Back into the belly of the beast — Paul takes over from Stephen at the
Joint Review Panel (JRP) as we dissect the technical beauty of anchor field
design. The Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP) includes the gas pipeline, the
gathering system (including natural gas LIQUIDS pipeline from Inuvik to
Norman Wells) and this week’s topic — the Taglu, Niglintgak and Parsons
Lake anchor fields. These are the three gas fields that are the starting
point for this massive basin-opening project.
Stephen is a tough act to follow. Last week, he introduced profanity to the
proceedings. To keep up our media ratings, we’ll need nudity or violence
A thinner crowd this session — as usual there are teams of seasoned lawyers
and experts representing the proponents and government intervenors. One
person here (me) representing ENGOs.
The Proponents start with an overview presentation of the three anchor
fields. One big issue is that the ground conditions must of course be
capable of supporting the facilities built on top of them. This will be
easier said then done given that they are hoping to pump relatively warm gas
through continuous permafrost. On top of this are the effects of climate
At Taglu (one of two anchor fields in the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary),
Imperial predicts the ground will subside as the gas be extracted. But,
Imperial says, the effects of subsidence are expected to be masked by
natural processes. This in an area already flood prone, already subject to
erosion. Would it not be more accurate to say that the propose development
would aggravate and accelerate existing conditions?
“OUR” DRILLING WASTE
Imperial says that the ability to conduct environmentally responsible
disposal of drilling discharges does not exist in the NWT. Therefore,
Imperial proposes to dispose of drilling waste near the source. Drilling
waste is discharged into a sump — and since the land is rented from Indian
and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) it is then turned over to INAC, wherein
it becomes the responsibility of the people of Canada. Let’s hope a warming
climate doesn’t render the permafrost unstable.
As usual, the proponent admits their data is incomplete and will need
further study. GNWT asks if the drilling waste from the three sites could
not be consolidated at one site. Two impediments, according to the proponent
are: schedule of the different sites is not coordinated, and
incompatibilities between the different injection schemes. Reading between
the lines, economics appear to be the driver here and elsewhere.
At Niglintgak there will be a steel tank instead of a sump. Shell notes that
the volume of drilling waste with today’s technology is one quarter that of
the 1970s when “dump and dilute” technology was used. Good thing the first
incarnation of this project was not approved back then! But, imagine where
the technology will be 30 years from now ….
The Joint Secretariat asks if the proponents have alternatives in the event
NEB does not approve on-site disposal of drilling waste. The proponents
answer that they would move the waste offsite in that case. However, Shell
says that at Taglu it would be a tremendous logistical challenge to move
production waste offsite since it is a high volume of water-based waste.
The Niglintgak field, also in the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary, is proposed
by Shell. Shell would mitigate environmental damage with a winter-only
drilling programme. But what if the climate changes faster than Shell
predicts, and/or construction goes beyond schedule — will this push Shell
into summer constriction, and gravel instead of ice surfaces?
At Niglintgak, the gas will not be refrigerated to preserve permafrost
because it is already cooler. Offsite drilling waste disposal is not
proposed because Shell deems it not to be cost effective.
In closing, the proponents echo an oft-repeated theme: their study is not
complete; the proponents will progress to detailed engineering. Their plans
are robust and versatile enough to accommodate additional input.
Translation: they don’t know but will make it up as they go along.
JRP Chair Robert Hornall asks about the environmental consequences of rising
flood waters covering operating platforms. The proponents answer that first
priority would be to evacuate their personnel. The site could be flooded.
Regarding environmental consequences of flooding the drilling site,
associated facilities and machinery — Imperial says they wouldn’t envision
anything significant arising from that.
Shell adds that a flood at the gas field would be extremely expensive; so,
they don’t want that to happen.
Dr. Chris Burns of INAC has questions about the effects of convection heat
from flood waters on construction surfaces. Proponents do not appear to see
this as a concern.
Panel Member Barry Greenland asks why proponents’ illustrations don’t show
fencing. Imperial answers that plans for fencing are not finalised — they
are developing a fencing plan. In other words, they are seeking approval now
and will figure things out later. Shell answers that the fencing plan is not
finalised so they cannot comment. (But they can proceeding to technical
BEAR EMPIRE STRIKES BACK?
Panel Member Percy Hardisty mentions that a bear opened a valve on the
Enbridge line and there was a spill. He wonders how proponents will protect
valves from animals.
ENVIRONMENT CANADA QUESTIONS
In response to questions from Environment Canada about potential
repercussions of rising sea level, the proponent says there will be ample
time to respond to rising water, for example by adding gravel to the
Environment Canada revisits the issue of purported masking of subsidence by
natural effects. Proponents say we won’t know from year to year if it is
natural or not. Sounds like there is insufficient background knowledge.
JRP’s counsel points out that some of the Proponents’ documents are late;
and, this does not give Intervenors a chance to review and comment on them.
Paul Falvo is a Yellowknife-based lawyer with Sierra Legal Defence Fund.