Is Manitoba's Brokenhead River about to become a dumping ground for an Alberta-based sand-mining company?

by Don Sullivan
Kayakers on the Brokenhead River. A Wikimedia photo.

The Brokenhead River begins in the wetlands of Sandilands Provincial Forest, located in Southeastern Manitoba. It ultimately drains 200 kilometres later into Lake Winnipeg. Most of the river is navigable by canoe or kayak.

This meandering river is now under threat.

It might very well become a toxic dumping ground for CanWhite Sands Corp (CWS) of Alberta. Last month, CWS  filed a proposal under Manitoba's Environment Act, for approval to construct a silica sand processing facility near Vivian in Southeastern Manitoba. The closing date for commenting on this proposal is August 25th, 2020.  If you have concerns, you have between now and then to express them, here. 

Once the processing facility receives government approval, CWS intends to submit a second application. This would be for both the mine, where the sand will be obtained and for the methods the company will use to extract it. The splitting of a single proposed project into two separate ones in this way, probably makes approval a foregone conclusion.

CWS indicates that 15 percent of what it will extract (from 200 feet below the surface in the Winnipeg Formation aquifer), will be sand and shale. That means that 85 percent, will be water (a fact conveniently ignored in the company application). Simple math shows, in order to produce its intended target of 1.36 million tonnes of sand per year, CWS will also need to extract 7.7.million cubic meters of water annually.

This will surely pose a serious problem for the people of Southeastern Manitoba who rely on this aquifer for their drinking water. Why? Because this much water coming out of the aquifer annually will certainly inhibit the ability of this aquifer to recharge itself.

Since the average Canadian uses 329 litres of water a day, again math shows the amount required by the company would serve a city much larger than Brandon each year.

The sand and water will be sucked up to the surface through hundreds of boreholes a  year. Only a fraction of it will be needed to process the sand in the wet plant. The bulk of it, likely more than six million cubic meters, will likely be dumped into the Brokenhead. It will contain high levels of heavy metals, chromium, arsenic, neurotoxins. It will also be acidic, as pyrite in the shale will cause acids to drain into the river. Of course CWS never mentions any of this in its application. That would apparently be too transparent for them and even raise a number of alarm bells.

The release of deleterious substances into the river would be a clear violation of the Federal Fisheries Act and threaten aquatic life there - life such as the rare Chestnut Lamprey eel. It's a species at risk, still surviving in the Brokenhead. It would almost certainly be impacted.

The river runs through the Brokenhead First Nation, which, to my knowledge, has never been consulted on the impacts of this project on their Treaty Rights.

"What The Frack Manitoba" is therefore calling on the appropriate authorities to do the following;

Request that the Province of Manitoba suspend its approval process until such a time that the appropriate federal authorities have the required information from CWS to determine the extent of the adverse impacts of the proposed development project will have with respect to federal jurisdiction. And that the proponent (CWS) submit information not only for its proposed silica sand processing facility but also its silica sand mine and mining method, to be reviewed as one project via a panel review process, to determine the extent of the adverse impacts with respect to federal jurisdiction.

Determine if the federal Impact Assessment Act (IAA) is applicable, and if not, that the appropriate federal Minister and or federal authority use the discretionary powers under the IAA to designate this proposed development an IAA Project for the purpose of applying the provisions contained in IAA.

Request that the Crown (Federal/Provincial as they are not divisible) undertake a Section 35 consultation process with Brokenhead First Nation to determine what if any adverse impacts of this proposed project will have with respect to Brokenhead First Nation Section 35 Rights prior to any environmental approval of said propose development project occurs.

Don Sullivan is the spokesperson for What The Frack Manitoba, is the former director of the Boreal Forest Network and served as special adviser to the government of Manitoba on the Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage site portfolio. He is a research affiliate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and a Queen Golden Jubilee medal recipient.

Don Sullivan (above) is the spokesperson for What The Frack Manitoba, the former director of the Boreal Forest Network and special adviser to the government of Manitoba on the Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage site. He's a research affiliate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and a Queen Golden Jubilee medal recipient.


Silica dust produces a distinctive reaction in the lung that eventually leads to the development of masses of fibrous tissue and distinctive nodules of dense fibrosis, which, by contracting, distort and damage the lung. Silicosis is a hazard in any occupation in which workers are exposed to silica dust, particularly rock drilling above or below ground, quarrying, or grinding with a wheel containing silica. Cases have also been reported in dental technicians, who use the material ground into a fine powder.

‘This is sacred’: the fight against a massive frac sand mine in Manitoba.


PinP said…
To the Manitoba Government:

As a taxpaying Manitoban, I need to remind you, the project in question is just plain wrong on every level. Silica sand damages the lungs of whoever is working with it. The massive amounts of water this project will withdraw, then jettison into our precious environment as wastewater, will pollute vast areas. Its end use, fracking, has been widely condemned by experts. Fracking pollutes ground/drinking water (in some cases, making it flammable), triggers earthquakes, and the shale gas it produces is known to be escaping in dangerous amounts as "fugitive" methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

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