Efforts by SynFuel Technologies, Fort William First Nation and Senes Consultants Ltd. to enlighten the public on a proposed petroleum-coke plant to be developed on Fort William First Nation in Thunder Bay fell short as some environmental organizations demanded ministry intervention.
Robert Van Patten, president of SynFuel Technologies, went into a public meeting in Thunder Bay in February armed with information on petroleum coke operations and environmental impacts. The emissions from the proposed facility would be equivalent or slightly higher than a natural gas plant, he says. In addition, one of the listeners at the public meeting stated petroleum coke is considered a hazardous material in transport in the United States and therefore that was the key reason for locating the plant on Canadian soil. However, Van Patten disagreed and said there may have been confusion over petroleum coke and refinery waste, which is hazardous.
“There are over 14 million tonnes of petroleum coke moved throughout the United States that is burned in utilities and chemical plants, so that has nothing to do with the fact that we are in Thunder Bay,” he said.
To ease public anxiety, Van Patten said the environmental study that was completed by Toronto-based Senes Consultants has been made available to the public and to Minister Leona Dombrowsky.
“We are waiting for the minister of environment to approve our Section 9 filing,..” he added.
Still, that has not diminished the fears of some concerned organizations. Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance said the study, to his knowledge, does not meet the ministry’s standards and therefore he is calling for Dombrowsky to conduct an environmental assessment.
“No new power plant should be built in Ontario unless it can be as clean as natural gas,” Gibbons said.
This is where the crux of the matter lies. Because the petroleum coke plant is the first of its kind in Canada, it is not on the list of fuel sources in the Environmental Assessment Act and the environmental impact of such a fuel is unknown.
“Here we have a petroleum coke plant that has never been used before that will be 199 megawatts and it is escaping the ministry requirements, or it might, if the ministry does not step in,” Julian Holenstein, director of Environment North said.
Even though the fuel source is not listed in the Act, the minister still has the discretion to subject the project to the environmental assessment.
Van Patten said 80 per cent of the approximate 300 attendees at the Feb. 15 public meeting favoured the $230-million co-generating station.
If the plant obtains ministry approval, it could mean the closure of the two coal-fired facilities in the northwest. It is unknown when the environment minister will respond to SynFuel’s proposed project.