Pembina Institute Reaction to Announcement that Bovar's Keys to Swan Hills Facility are to be Turned Over to the Province of Alberta

Oct. 19, 2000

DRAYTON VALLEY — The Swan Hills facility is like a recurring bad dream.

It has cost Alberta taxpayers $440 million to date. And the paying is still not finished, because the province is on the hook for cleaning up the site once it is shut down. This has been estimated to cost between $9-57 million (not considering increased costs of cleaning up the contamination caused by leaks and explosions in the late 1990s, and not including the costs of long-term monitoring of the site). And, if the province takes it over as a money-losing business, as it is indicating that it intends to do, then the costs will continue to climb.

One of the key reasons this facility has been so expensive to the public is because Mr. Klein gave the oil and gas industry a special deal back in 1992 when he was Minister of Environment responsible for implementing the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.

Under this Act, all industries, except for the oil and gas industry, have to take their special hazardous wastes to Swan Hills for disposal. But the oil and gas industry, the single largest producer of such wastes, got to call its hazardous wastes 'dangerous oilfield wastes.' Because of this change in name the oil and gas industry could dispose of these wastes — wastes that pose exactly the same risks to health and the environment as those produced by other industries — through cheaper and less secure means, such as landfills.

These oilfield wastes are now being disposed of at various sites around the province, in many cases with little to no oversight by regulators, and with varying degrees of environmental security.

"Rather than getting stuck with operating a money-losing business and the millions of dollars required to shut down the facility, the province should remove the special exemption from the oil and gas industry by reclassifying wastes from that industry as 'hazardous'," says Tom Marr-Laing, Director of the Energy Watch program of the Pembina Institute. "This would open up a large waste market, currently closed to Swan Hills. Furthermore, such a waste market should not only be made available to Swan Hills, but also to a range of other secure technologies that actually destroy these wastes rather than sticking them into the ground or down a hole, which only defers the liability onto future generations."

At the same time, the province should ensure that fees charged for disposal at Swan Hills include a set-aside of monies for the eventual closure of the plant, thus ensuring that the polluter, not the taxpayer, pays for cleaning it up.


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