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Canada proposes refinery, dump

POLLUTION THREATS LOOM FOR MICHIGAN

Detroit Free Press

Canada proposes refinery, dump

U.S. officials say state’s water, air at risk

BY TINA LAM • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • JUNE 6, 2008

Environmental groups and U.S. officials sounding alarms about two major new Canadian projects — a heavy oil mega-refinery along the St. Clair River and an underground radioactive waste repository near Lake Huron — they say could put Michigan air and water at risk for decades.

Michigan residents and businesses won’t benefit from the projects and are largely unaware of them. Opponents say U.S. concerns are not represented in Canada, where the prospect of new jobs makes locals welcome the projects.

Shell Canada plans a giant refinery along five miles of St. Clair River shoreline now dotted with farms and marinas, across from St. Clair and Marine City. The refinery would process up to 250,000 barrels a day of heavy crude oil from rich tar sands in Alberta, making fuel for the Canadian market.

The new refinery would be more than twice the size of the Marathon refinery in southwest Detroit, which is seeking state permits to expand by 15% to 115,000 barrels per day.

Ontario nuclear officials are making plans to dig 2,150 feet underground to bury low- and medium-level radioactive waste from 20 nuclear plants for hundreds of years. The site is half a mile from Lake Huron, across the lake from Michigan’s Thumb.

“We want to make sure there is consultation with people in Michigan,” said Doug Martz, chairman of the Macomb Water Quality Board, one of those concerned about both projects.

Spokespeople for both said Americans are free to attend Canadian meetings or to send in comments.

Canadians are no strangers to transborder pollution, as mercury emissions, spills, acid rain and other pollutants from U.S. plants have fouled their water and air.

“We’re all on the same planet, and the air and water know no boundaries,” said Lisa Matlovich, an environmental activist in Sarnia.

Matlovich said the Sarnia area already is heavily polluted by existing power and chemical plants. The area is known as Canada’s Chemical Valley.

The issue is not to stop the projects but to ensure that Canadian authorities do thorough, independent environmental studies and put in the strictest requirements possible, Martz said.

He said the environmental study for the refinery did not take into account drinking-water intakes for three cities on the U.S. side a few miles downstream from the plant. There have been hundreds of spills of oil and toxic chemicals into the river from plants over the past two decades.

Plans for the refinery

The new Shell refinery is 12 miles downstream from Chemical Valley and its older refineries, chemical and power plants. It’s across from two Michigan coal-fired power plants. The refinery is to include its own new power plant, tank farms, a temporary worker village, hazardous waste treatment, storage for piles of coke and new docks to accommodate 870 oil tankers each year.

Reg and Elsie Metcalfe raise bobwhite quails, honeybees, laying hens, fruits and vegetables on 100 acres near Courtright, across the highway from the proposed project.

“We’ll be subjected to all the pollutants coming out of their smokestacks,” Elsie Metcalfe said.

The area already gets air pollution, but her farm is buffered by miles of other farms. Now, those will be gone. Metcalfe said she is concerned about her safety, as well as that of her produce. Despite public meetings, the project remains shrouded in secrecy and locals know little, she said.

On the Michigan side of the river, Tim Solack lives on the St. Clair River in Marine City. When he looks toward Canada now, he sees a pretty shoreline with blue water, a park, farms and houses.

“Like anybody, I don’t want a refinery in my backyard unless they can control the pollution,” he said. On summer mornings, he said, he finds black dust coating his pool deck from nearby plants.

He lives near three huge power plants, including two on the U.S. side that burn coal to produce electricity.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency submitted letters to the Canadian government May 23, raising concerns about possible chemical discharges, including mercury and toxic chemicals, into the river.

Building a new dock could disrupt contaminated sediment in the river and disperse it into the St. Clair delta, the headwaters of Lake St. Clair. A preliminary environmental study by Shell used outdated or incomplete data to conclude there would be no harm to the river, the EPA noted.

Amrik Ahluwalia, general manager of the Shell project, said the refinery plans to use new technology to reduce air and water emissions, including a new recycling water system that won’t discharge into the river. It will produce 70% less sulfur dioxide than the existing refinery.

“I’m convinced this will be a winner for the environment,” he said.

Michiganders voice concerns

Martz said he is just as concerned about the nuclear waste storage dump. His board and several governments, including the Macomb County Board of Commissioners, have passed resolutions calling for more study and U.S. input.

Last year, U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, an Upper Peninsula Democrat, wrote Canadian officials to ask for an in-depth review of the project.

“I believe that siting a permanent underground storage facility less than a mile away from Lake Huron raises significant concerns,” he wrote.

Marie Wilson, spokeswoman for Ontario Power Generation, said if it can’t be done safely, the repository won’t be built. Locals support the underground project, and preliminary studies show the nuclear waste could be safely contained, she said.

Millions of people, including many in Michigan, get drinking water from Lake Huron or waters downstream from it and could be at risk if something happens, even thousands of years from now, said Kay Cumbow, an environmental activist. And the Detroit water system draws water for northern suburbs from Lake Huron.

“It’s critical that all people in the Great Lakes watershed, especially downstream, have a true voice in this proposed dump,” she said.

Contact TINA LAM at 313-222-6421 or [email protected].

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