The Clean Environment Commission is advising that significant conditions be required, if the Manitoba government is to approve the proposed Sio Silica sand extraction project east of Anola. The Manitoba government has received the Clean Environment Commission's report and made it available to the public. 

The Clean Environment Commission is advising that stringent conditions must be imposed for the proposed project to proceed. The commission's primary concern lies in the inadequate definition of risks posed to a vital source of drinking water in the region. Despite the proponent's geotechnical, hydrogeological, and environmental studies, the commission lacks sufficient confidence in the level of risk assessment.

The commission's conclusion is based on several factors, including the project's utilization of a novel technology never before used for this purpose. Additionally, limitations in the proponent's testing and modeling procedures contribute to the commission's apprehension. Safeguarding the quality and security of aquifers, which provide drinking water to thousands of residents in growing communities in southeastern Manitoba, is deemed critically important.

If the project proceeds, the commission suggests a cautious step-wise approach to gain valuable knowledge and prevent negative impacts on aquifers and the environment as a whole. The proponent has already indicated a commitment to begin extraction using single-well or two-well clusters, reflecting a partially planned stepped process. However, the commission emphasizes the need to resolve legal questions raised during the hearing before advancing the project.

The commission acknowledges the potential merit of the proposed mining approach by Sio Silica if the risks to water quality in the affected aquifers can be better defined and adequately managed. Consequently, the commission recommends the following:

  • Seek a legal opinion on relevant sections of the Well Standards Regulation under the Groundwater and Water Well Act and the Drilling Regulation under the Mines and Minerals Act to clarify the interconnection between the Winnipeg Formation and overlying aquifers.
  • Implement a step-wise approach for the project, ensuring that significant adverse effects on water quality and quantity from the affected aquifers are thoroughly addressed. The commission defers to qualified professionals for the design of a detailed step-wise program but highlights important considerations such as confirming risks, assessing geological structures, conducting extraction tests, and monitoring cavities' stability.
  • Establish a project monitoring committee consisting of members from municipal and provincial government departments to receive and assess relevant information. The committee should include representatives from affected municipal governments, Environment and Climate leadership, and technical experts related to mining, groundwater, and environmental licensing and enforcement. The committee must have access to additional resources and technical expertise as necessary. The guiding principles for the monitoring process should include sharing findings, regular reporting requirements, and joint reporting to the public.
  • Require the proponent to develop and distribute detailed plans, subject to public comment, including waste characterization and management, water management, well abandonment, groundwater monitoring, erosion control, emergency response, revegetation, heritage resource protection, trigger action response, and closure plans. These plans may evolve based on additional information.
  • Demonstrate the full-scale performance of water treatment processes for the re-injection of separated water from the extracted sand.
  • Ensure compliance with engineering limits proposed by the proponent's experts, mandated by the Manitoba government, or amended based on further data collection.
  • Conduct a risk assessment that considers worst-case scenarios, such as collapse of the limestone layer or well-sealing failure, along with the associated consequences and appropriate remediation measures.
  • Perform a cumulative effects assessment for the entire 24-year lifespan of the project, considering its impact in relation to existing and foreseeable projects in the area.

These recommendations aim to address the commission's concerns regarding the project's potential risks to the environment and water resources. The Commission says implementing these measures will be crucial in safeguarding the region's drinking water and ensuring the project's sustainability in the long term.

"The Manitoba government will now take the time necessary to thoroughly review this 105-page report and its recommendations, and the report will help to inform the Crown-Indigenous consultation process with communities," says Environment and Climate Minister Kevin Klein. "I want to assure everyone that our government places paramount importance on the safety of drinking water and the protection of our environment. We now embark on an in-depth technical evaluation by experts and engagement in meaningful discussions with Indigenous communities, as part of a complete and thorough review."

The President and Chief Executive Officer for Sio Silica says gaining the necessary approvals for their proposed extraction project in southeastern Manitoba would pump more than one billion dollars into the Manitoba economy over the lifetime of the project.

Feisal Somji says they are targeting to remove 1.36 million tonnes per year, which works out to 1.06 per cent over the 24-year life of the mine.  

If this project is approved, Somji says the facility and operations will directly employ approximately 75 to 100 full-time people. In addition, there will be 100 to 200 indirect employment opportunities related to transportation, supplies and services.

The Clean Environment Commission held public hearings in Steinbach in early March, before moving to Anola and then Beausejour.