'It is a disgrace': Community opposes proposed oilsands landfill south of Fort McMurray

Residents in the northern Alberta hamlet of Conklin are uniting to oppose a proposed oilsands landfill steps away from their community.

‘They can’t tell me there’s no poison and danger in that landfill’

A protest is planned in the community of Conklin on Thursday outside an open house for a proposed oilsands landfill about two kilometres from the community. (Submitted)

An energy company's proposal to build an oilsands landfill just outside Conklin is facing opposition from local Métis leaders who fear it would contaminate lakes and scare away wildlife.

Secure Energy Services is hosting an open house Thursday in the community 155 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, but Conklin resident Joanne Richards is planning a protest outside the event.

"It is very disrespectful," Richards said Wednesday. "It is demeaning and it is a disgrace to even put a landfill site next to Conklin."

Alberta Environment and Parks is currently considering the application from Secure Energy Services for a Class II oilfield landfill about two kilometres from Conklin.

The landfill would initially cover about two hectares but eventually grow to about 20 hectares. The company said it will reclaim the landfill after its 25-year lifespan and would continue to be responsible for the land decades afterward.

But Richards, who also sits on the Conklin Métis Leadership Council, said she fears the landfill will "poison" lakes and underground water and chase away the caribou. The land under consideration is also used for cultural ceremonies and berry picking.

Secure Energy Services said the landfill would only accept oilsands waste that is non-hazardous, as defined by Alberta Environment and Parks.

It would store waste from steam-assisted gravity drainage oilsands operations, including drill cuttings; lime waste, a byproduct of water softening; and dirt containing trace minerals and hydrocarbons.

The landfill would be designed to avoid any impact on the environment, said Bob Clarke, Secure Energy Services' spokesperson and business development representative.

'I don't believe them'

Ernie Desjarlais who sits on the Conklin Resource Development Advisory Committee said he isn't convinced.

"I don't believe them," Desjarlais said. "They can't tell me there's no poison and danger in that landfill."

In 2016, the CRDAC submitted a statement of concern to Alberta Environment and Parks. Wood Buffalo municipal council submitted a letter in November supporting the community's concerns.

Despite all the opposition, Clarke said he hopes Secure Energy Services' open house offers a chance to present the company's plan, address fears, and change minds.

"We really hope that this open house will provide the information that maybe isn't well known." Clarke said. "And so that we will win a few hearts. We hope that we will win all the hearts." 

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter and email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca

About the Author

David Thurton

David Thurton is CBC's mobile journalist in Fort McMurray. He's worked for CBC in the Maritimes & in Canada's Arctic. Email: david.thurton@cbc.ca