This proposal to put a potash storage and transportation facility on the Surrey-side banks of the Fraser river seems absurd!
I have recent made the New West and the Fraser river my home and come to realize how much of it is surrounded with beautiful marshlands and resident wild life – despite the Fraser being a working river. I see seals bobbing their heads out of the water everyday from my window.
Our efforts need to be to preserve and clean up this beautiful surrounding; not further pollute it with such harmful proposed projects.
What is the City’s stance and influence on the proposed project?
The first I heard of a plan to move potash through Fraser Surrey Docks was when a few residents of Queensborough started sending me e-mails. The general theme of these e-mails was “What is the Port trying to pull here!?” Hopefully I can explain, although I have not heard a peep from the Port (officially or informally) about this project, so most everything I know you can read yourself at the Port’s information website about the project.
It appears that one of the world’s largest mining companies, BHP Billiton, wants to build a facility in Surrey to move potash off of train cars and into bulk carrier ships for export. Much like the previous coal terminal facility proposed for Fraser Surrey Docks, this facility will be required to go through the Port’s own Environmental Review process, instead of a Federal Environmental Assessment. This procedure exists because of legislative changes made by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that decimated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act – changes Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government seems in no rush to address despite significant election promises to the effect. But I digress.
Upon hearing about this proposal, my initial questions were around what it means for the Coal Terminal project. That project has already been approved by the Port, although that approval is still being challenged in court. My cursory look at the proposed coal terminal drawings:
…and the drawings for the proposed potash terminal:
…suggest to me that they do not share operational footprint, except for some rail loop infrastructure. So I am operating under the assumption that potash terminal approval would not mean coal terminal termination. We should be so lucky.
So what do we know about potash? It is mined from evaporate deposits under Saskatchewan; it is mostly potassium chloride with less than 5% sodium chloride and trace amounts of other minerals; it is primarily used for fertilizer, although it is also used in metals refining and other industrial processes. It is no more toxic that table salt, isn’t flammable, isn’t carcinogenic, and isn’t a particularly nasty environmental contaminant in soil or water. There are some well-understood and generally well mitigated environmental impacts from mining. After spending a few hours reading up on potash and its handling, finding science-based sources I consider reliable and relatively unbiased, there is little in my Environmental Geoscientist experience that causes me great concern about this material being handled in or moved through my neighbourhood.
There will be impacts, no doubt. Train traffic, noise, light, and potentially dust (though potash is usually handled though a pretty closed system due it its solubility). The Port review process (as sketchy as it is) should provide us some ability to provide input to the Port about how we want these potential issues mitigated. You can learn about the project and review process by attending an Open House at the Fraser River Discovery Centre on Thursday evening, you can read the project materials here, or you can go to the BHP project site here and provide some feedback directly. For further research, I might reach out to some council colleagues on the North Shore where potash has been handled for years to see what concerns it has caused in their communities.
That said, you asked a specific question, with pretty simple answers: Council has not been formally asked to opine on the project yet (any more than any other stakeholder), haven’t received any reports, and haven’t really discussed it, so the City doesn’t yet have a stance on the project. Our influence as a stakeholder is limited – as we learned from the coal terminal project where our firm opposition did not prevent the project from being approved. I am sure we will participate in the review process, but it would be premature for me to speak on behalf of all of Council on what the City’s position will be.
As an aside, this proposal is apparently to move potash from a new mine outside of Saskatoon, specifically one that BHP Billiton announced they were in no rush to open as recently as August. I have no idea what that means to this project, but the timing does seem strange.
3 comments on “ASK PAT: Potash”
More exporting of raw materials instead of primary and secondary processing. Hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Thanks for getting back to my inquiry in such depth. The concerns that come to my mind are the ones that you briefly mentioned. Issues with river water contamination due to spillage, accidents, contaminated ground water overrun and impact of raised salt levels on wildlife etc.; dust and pollution in the air created as part of storage and transportation; additional train traffic and river traffic. If the Coal Terminal project could pass the “muster” of the Port review and impact assessment process, then getting this to fruition will be a slam dunk! I am all for economic development but not through promotion of ugly industrial projects! I just wish that there were some gate keeping measures in place to keep these types of initiatives in check.
Interesting breakdown – thanks for the detailed information.
As a Port Royal resident facing south across towards this area, I’m wondering what the noise impacts will be, or whether that will mostly be blocked by the Annacis Island car terminals.