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More information needed on drinking water risk for proposed silica sand project in Manitoba: commission's report


A new report about a contentious silica sand extraction project in southeastern Manitoba has been released and it is being recommended that work only move forward if a number of recommendations are met.

Late in 2021, the Clean Environment Commission (CEC) was tasked by the provincial government with conducting a technical review and holding public hearings about a sand extraction project in the RM of Springfield, which would be done by CanWhite Sand Corporation, now renamed to Sio Silica.

Sio Silica is looking to extract the silica sand and process it in a new facility near Vivian, Man. The Alberta-based company wants to build roughly 1,200 wells over four years to extract the sand – which can be used to create a variety of products including solar panels and lithium-ion batteries.

Sio Silica is wanting to work in the region for 24 years.

READ MORE: Dozens protest outside closed meeting over contentious silica project in Manitoba

In the more than 100-page report, the CEC looked at all topics from how the sand extraction project would work to how it would impact the water, air, and residents in the area.

"The commission advises that significant conditions be required for the project to proceed," the CEC said in the report.

"The commission does not have sufficient confidence that the level of risk posed to an essential source of drinking water for the region has been adequately defined."

As part of the report, the CEC included eight recommendations that should be completed before any steps are taken to start the sand extraction project.

"The commission considers that the mining approach proposed by Sio Silica does have merit if the risks posed to the quality of water in the affected aquifers can be better defined and the management of those risks can be adequately addressed."

The first recommendation is for the province to seek legal advice about the project. The second recommendation says if the project does happen, Sio Silica should take a "step-wise" approach to ensure no significant adverse effects occur.

The CEC also recommends the province's Environment and Climate Minister appoint a project monitoring committee, a detailed mining plan is created and shared, the water-treatment process is demonstrated, extraction is compliant with engineering limits, a risk assessment plan is carried out to determine worst-case scenarios and an effects assessment be shared for the full 24-year project.

Now that the CEC's report has been completed, the decision is left up to Environment and Climate Minister Kevin Klein and the Manitoba government.

"The process will take as long as the process takes," Klein said at a news conference Friday. "There are several steps that are required under the Environmental Licensing Act and each one of those will be done before any decision is made. Time is not the issue, the process is the issue."

Klein said he has read the report and was also briefed on it, calling it a "very fair and reasonable report."

Klein said all recommendations will be considered during the licensing process.

"We will move at the pace that our environmental experts and our committee people need to move at. No decision will be made unless the entire process is completed thoroughly."

In an emailed statement to CTV News, Sio Silica said it thanks the commission for the time and commitment that went into the report.

"(We are) pleased to move forward with our project as it progresses to the next steps with the Environmental Approvals Branch," the statement said.

"Sio Silica is committed to continual research, data analysis, operational improvements, environmental monitoring and partnerships with Manitoba companies that can help us achieve our vision of being the world's most environmentally friendly producer of high purity silica while protecting the environment for generations to come."

In a joint statement from the Manitoba Eco-Network and Our Line in the Sand – two groups who are opposed to the project – they thanked the commission for the report and for listening to concerned citizens.

"The CEC report conclusively demonstrates that the Sio Silica project should never have passed the initial Department of Environment and Climate screen. There are too many fundamentally important questions that have never been asked or answered by the proponent and the Department of the Environment and Climate," the groups said in the statement.

"It is time to put a stop to this shoddy, piece-meal approach to evaluating such a large and risky project that will impact thousands of people for decades to come."

The groups are calling on Klein to reject the Sio Silica proposal and indicate a new licence will not be considered until all eight recommendations are completed.

The entire report can be read here. Top Stories

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