Fisherman Lake, near Fort Liard, is seen in a photo from a 2014 archaeological report.
The firm remediating a former gas field near Fort Liard says it will apply for a water licence after being told chloride from the site is affecting the nearby environment.
In a letter dated June 5, the NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) warned Paramount Resources it was violating the territory’s Waters Act.
Dehcho water resource officer Sonja Martin-Elson told the company chloride levels below a pond of contaminated water at Pointed Mountain were above Canadian guidelines and “causing significant adverse environmental effects.”
Fisherman Lake, used by the Acho Dene Koe First Nation as a retreat and fishing location, is one such area below the pond – which is known as a surge pond.
Having highlighted the danger to aquatic life, Martin-Elson added: “Large trees down-gradient of the surge pond are dead and the spread of them is visible from the air.”
Chloride, which usually appears as some form of salt, can occur naturally in some environments – but not in this region of the Northwest Territories, Martin-Elson wrote.
The Waters Act demands that any project using water or depositing waste acquire a water licence if its actions may significantly affect the environment.
“The Pointed Mountain site needs a water licence to be in compliance,” said Martin-Elson.
In a reply dated June 12 – shared to the territory’s public registry on June 20 – Paramount’s Terence Hughes said this was now the company’s intention.
Hughes suggested his employer acknowledges a change in approach is needed to get on top of the site’s environmental impacts.
Hughes wrote: “After review, Paramount believes that the existing land use permit [a separately acquired permit to operate] does not have a sufficient scope of equipment and additional reclamation/remediation techniques to facilitate the activities that are required to achieve the long-term goal of closure for the project area, including the issues raised in June 5 ENR letter.
“To that end, Paramount intends to start the engagement process for a new land use permit and accompanying water licence in the summer of 2019.”
Hughes, the company’s regulatory advisor, said Paramount expects to file its application in the fall.
The company had only just received a two-year extension to its land use permit in May, allowing it to carry out certain operations until June 2021.
However, land use permits do not cover a wide range of issues related to water – and, as a result, many projects must acquire both a land use permit and a water licence.
Bison used pond
Paramount has known about the effects of chloride below the Pointed Mountain surge pond for at least six years.
A remediation plan submitted by Apache – which eventually became Paramount – to regulators in September 2013 stated: “Chloride impacts are observed within the vicinity of the surge pond and to the south of the surge pond. Chloride concentrations exceeded guidelines in most of the shallow monitoring wells to the south of the surge pond, indicating migration of chloride to the south.”
At the time, wildlife ranging from wood bison to waterfowl had been observed using and drinking from the surge pond. Fencing and netting was recommended in 2013 as a temporary measure until more permanent cleanup work could take place.
Paramount Resources did not respond to a written request for comment.
Pointed Mountain, first developed in the 1950s, was an active gas field from 1966 until 2001. It lies around 30 km west of Fort Liard, across the Liard River.
Paramount is remediating a site that includes a plant facility, airstrip, barge landing, six well sites, a pipeline, and roads.
Relations between the Acho Dene Koe First Nation and Paramount have been strained of late, with the two sides facing off in court over the First Nation’s perception that Paramount was not meeting benefits commitments to its members.
Paramount said it was not aware of any such commitments made by itself or the project’s previous owners.