Birch Mountain quarry project approved by Natural Resources Conservation Board
Birch Mountain Resources, in Calgary, has received approval from Alberta's Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) for the Muskeg Valley Quarry for aggregate production. Authorization of the NRCB's decision report by the provincial Lieutenant Governor in Council is expected shortly, and the project is still subject to approval under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.
The quarry, located approximately 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray and six km east of Fort MacKay, will provide a range of limestone products, including high-quality aggregate used to make concrete and asphalt for road construction. This will play an important role in the growth of the oil sands industry in northeastern Alberta and the expanding infrastructure requirements of the region. At its peak, the quarry is estimated to produce seven million tonnes or more of limestone aggregate each year. Extraction, crushing and sorting is expected to average 5.5 million tonnes per year during the first eight years.
The NRCB assessed the environmental, social and economic effects of the proposal and concluded that the proposed quarry is in the public interest. It also noted that the company conducted a multi-stage public consultation with all potentially affected parties and has committed to conduct continuing public consultation following approval.
The approval requires Birch Mountain to adhere to the commitments made in its proposal. The company must also meet a number of conditions attached to the NRCB's approval. These conditions address air and water quality, reclamation and noise.
With regard to air quality, the approval stipulates that Birch Mountain is to design and implement, to the satisfaction of Alberta Environment, a particulate air quality monitoring program to obtain data suitable for comparison with the Canada Wide Standard for PM2.5 (fine fraction particulate matter). A condition relating to water quality will require the company to establish, to the satisfaction of Alberta Environment, criteria for the release of water from the quarry settling pond sump. Birch Mountain shall provide water quality data to and obtain permission from Alberta Environment prior to any release.
The approval further requires the company to update its quarry reclamation plan every five years, rather than every ten, to the satisfaction of Alberta Environment, in order to incorporate the most up-to-date research relating to reclamation, revegetation and rare plant mitigation for the region. It must also conduct rare plant surveys and provide the results of such work to Alberta Environment in advance of each mine phase.
The NRCB has set a number of conditions relating to noise, calling for Birch Mountain to adhere to the requirements of the Energy Utilities Board noise directive. The company must:
adopt noise reduction measures such as mufflers, silencers and shielding, equipment and road maintenance, and traffic routing;
implement a routine noise monitoring program throughout the life of the quarry in co-operation with, and incorporating input from, local stakeholders and community residents;
apply further mitigative measures if exceedances of permissible sound levels are detected by the monitoring at Trapper's Cabin; and
conduct additional modeling to predict sound levels that could reasonably be expected during the proposed third phase of quarrying.
The full text of the decision is available on the NRCB Web site, www.nrcb.gov.ab.ca.