Unearthed worries: Frack sand mine in Manitoba draws ire from neighbours

A massive frack sand mine proposed along the east shore of Lake Winnipeg is digging up environmental concerns from neighbours.

Exposure to tiny sand particles a cancer risk, says Don Sullivan, worried by adverse health concerns

The sand deposits would be taken by rail to destinations across North America where it is used in the fracking process for oil and gas. (Matthew Brown/Associated Press)

A massive frack sand mine proposed along the east shore of Lake Winnipeg is digging up environmental concerns from neighbours.

Don Sullivan said adverse health and water quality issues must be evaluated before as much as 26 million tons of sand is unearthed from what may become one of the largest frack sand mines in North America.

"The health risks that come with these fine, particulate silica sand — they're dangerous and they're deadly, and that's both for the workers and the communities who live around it," said Sullivan, who lives near the proposed development around 200 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, close to Seymourville.

Sullivan, founder of the newly launched What the Frack Manitoba group, is concerned that exposure to dust from sand processing may lead to silicosis, a lung disease. 

Sullivan said officials must consider where the vast sums of water needed to wash the sand will come from and how it'll be treated. 

Plus, he's worried about clearing some 200 acres of terrain for the open pit and the wear and tear on the province's roads from heavy trucks hauling the sand. 

Costs must be considered: Sullivan

"There's going to be benefits, there's no doubt, there's going to be jobs," Sullivan said of the project. "But there's also going to be substantial costs and those costs have to be weighed against the benefits."

He's calling on the province to institute a public panel review of the development, relying upon public input and independent expertise for insight.

"Anything less is insufficient," said Sullivan, who helped the province garner UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for the boreal forest straddling the Manitoba-Ontario border. 

A 2014 technical review for the project states the company, now named Canadian Premium Sand, can dig for nearly 26 million tons of silica sand deposits.

The aggregate would be shipped by truck to Winnipeg and transported by rail throughout the continent. The resource is necessary for drillers fracking for oil and gas. 

An October news release from the company archived on the Alberta Securities Commission's website states that a sample drilling is expected to be completed by the end of November, which will be followed by a report detailing "this sand resource play" before year-end.

"Claim Post is pleased to report that the Company is on track both operationally and corporately with its plan to develop this significant surface tier 1 sand deposit," executive chairman Lowell Jackson said in the Oct. 3 statement.

Claim Post started trading under its new name, Canadian Premium Sand, earlier this month according to an archived news release.

The company did not immediately respond Monday for a request for comment.

NDP environment critic Rob Altemeyer is calling on the government to seek public input immediately. 

As members of Hollow Water First Nation, which is adjacent to the development, looked on from the gallery, Altemeyer pressed the government during question period Monday to launch a consultation process that he argues should have been underway months ago. 

Environment minister Rochelle Squires said the province is waiting on the company to submit its environmental application before the province's review takes place. 

Duty to consult

Altemeyer said the provincial government had a duty to consult much earlier, as does the Crown, which is obligated to speak with Hollow Water First Nation.

"It's a huge proposal. It could have major detrimental impacts on the environment, on the local First Nation and nearby residents and this government has dropped the ball on doing the proper consultations," he said outside of question period.

The province said in a statement the project must undergo a complete environmental assessment and licensing process, where any and all concerns will be evaluated.

"The province is working to ensure the licensing requirements and approvals process consider the impacts to local communities and respect the Crown's duty to consult," it said.

On Monday, Sullivan wrote to the federal environment minister demanding a panel review for the development. His online petition has been signed more than 1,000 times.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.