Steven Derksen

Steven Derksen stands on the dividing line between land where his parents own mineral rights, and the site where Fortune Minerals wants to put a metal refinery, tailings pits and waste water injection wells. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Fortune Minerals is hitting a snag in its plan to build a metal refinery near Langham, northwest of Saskatoon.

At least two mineral rights holders on neighbouring properties are refusing to grant their consent for the waste water injection wells the company wants to drill.

"They're drilling right through the Dalmeny aquifer where we get our drinking water from," said Steven Derksen, a local farmer who lives in the Town of Langham.  "So there's some concerns environmentally and how things will be in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years from now."

Derksen's parents own the mineral rights on land abutting the property where the company wants to put its injection wells.

He acts for them, and he is refusing to sign consent on their behalf.

Waste water would pass through town's water source

Fortune Minerals wants to dispose of salty waste water deep underground, through injection wells that would pass through the Dalmeny aquifer, an underground water source.

Derksen is one of many people in the area who worry about the wells leaking and contaminating the aquifer, which provides water for the town and surrounding farms.

Ed Dancsok, Assistant Deputy Minister of Energy and Resources, said the Oil and Gas Conservation Act requires consent from all mineral rights holders "that may be reasonably affected" by the injection wells. In this case, it applies to rights holders within a 1.6-kilometre radius of the proposed well sites.

"Technically we feel (the potential contamination of drinking water) is not a concern, in that the injection of the water is safe and sound," Dancsok said. Still, those consents are required for the injection wells to be approved.

Company left to ponder next step

Dancsok estimated those rights holders number nine or 10, and said Fortune Minerals does not currently have the consent of all of them.

The Minister has the power to grant approval even if consent is withheld — if a project is deemed in the public interest — but Dancsok said it's unlikely the Fortune Minerals refinery would fall under that definition.

"A case like that would be around perhaps a (natural) gas storage cavern" to meet peak usage in the winter, Dancsok explained.

So what are the company's options now?

Fortune Minerals' director of regulatory and environmental affairs, Rick Schryer, declined to comment, beyond saying obtaining consent is "an ongoing process".

'Twenty years from now will it be safe?' - Steven Derksen, local farmer and town resident

Dancsok outlined two possibilities: pipeline the wastewater to another site where there is more public support for the company's plan, or "work with the surrounding mineral holders to gain their confidence and to get their consent."

Derksen said his parents were approached two years ago, and there has been no further communication from the company.

His mind is on the seven generations of his family that have farmed in the area, and the generations still to come.

He's not only worried about the injection wells, but also about the tailings pits the company wants to put on the site, and the possibility of contamination from them, too.

"Supposedly it's safe, but I don't think this thing has been done before on top of an aquifer. So I'm thinking, you know, twenty years from now will it be safe?" Derksen commented.

Meanwhile, the company has yet to apply for the land rezoning it needs to proceed with its project.