First Nation next to planned fracking sand mine says environmental concerns 'have already been dealt with'

The chief of a Manitoba First Nation adjacent to a future frack sand mine says his community's leadership doesn't share environmental concerns raised by others about the development.

Mine will generate 150 jobs for as long as 50 years at Hollow Water First Nation, chief says

The sand deposits from a proposed fracking mine northeast of Winnipeg would be taken by rail to destinations across North America, to be used in the fracking process for oil and gas. (Matthew Brown/Associated Press)

The chief of a Manitoba First Nation adjacent to a future frack sand mine says his community's leadership doesn't share environmental concerns raised by others about the development.

Hollow Water First Nation Chief Larry Barker says his community is in support of the mine.

"We did our homework, we had numerous meetings with the company and any environmental concerns have already been dealt with," Barker said in a news release. "The plant is going to have the best ventilation available."

Barker responded Tuesday to reporting last month where critics alleged a proposed frack sand mine along the east shore of Lake Winnipeg would create health and water quality problems, such as exposure to tiny sand particles described as a cancer risk.

The development will dig for high-purity quartz sand needed by drillers fracking for oil and gas. The company behind the mine hopes to start building next year.

It has rights to more than 2,700 acres of land with an estimated resource of 600 million tonnes.

I really don't care what environmentalists have to say about it.- Hollow Water First Nation Chief Larry Barker

NDP environment critic Rob Altemeyer argued in the legislature last month that the mine's neighbours weren't properly consulted. He said members of the Hollow Water community were in the legislature gallery that day, joining his call for more input.

Three days later, Canadian Premium Sand, which owns the proposed development, about 200 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, announced it had reached an economic agreement with Hollow Water First Nation. The media release said employment, contracting and training initiatives would be provided to community members.

First Nation expects 150 jobs

"This is an economic development deal that will see our community benefit by providing up to 150 jobs and a sense of pride that we are doing something for our people," Barker said. "I really don't care what environmentalists have to say about it."

Bronwyn Weaver, a spokesperson for Canadian Premium Sand, said environmental concerns have been top of mind for the company.

"We will have air monitors and there will be third-party air monitoring all the time to make sure that our operations are not contributing in any way to any kind of a hazard for our workforce, as well as for the community at large," she said.

In addition to air quality monitoring, she said the mine will recycle its water and the company will ensure no water will be used from Lake Winnipeg or released back into the lake.

Further consultations with neighbours will take place once the company's environmental licensing plan is submitted, she said.

Each year, Canadian Premium Sand expects to restore the five hectares of land it processed the year before, she added. 

A 2014 technical review for the project states the company can dig for nearly 26 million tons of silica sand deposits.

The aggregate would be shipped by truck to Winnipeg and transported by rail across the continent.

Nearly $100 million to build mine

She said the economic windfall for the region, around Seymourville, Man., is significant. 

In addition to the expected 150 jobs for the next half-century, Weaver said Canadian Premium Sand would invest around $100 million to develop the mine, and spend millions annually on salaries.

It could generate at least $235 million in frack sand revenues per year, at current prices.

The firm expects Alberta oil sands companies to become its customers, rather than buying fracking sand from existing deposits in Wisconsin.

Silica sand is also used in glassmaking, metal casting and chemical production, among other uses.