Proposed fracking fluid plant raises safety concerns among residents

Residents of a rural neighbourhood in Leduc County are worried a proposed chemical plant will lower their property values and present a health and safety risk.

Company’s Louisiana plant destroyed by explosion and fire in 2011

Jim and Lucille Low (left and centre) are concerned about a proposed chemical plant proposed near their acreage in Leduc County. (CBC)

Residents of a rural neighbourhood in Leduc County are worried a proposed chemical plant will lower their property values and present a health and safety risk.

Multi Chem has applied to the county to build a tank farm and chemical blending facility in the Nisku Business Park.

A list provided by the county shows 34 different toxic and flammable chemicals would be received, stored and mixed on site, including toluene, hexane, ethanolamine, and benzenesulfonic acid.

The county says the plant would hold 414,000 litres of the chemicals, but the 24 tanks shown in the project’s engineering drawings have a combined capacity of more than 8 times that.

The plant would produce fluids used in hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas production in Western Canada.

Lucille and Jim Low have lived on an acreage about 700 metres from the Nisku Business Park for the past 13 years.

“It’s not that we’re against the park, it’s the particular business,” Jim Low said.

Blackmud Creek runs through a small valley between the Low’s subdivision and the industrial park.

The Lows believe the prevailing wind will carry odours and fumes from the plant.

“Why would you want to sit in your backyard trying to enjoy a barbecued hamburger when you’ve got that kind of a smell coming over you?,” Lucille Low said.

“They keeping telling me they capture everything,  nothing’s vented. But  I don’t believe everything that they tell me,” she said.

“I’m afraid I’m very skeptical of a big business whose bottom line is the dollar.”

Mary Kobasiuk hosted a meeting of 11 local residents at her home with the project’s engineer and a Multi Chem manager.

“Everybody has mixed feelings,” she said. “Everybody just wants it somewhere else.”

Fire, explosions destroyed Louisiana plant

A similar Multi Chem plant, in New Iberia, LA, was destroyed in a fire and explosions in June, 2011, resulting in a two-day evacuation within a radius of 1.6 kilometres and a lengthy environmental clean-up.

Multi Chem was bought by energy industry service giant Halliburton four months later.

Louisiana residents fought unsuccessfully to prevent the opening of a replacement plant in Maurice, LA, in September 2013.

In a series of emails to CBC, Halliburton spokeswoman Susie McMichael  would only say that Multi Chem had bought land in the Nisku Industrial Park and applied to develop “an oilfield production enhancement facility”.

She says residential and environmental safety is the company’s top priority and the proposed facility would “be engineered with safety and environmental controls that meet or exceed regulatory code and permitting requirements.”

Plant approval rests with county councillors

The chemical plant application requires no environmental permits from the provincial government, and because the land is in Leduc County’s Direct Control District, the plant needs only a vote by the seven members of the Leduc County Council on Feb. 25 to be approved.

Leduc County Mayor John Whaley has no safety or environmental concerns about the project. (CBC)

Leduc County Mayor John Whaley says he won’t express an opinion on the proposal until then, but says he has no concerns about safety or the environment.

“This is Haliburton, they are world-renowned, “ Whaley said.

“I know they have good safety practices in place, they are an excellent company to work with. They will do the right thing.”

Whaley says he believes the county’s volunteer firefighters, who are also responsible for Edmonton International Airport, can handle a serious incident.

“This business park has been here for 30, 40 years,” he said.

“So we believe we’re ready for it. And in that time I don’t believe, that I know of, that there’s been any serious incident at all. I think we have a good track record going forward.”

Jim Low says he has faith in the firefighters too, but faith isn’t enough.

“The fire chief is a friend of mine,” he said.

“It’s not a question of can the fire department handle it... Yeah, they can put the flames out, but like that one in Louisiana, they couldn’t go in there for 24 hours after... They couldn’t stop all the smoke that comes over and we just don’t want to breathe all that.”

“It’s going to be us, just like sitting ducks,” Lucille Low said.

Not everyone opposed

Lee Gottschlich owns Leading Manufacturing Group, which builds petroleum and chemical  tanks and which backs on to the Multi Chem property.

“We need ongoing businesses like that to sustain the business community here,” he said.

Lee Gottschlich, owner of Leading Manufacturing Group, believes that its necessary to bring new businesses to the area. (CBC)

“We as Western Canadians need this technology to develop our resources. I don’t have a problem with it.”

Meanwhile, Lucille Low is preparing to speak at the council meeting in February, but says she`s concerned her own councillor, John Schonewille, may have already made up his mind.

“I was told I was wrong, that I should know better because I knew when I moved in here that I would be next to an airport and an industrial plant. Basically he told me he was well aware of other blending facilities in Nisku, one right next to the hamlet of Nisku, and they didn’t complain. So I got the impression from him that I shouldn’t be complaining either.”

Schonewille declined to be interviewed for this story.

Low plans to speak at the Feb. 25th council meeting to express her concerns.

“If this goes in, I think we should ask for a $5 million deposit in our bank account so when --  not if, but when --  this happens, and we have to leave,  we at least have something to fall back on.”