Despite being in the early stages of development, a proposed facility for the St. John’s waterfront that would treat wastewater from the offshore oil industry is getting a rough ride from local officials.
Coun. Tom Hann, chairman of the city’s planning and housing committee, tells The Telegram that it will recommend at next Monday’s meeting that council send a letter to the minister of environment outlining its opposition to the development.
The city has yet to be contacted by the developer, said Hann, and as of Tuesday afternoon council knew nothing about the proposed treatment plant other than second-hand information.
“We do not have any details ... and until we get that it was the decision of the committee this morning that we not support it and let the minister know,” said Hann.
The proponent is Encanex Environmental Oil & Gas Corp. It wants to build the plant on Pier 17, next to the existing MI SWACO site below The Battery.
The plant would take in water sullied with petroleum hydrocarbons and other contaminants associated with the offshore oil industry.
The wastewater would be piped into the facility from ships via existing infrastructure, treated, and then some of the material would be released into the city’s storm or sanitary sewers.
It would generate five long-term jobs.
Alton Payne, president of Encanex Environmental, told The Telegram Monday facilities of this type are common in cities that service offshore oil industries.
It’s something that St. John’s has been lacking, he said.
“It’s an additional piece of infrastructure that makes the oil and gas industry that much more sustainable. I think that’s a good thing,” said Payne.
The process is low-risk, he added.
“It’s very safe. (The wastewater) is non-hazardous. It’s not flammable. It’s not poisonous. If you smell it or get it on you, it’s not gonna kill you. But it is prudent to treat it because of discharge criteria,” he said.
It would essentially be a process of separating
oil and water, he added, with the treated water
flushed through the city’s systems and the oil being recycled.
He also pointed out wastewater is already trucked through the city on a regular basis.
“Right now, it would be trucked away from the dock through the city. So the benefit is it eliminates transportation needs,” he said.
But nothing about the project is sitting well with Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary. She spoke out against it at Monday’s council meeting.
“Grave concerns about this issue because, in terms of appropriateness, I mean, this kind of process … should be closer to a facility like Come By Chance — not in a dense urban environment,” said O’Leary.
The city has put a lot of time and effort into trying to figure out how to properly develop the downtown and waterfront, she added, and this project would not appear to be appropriate.
It should be noted that St. John’s is limited in what it can do to oppose the project — hence the letter to minister.
The proposed construction site is on land owned by the St. John’s Port Authority, which means the city has no say as to whether or not the facility will eventually be built.
However, the proponents would need the city’s permission to hook its equipment up to the city's wastewater infrastructure.
So unless Encanex Environmental comes to council with details and a convincing argument as to why this project is good for the city, the committee’s recommendation stands, said Hann.
When asked about the potential benefits outlined by Payne, Hann said, he’d have to wait and see what the company brings to the city’s table.
“That’s a possibility, but again, until we see what they want to do we can’t support it.”
The treatment facility is currently seeking an environmental review from the provincial government. The minister’s decision is due by Dec. 16.
Anyone who would like to comment on the project can do so by contacting the Department of Environment. The deadline to submit comments is Dec. 7.