dams were safe. 

Among the 87 identified with deficiencies, the audit said that one required “immediate attention” by the dam owner, 24 needed “considerable work” despite having an owner that was not actively working to correct deficiencies, and 62 had owners that were actively working to correct deficiencies with “considerable work” needed to be compliant. The audit also found that these dams, on average, had been at a high risk level for 7.5 years. 

But the location of the high-risk dams remains a mystery.

Neither the Office of the Auditor General of B.C. nor the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development would say what areas were at risk. The provincial ministry is responsible for the safety of 1,900 dams that provide electricity, irrigation and flood control, including BC Hydro dams and about 20 dams constructed for oil and gas activities such as hydraulic fracking. (Not all oil and gas industry dams fall under the ministry’s jurisdiction.) 

The 35-page report by Auditor General Michael Pickup said the failure of 1,000 dams overseen by the ministry “can kill people and damage the environment and property.” “For the remaining 900 dams, the impact of failure is lower, only damaging the owner’s property.”

“We don’t want people to be alarmed and we weren’t out there looking at the particular safety of unique dams or anything like that,” Pickup said. “But this is a large government program … that is not working, frankly, as it is intended to by government — and I think people need to have a discussion around this with elected officials.”

Pickup said the report doesn’t identify the 87 dams with serious deficiencies because it covers the period from January 2019 to December 2020 and he wasn’t certain whether they were still at risk. “Presumably a number of things would likely have changed since the audit period,” he told reporters during a news conference.  

“So my suggestion would be if you’re looking for an up-to-date accounting … of how that 87 has changed … ask government themselves where this now stands.” 

Although Pickup said the public should not be alarmed, his report noted that dam failures could have serious consequences.

It classified the consequence of failure for 43 dams as “extreme,” while the consequences of failure for 84 dams was classified as “very high.” Another 234 dams had a “high” failure consequence classification, while 595 were considered to have “significant” consequences in the event of failure. 

“Failures can be caused by a single catastrophic event, such as an earthquake, or, more often, by a series of cumulative causes or events,” the report noted.

BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau offered a blunt assessment of Pickup’s report, calling it “alarming” and urging the BC NDP government to address public safety concerns.

“And the way that they can do that is to be transparent,” Furstenau told The Narwhal. “To be proactively providing information about the dams that are not meeting these standards and communicating clearly about what steps they’re going to take to properly do their job as a regulator and properly protect the public.”

The Narwhal asked the ministry for a list of the 87 dams, along with the locations, owners and purpose, but it declined to provide these details, instead sending an emailed response that said none of the 1,900 dams “pose an immediate risk nor are at an imminent threat of failure.”

“Over time, if compliance and enforcement are not effective at promoting dam owners to adhere to safety standards, these dams may become liabilities and the province will have to pay for corrective actions to occur to keep the public safe,” the ministry said in its email.

The ministry did not explain what it defines as a liability or whether it would include a dam failure that could lead to environmental damage or deaths.

Among other findings, the audit discovered:

  • 196 dams were not listed in provincial government records; 
  • there was no province-wide process to identify dams built without authorization;
  • many dams didn’t meet regulatory requirements and the ministry’s tracking, and;
  • follow-up on deficiencies was inadequate. 

 

“Neither the ministry nor dam owners will know if dams are ‘safe,’ ‘reasonably safe’ or ‘not safe’ if the ministry does not verify that dam safety review reports meet requirements and does not update the database with key information,” Pickup noted in the report, Oversight of Dam Safety in British Columbia.

“Nor will the ministry know about problems that need attention to make dams safe,” the report said. “For example, an officer learned of a dam safety review report that had a ‘not safe’ conclusion, but the previous officer had not flagged it for follow-up. It was two years before the officer learned the dam was not safe and took appropriate action.”

Site C not included in report

The audit did not include the troubled $16 billion Site C dam on the Peace River that is being built on a weak foundation — raising safety concerns in downstream communities — because the project is still under construction. 

Pickup’s report follows an investigation by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which revealed that BC Hydro has known for well over a decade that the Peace Canyon dam on the Peace River is built on weak, unstable rock and that an earthquake triggered by a nearby natural gas industry fracking or disposal well operation could cause the dam to fail.

It also comes after the 2010 failure of the privately owned earthen Testalinden Dam in the Okanagan, which destroyed or damaged five homes and caused significant damage to crops and farm equipment, sending debris over 200 metres of Highway 97 and blocking several secondary roads. The Testalinden dam failure is estimated to have cost millions of dollars.

The report found the ministry did not have a province-wide process to identify unauthorized dams that are built without a water licence. 

“The ministry discovered, by chance, up to 24 unauthorized dams per year, depending on the region,” the report observed. “For example, an unauthorized dam may be reported by a neighbour or a government employee who spots the dam while doing another task.”

The report also found that four out of 10 dam safety officers had a backlog of reports to review regarding the safety of high-consequence dams. While the average time to accept safety reports was 20 months, some took eight years. 

The ministry did not have complete and accurate information about dams it regulates, meaning that “it did not have all the information it needed for effective oversight,” the audit found. 

The ministry also did not adequately verify dam owner compliance with regulatory requirements, the report noted.  

“This increased the risk that dam owners might not meet regulatory safety requirements. It also increased the risk that their dams could threaten public safety.”

Audit made nine recommendations

Furstenau said the findings point to the chronic under-funding of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

“As indicated in this report, there is a lack of staff and capacity to do this work. And this is just one segment of that ministry’s responsibilities … this ministry seems to be deeply under-resourced.” 

“It’s yet another Auditor General report that identifies that this province is not doing what it needs to do when it comes to oversight regulation and enforcement of activities that are happening on the land base — and particularly industrial activities,” Furstenau said, pointing to a 2016 audit that found the government’s mines monitoring and inspection program was woefully inadequate and did not protect the province from significant environmental risks. 

The auditor general made nine recommendations to improve the ministry’s oversight of dam safety. Recommendations include improving processes to verify dam owner compliance with regulations and improved monitoring of compliance and enforcement activities. 

The ministry said it accepted all the recommendations.

 

Ontario government, industry group want feds to fund abandoned well clean up

(Source: CBC News) An industry group representing oil and gas producers, contractors and geologists in Ontario says it has repeatedly asked the federal government to discuss a plan to clean up thousands of abandoned wells in the province that it believes pose a health and safety risk.

The most recent request by the Ontario Petroleum Institute (OPI) to discuss the details of its proposal came days before an explosion in Wheatley, Ont. injured 20 people and destroyed multiple buildings.

Municipal officials said high levels of hydrogen sulphide were detected at the site an hour before the explosion. Chatham-Kent’s fire chief Chris Case said that they believe the source of the leak is an abandoned natural gas well. 

In April 2020, the federal government made an announcement of $1.7 billion to clean up orphan wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Ontario was not included. 

An abandoned or orphan well is one that was drilled by a company that no longer exists. 

 

The Ontario Petroleum Institute is asking the federal government for the same aid it gave to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells in other parts of Canada. (CBC News)
What the industry believes clean up will cost

OPI’s proposal, first sent to then Minister of Finance Bill Morneau on May 4, 2020, includes:

  • A request for $270-million to reclaim abandoned wells.
  • An estimate that there are 4,4000 abandoned wells in Ontario that pose a potential risk to landowners and public health.
  • Details of an Orphan Well Reclamation program it says will create 500 jobs and support 40 businesses in Ontario.

 

A spokesperson for OPI said the government confirmed they received the proposals that were sent on May 4, 2020 and Aug. 19, 2021, but did not discuss its proposal. 

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC News on Thursday that she is open to discussing “additional needs that might be [in Ontario].”

Freeland called the remediation a “meaningful challenge” in Ontario while defending the federal government’s decision to leave the province out of the program.

 

The Ontario abandoned works program takes applications to clean up oil and gas wells in cases where the company no longer exists. (CBC News)

“I think its absolutely appropriate and right that the first focus of our orphan wells program was in the energy producing provinces where that is just such a massive part of economic activity,” she said.

More abandoned wells in Ont. than Sask., B.C. combined

According to Finance Canada, there are about 4,700 orphan wells in Alberta, 600 in Saskatchewan and 350 in British Columbia.

An expert in Ontario’s oil and gas wells, Dick Jackson, told CBC News that there are likely 3,000 abandoned wells mostly concentrated in the southwestern part of the province.

The legacy wells in Ontario were the first to be drilled in North America in 1858. Records for two natural gas wells in Wheatley, where the blast occurred, show they were drilled in the late 1800s.

A provincial Abandoned Works program receives $1 million to $3 million annually from the Ontario government, cleaning up 380 wells since 2005 at a cost of $23-million, according to a spokesperson for the ministry of northern development, mines and natural resources and forestry. 

The federal government, when the orphan well funding was announced, said that the cost to clean up one abandoned well could start at $100,000 and go into the millions. 

“The Ontario government supported the local industry association’s request to the federal government to be included in the program,” said Curtis Lindsay, press secretary for the provincial ministry, about the announced funding in 2020.