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Nikiski waste site permitting stalled

Posted: October 21, 2012 - 6:40pm

State permitting processes have stalled on AIMM Technologies’ proposed drilling waste monofill in Nikiski because of the company’s delayed response to specific questions asked by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, staff said.

DEC staff is waiting on AIMM’s responses to a number of questions about the company’s potential management and financing of the site, among other issues, before it makes a decision, said Nathaniel Emery, an environmental program specialist with DEC. Those questions and concerns were submitted in a June 21 letter from Emery to the company and had not been answered as of Friday.

Emery said the state was scheduled to make a decision on the site on Oct. 10, but that date was scrapped because of the missing information, he said.

“Technically their application isn’t complete right now, so there is nothing to make a decision on basically,” Emery said.

There is no regulatory language requiring a DEC decision within a certain number of days after a permit is requested, Emery said.

Kelly Martin, AIMM Technologies Alaska Division Manager, said the company is still working on gathering the information DEC requested.

“These things just take time,” he said. “We are going through the motions as the DEC requires. It is just how it is.”

AIMM proposed in late April building a monofill designed to hold 15,000 tons per year of drilling waste and 1,000 tons per year of nonhazardous hydrocarbon contaminated soil from Cook Inlet oil and gas exploration in Nikiski near the end of Bakers Road. A monofill is a landfill intended only for a single type of waste.

The actual amount of material per year that would be held at the site would depend on Cook Inlet drilling activity from smaller independent oil and gas outfits the company hopes to serve, AIMM officials said previously.

According to its permit, the monofill would be a system of three lined cells. As one cell fills up, it would be permanently capped with a liner, then covered with a layer of gravel, topsoil and replanted with vegetation. AIMM said each cell will be double-lined with a leak detection system installed between layers. AIMM officials have said they plan on providing monthly visual and annual groundwater monitoring at six locations around the facility for five years, per state regulations.

The proposal drew fire from hundreds of Nikiski residents who voiced concerns at a public meeting about what was to be buried at the site, the company’s intent, the durability of equipment used to contain the wastes and potential consequences if that equipment were to fail considering its close proximity to the community’s center, homes and drinking wells.

In all, 229 comments were submitted to DEC from local residents against the site. No comments were submitted in favor, Emery said.

Emery said if the DEC determines the proposal meets state standards and requirements, and AIMM answers questions posed in the June 21 letter, it will issue the monofill permit. The number of comments against the site does not play into the DEC’s decision; rather it is content of those comments the DEC attempts to investigate and base its decision on, Emery said.

“We only looked at it from an objective regulatory lens,” he said. “We don’t look at it through a local objection, complaint-driven lens.

“If their application is complete and there are no major inconsistencies or concerns brought forth by the public that would negate any of the protections we are looking for human health or the environment, then we will issue the permit based on regulatory language and the permit application and process.”

Among the 229 comments submitted were 187 individually-signed copies of a form opposition letter that asked pointed questions of the DEC and raised concerns about the site’s potential impact on the health of Nikiski residents and wildlife, as well as noise, spills, odor and other pollutants potentially generated by operation of the monofill.

“Nikiski has long supported and enjoyed the benefits of the oil and gas industry; however, that does not mean we are willing to stand by and allow the industry to ruin our property, air and water quality or home values in order to have an easy dumping ground,” the letter reads.

A letter submitted to the DEC by resident Paula Bute, obtained through a document request submitted by the Clarion, asks “Why in the world would you consider putting an open waste pit in a populated area?”

Resident Robert Ernst also wrote that he felt the location of the site was inappropriate.

“This site will surely need to be monitored into perpetuity and a rupture of the containment would negatively affect the businesses and residences throughout the heart of Nikiski by contaminating our groundwater,” Ernst wrote. “Who will remediate this site if necessary in 20 years? The private company that is proposing this site will not exist forever.”

Frank Kassik of Kassik’s Brewery wrote that he “stands firmly opposed” to the AIMM site.

“Previous mistakes are and most likely will be repeated such as the Poppy Lane area where groundwater contamination was rampant,” he wrote. “... The only proper method for disposal, as you well know, is grind and inject, however, I’m sure the local oil and gas companies would save a ton of money by just placing it into this pit. Unacceptable!!”

Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson commented to the DEC about the site and raised questions about AIMM’s fluid and leachate management and waste acceptance polices.

“Nowhere does the applicant attempt to define where liquids will be disposed, how often they (will) be disposed, what volumes will be generated on a regular basis, or how fluid management will be accomplished in adverse weather conditions,” Shavelson wrote.

He further alleges the company has “nothing that approaches a true plan for ensuring only permitted wastes would enter the facility.”

What DEC is asking of AIMM

In its June 21 letter to AIMM, Emery asked the company to clarify and define several points contained in its operations plan, monitoring plan, closure plan and cost estimate. Among those requests are for AIMM to:

■ Confirm liquid wastes generated at the site would be accepted at a commercial waste water treatment site or at the Kenai waste water treatment facility.

■ Clear up language copied from AIMM’s original permit for an inert waste pit that was rescinded and mistakenly included in its drilling waste monofill permit.

■ Provide signed and sealed plans for fluid management at the site. Emery said AIMM’s fluid management plan contained in its original permit was insufficient.

■ Update its monthly visual inspection form to reflect all requirements for monitoring, including checking the condition of the cells’ high density polyethylene liners.

■ Expand and include the following tests in its groundwater sampling: calcium, conductivity, diesel range petroleum, gasoline range petroleum, magnesium, mercury, pH levels, sodium, temperature, turbidity and water level.

■ Ensure the top liner proposed to cap the pits, which AIMM proposed to be one-third the thickness of the bottom layer, has the same level of protection as the two bottom layers.

Emery said DEC has also expressed concerns about the amount of financial assurance AIMM can provide if the pits were compromised and a large scale clean up were needed.

“If something were to happen, if this facility were to fail or the operator were to go away, we need a financial assurance from that company that is large enough that if the state needs to come in and close that site or remediate that site there would be monies available for someone else to do that contract work,” he said.

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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