Day Thirteen: March 21, 2006

This edition of the blog written by Paul Falvo in Inuvik. 


My day started — as it usually does in Inuvik — with crawling out from under a utilidor. Utilidors, I believe, are unique to Inuvik. They are insulated above-ground conduits for utility pipes and wires. I don’t sleep under the utilidor. But, I do have to pass under it on my way from the hotel to the Midnight Sun Recreation Centre, where the hearings take place. Either I am getting fatter or the level of snow and ice under the utilidor is rising. There’s probably an analogy in there that I can relate to natural and extraction subsidence in these technical hearings!

There is a local Elder sitting and listening to the proceedings today, along with two or three people who appear they might be from the community. Other than that, most of the people in the room flew in from Yellowknife and Southern latitudes.

Today starts with a continuation of questions from Intervenors to Proponents on topic 3b: anchor field design. It is another technical day. So, to get a sense of it, you need the transcript. But here are a few tidbits for us generalists. Please let me know if you spot errors. Don’t rely on this: check the real transcript if something here catches your eye.


Natural Resources Canada (NR Can) right away has concerns about late receipt of technical information (on seismicity and drilling sumps). Hard to give something this technical a through review without time to review it.

NRCan has questions about seismicity — the proponent says they are “taking appropriate measures.” This is a recurring theme. We also often hear that “Further study will be done and appropriate changes made,” or, “This is a preliminary design,” and even, “We’ll modify this as necessary to keep it above water.” In other words, “We will make it up as we go along.”

NRCan, it turns out, shares my concern that the proponents say natural processes will mask subsidence caused by extracting gas. Do we not understand enough about the underlying natural conditions to say something more definite? (“Subsidence” is the lowering that occurs when the ground settles after gas is extracted from underneath its surface).

Keeping up with the technical nature of discussion at technical hearings is challenging. On the flight up, my Canadian North fortune cookie said, “You naturally accumulate knowledge and look at its broader implications.” So, at lest we have Confucian sages on our side.


The JRP has two technical experts present. Dr. Jean-Marie Konrad, asks the proponent for a complete description of how they intend to place drilling wastes in sumps. Answer: “These procedures are not developed at this point.” Dr. Konrad is sceptical whether the proponents can pull off the on-site waste storage they are proposing. He points out that the addition of foreign substances — like salts — lowers the freezing point of the waste. Have the proponents considered this adequately? Dr. Konrad says proponents will have to do more to convince the JRP that their waste disposal plan is sound.

He goes on to ask, “When you do your thermal modelling, how do you do your solid rejection physics?” But the proponent has not yet done thermal modelling.

Dr. Gayle on behalf of the JRP asks the proponent to explain a sentence submitted in an IR: “Subsidence in excess of the predicted amount might change the magnitude of the effects assessed for the proposed project but not necessarily the magnitude of these effects.”

He comments later that from the information presented and the proponents’ answers to questions, it is clear that the proponent has no information on existing stress field at reservoirs.


Then it is the turn of the Joint Review Panellists to ask questions. Dr. Usher has a lot of questions, starting with what would happen at Taglu if a shortened season mean they cannot deliver all the gravel they plan to. The answer is vague and apparently not well developed. First priority, we hear — as we have heard before — would be safety of personnel.

Dr. Usher goes on to ask about emergency response in the event of storm surges. The proponent says they can rely on weather forecasts and adds that they’re going to be there for thirty years gaining experience on how to handle this.

Dr. Usher asks about subsidence in the Taglu Production area. He confirms that although subsidence — as we have been hearing all day — is gradual (1 cm/year) — after thirty years they have dropped one side of Big Lake by 30 cm. This will change the shape of the lake — like tilting a dish of water.


Later, the proponent admits that although there will be efforts to protect their facilities from the effects of subsidence, there is nothing they can do to mitigate overall subsidence, “which is directly correlated to what we are here to do — which is to take the gas out of the ground.”

Dr. Usher reminds the proponents that when the JRP was in Inuvik in February, we experienced weather with days averaging -2C or -3C, with nights not getting below -15C. He asks what would happen to sump disposal at Taglu if a similar spell of warm weather be encountered. Shell is relying on cold weather for disposal of drilling wastes.

If the sump were to fail after the life of the project, who would be responsible, Dr. Usher asks. Shell says the land will be turned back to the government; but, that Shell will never give up its responsibility.

Niglintgak will consume about 1300m3 of methanol annually. Shell considered recovering this from the discharge waste. However, Shell decided it was cheaper to replenish the supply annually rather than recycling it. The majority of the methanol ends up in the “produced water” and disposed of in the disposal well.


Finally, at 1630 on the second day, in response to a question from JR Panellist Tyson Pertschy, we start talking about something I have direct experience with — the behaviour of ice at “break-up” time. Seems Shell studied this for one year. I know from living on Yellowknife Bay that ice behaviour varies widely — and wildly — from year to year. Shell proposes to put a gas conditioning facility on a barge in a river channel.


The Panel ends up with more questions about disposal sumps. The proponent says they investigated alternatives. If the NEB denies permission for local “downhole” disposal, they will truck the cuttings to Alberta, they say. However, questioning reveals they have only anecdotal knowledge of disposal sites in Alberta.


We finish up with a presentation by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan):

Sharon Smith and Scott Dallimore, Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), speak to Permafrost and Terrain Conditions and Related Impacts in Anchor Fields. They start by highlighting the importance of starting with good baselines. They are troubled by the lack of consideration of and information about PERMAFROST in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — a situation not remedied completely by Information Requests (IRs). It is unclear to GSC if the proponent has considered excess ice and massive ground ice in its analysis. NRCan has recommendations including that the proponents conduct better assessments and investigation and provide that data to NRCan and regulators.

NRCan has illustrations of previous sumps that have not worked — and data to show that the proposed sumps in this case may not work either due to lowered freezing points of waste and rising ground temperatures. There has been no thermal modeling by the proponent, and no details of monitoring/mitigation should sump performance be unsatisfactory.

In summary, the proponent has not demonstrated that sump contents will remain frozen under current and future climate conditions and will not be released to surrounding environment. NRCan wrote a letter to the proponent expressing concerns. Response recd 16 Mar 06 so no recommendations yet.

Larry Dyke re subsidence is satisfied the proponents estimates of subsidence are accurate.

Steve Solomon, regarding proponents conclusions that natural subsidence would be difficult to separate from subsidence caused by operations, says GLS has a different view. Apparently a meeting between NRCan, Environment Canada and the proponents on 10 Feb 06 answered some of the concerns GLS had about incomplete information. GLS analysis shows Big Lake is increasing by 3 ha per year. Subsidence from gas extraction could triple that. But there was overall a lack of data. He proposes additional work be requested by regulators (which NRCan is not). Dr. Solomon points out there is more uncertainty at these latitudes from satellite data.

Regarding climate change effects, including storm surges and sea level rise, Dr. Solomon reports that between 1963 and 1996, sea level at Tuktoyaktuk has risen 3.6 =/- 1.8 mm per year. Relative sea level rise is a combination of what land is doing and what water is doing. These figures, are a combination. NRCan predicts a sea level rise by 2050 of 18cm; the proponents forecast 10cm over a 30 year period. Dr. Solomon thinks proponents need to do more homework. He illustrated effects of storm surge flooding on Tuk in 1993 and what that would look like in 2050 after sea level rise. Large areas would be flooded and some roads would be impassable. He recommends proponents do more work to gather data on this.

Returning to my favourite topic — ice break-up — NRCan recommends the proponent do further study on this before located Shell’s barge in the river channel as proposed.