Suspected toxic leak triggers water licence application for N.W.T. well-site cleanup

Suspected toxic leak triggers water licence application for N.W.T. well-site cleanup

The company responsible for cleaning up a defunct natural gas field near Fort Liard, N.W.T., says it will apply for a water licence after the territory's environmental regulator found chloride from the site is causing damage to the surrounding environment.

In a June 5 letter to Paramount Resources, Environment and Natural Resources water resource officer Sonja Martin-Elson said that an inspection conducted last summer at the shuttered Pointed Mountain site found the company was in violation of the territory's Waters Act.

Martin-Elson said samples taken downhill from the site's surge pond found chloride levels exceeded the allowable limit under federal law. Chloride — a chemical compound made up of chlorine and another element — is toxic to aquatic life, wildlife and vegetation, the letter states.

"Large trees down gradient of the surge pond are dead and the spread of them is visible from the air," the letter states. 

Fisherman lake, which is used by the Acho Dene Koe First Nation for fishing, is also at risk of contamination, Martin-Elson said.

The only source of chloride in the area, Martin-Elson said, is from the surge pond. Martin-Elson said the company must obtain a water licence from the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board to ensure it is in compliance with federal and territorial regulations.

The Waters Act requires that any person or company using water or depositing waste acquire a licence if doing so has the potential for "significant adverse environmental effects."

Surge pond source of chloride, regulator says

This is not the first time chloride has been flagged as an issue at the site, which is located about 30 kilometres northwest of Fort Liard in the Liard Range of the Franklin Mountains.

A 2013 cleanup plan submitted by previous site owner Apache Canada Ltd. to the territorial government stated that high chloride levels were found in and around the surge pond.

Apache Canada

"Chloride impacts are observed within the vicinity of the surge pond, and to the south of the surge pond," the plan said. "Chloride concentrations exceeded guidelines in most of the shallow monitoring wells to the south of the surge pond, indicating migration of chloride to the south."

The plan noted that wildlife including wood bison and waterfowl had been spotted drinking and using the pond on various occasions.

Former operator BP Energy Canada produced natural gas for nearly 30 years at the Pointed Mountain site until it halted production in 2001. Apache acquired the project from BP in 2010 before Paramount Resources took over Apache.

Paramount Resources is now in charge of the site's cleanup. The ultimate goal of the cleanup is to restore the land to the point where people can use it for harvesting, farming, plant gathering, and camping.

Paramount responds

Terence Hughes, a compliance officer with Paramount, responded to the ENR letter June 12, stating in another letter that the company plans to apply for a water licence in "late 2019." 

Last month, Paramount received a two-year extension for its land-use permit which covers activities like setting up a temporary camp, clearing vegetation, and the use of heavy equipment but not water usage.

In the letter, Hughes said the company plans to apply for a new land-use permit as well because "the existing land-use permit does not have sufficient scope of equipment and additional reclamation/remediation techniques to facilitate the activities that are required to achieve the long term goal of closure for the project area."

Paramount Resources was unavailable for comment by the time of publication.

Former Acho Dene Koe First Nation chief Harry Deneron previously voiced frustration to CBC News over the pace of the cleanup, which was originally slated to be completed in 2019, but now appears as if it will take longer.

Tensions between the Indigenous community and the company continue, with the Acho Dene Koe First Nation accusing Paramount of failing to live up to its "benefits plans" to the community. 

Watch this 2012 report on Acho Dene Koe First Nation's fight to get the gas field cleaned up: