Fortune Minerals Limited has been approved to construct and operate a refinery approximately 27 kilometers northwest of Saskatoon. Called the Saskatchewan Metals Processing Plant, the refinery is drawing the ire of local community members over fears of water safety.
Planned to be located in the Registered Municipality of Corman Park No. 344, the SMPP will draw water from the Dalmeny aquifer and process extracts of cobalt, bismuth, gold and copper from a mine in the Northwest Territories.
The project was approved by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment in early 2014, which concluded that the risks will be handled and no significant adverse effects on the environment are expected.
Those living in the surrounding area have two key concerns: the effect on the safety and sustainability of nearby groundwater and the potential impact on environmental and human health.
Stated on the Fortune Minerals frequently asked questions page, the plant expects to take 36 cubic meters of water per hour from the Dalmeny Aquifer. The plant will run perpetually, and require 3.15 million litres per year. Around half of this will be pumped back after usage into a deep saline aquifer — the Souris River Formation. To get there, the injection will have to be well sealed and pumped down through the Dalmeny Aquifer. Fortune states that the risk of leakage to the Dalmeny Aquifer is minimal.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment has published an Environmental Impact Statement for Fortune Minerals’ SMPP. According to the document there will be a leakage detection system, monitoring wells may be installed and groundwater samples will be collected as well as analyzed each fall for the first five years. Based on the results of this sampling, the frequency of future tests may be reduced.
Besides the water safety issues, nearby residents are concerned with the residual materials and substances that will have to be transported to the plant.
Fortune Minerals states that cyanide is used in “virtually all” gold processing facilities worldwide and that four truckloads will be required each year. The cyanide will be removed from the wastewater using commercially available technology and will either be recycled or broken down.
The plant will also produce a form of asbestos known as actinolite as well as scorodite, a kind of arsenic. These waste materials will permanently be stored in pits beside the plant.
The Process Residue Storage Facility is designed to provide secure long-term storage for SMPP’s solid waste as well as limit its exposure to air and water. Estimations indicate that a total of 158,000 tonnes of residue will be produced each year. Assuming a worst-case scenario where the liner leaks and contaminant is allowed to continue to leech, Fortune states that its expected movement would be restricted within five meters after 500 years.
Residents are concerned about the research that has been done to support this fact. In the article “Fracture permeability and groundwater flow in clayey till near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan” published in the Canadian Geotechnical Journal, the Dalmeny site was examined.
The CGJ’s research found that the underground layer of clay above the Dalmeny Aquifer contains horizontal fractures which increase the hydraulic conductivity by two orders of magnitude, meaning that contaminated water can flow downwards 100 times faster than if the clay had not been cracked as Fortune Minerals assumed.
The article also says, “The fractures in the weathered and unweathered till may provide significant pathways for downward contaminant mitigation.” These fractures were not originally taken into consideration.
The Ministry’s Environmental Impact Statement for Fortune Mineral’s project also addresses the state of the original environment. Under section 6.1.3, “Biological Resources,” the report states that areas which land clearing or agricultural uses have impacted the land are not recommended to have mitigation.
The document recognizes the 6.7 hectares of wetlands within the proposed SMPP area as locally important as it is a prominent hydrological feature, provides habitats and improves water quality. It suggests first to avoid these wetlands if possible, and if not to minimize impacts or compensate. An example of compensation would be the installation of slit fencing around the perimeters to reduce the amount of sediment entering the wetland.
On a blog called Fortune Minerals: Toxic Time Bomb, community members from the Langham area are voicing their opinions on the subject.
Locals have been using the page as a means of voicing their opinions on the project. Steven Derksen said he is worried about possible contamination of the Dalmeny Aquifer as well as the surrounding land and air.
“In my opinion, the risks are too great and Fortune Minerals should not be allowed to set up shop,” Derksen commented.
Multiple meetings have been held on the topic and letters have been sent to many different councilors and elected officials including Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison.
“We’ve discussed [the project] as a committee before and we are not surprised,” said Ken Crush, chair of the Fortune Minerals Impact Group. “We see our government as into growth and resource development, even though 247 letters were sent from our community to the Department of Environment saying we are not comfortable with this in our community.”
Fortune must apply for rezoning and development permits in order to construct the SMPP. The eight councilors and reeve for the RM of Corman Park will hold a vote to decide whether or not Fortune gets the necessary permits to proceed.
Graphic: Stephanie Mah