The federal department in charge of decommissioning hazardous industrial sites in the North has a plan to deal with a sour well filled with toxic gas near the Hay River Golf Course, but is telling people there is no immediate danger to people or wildlife.
“The key point here is that it’s not leaking,” said Alison Heslep, acting project manager for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) last week. “We’ve installed air quality monitors and will be watching the situation closely as it progresses.”
The department held a community information meeting March 24 to advise the public. Research into the area and industry records show that Frobisher, a company based in Yellowknife, drilled a total of seven gas wells in the area beginning in the 1920s. The federal department decommissioned three by 2011.
Of the four that remain, only one has enough sour gas to present a problem. Heslep said the gas itself is corrosive and will eat through the caps of the wells with prolonged exposure.
Well number seven is currently sitting at an eight per cent hydrogen sulphide content, which is quite toxic, but at very low pressure.
Heslep said AANDC wants to be proactive in taking care of the matter before it becomes a problem.
“This is totally precautionary, it won’t be leaking in the next two years,” she said. “We’re aiming to have the well capped by the end of next winter.”
Though that is still a year away, Heslep said the process is an involved one and that companies could be bidding on the project when it goes out to tender.
She did add, however, that the air quality monitoring system buys the department more time.
“I felt like the department was on the problem and reassured that they’re handling it,” said Bruce Green, who attended the meeting along with a dozen or so other residents. “I appreciated them giving us a heads up about it and instructions about what to do if there is a problem.”
The air quality monitoring system is hooked up to an alarm at the ski club, which will blink red in the event of a leak. The system is also monitored 24 hours a day by the government, but Heslep said it’s never a bad thing to be extra cautious.
“Now we’re aware there’s an issue out there,” said Green.
Heslep said the department has advised people to stay away from the wells, but that even the one closest to the ski trails would involve a trek through dense bush. She noted, however, that not all seven wells are currently accounted for. The oldest was drilled in 1922, and has yet to be found.
“It’s the shallowest, so has the lowest pressure and has probably bled off already,” she said. “We have an idea of where it is but, this coming summer, our plan is to find