‘It’s short-sighted’: Local outdoorsman

By: Katlyn Streilein 

Some Manitobans are speaking out against a proposed silica sand mine and refinery that may open in the RM of Springfield about 35 kilometres east of Winnipeg. 

The Calgary-based company CanWhite Sands Corp. is planning to open the Vivian Sand Processing Facility pending approval from the provincial government’s Environmental Assessment Branch (EAB). 

The company began clearing its privately owned land at the proposed sand processing facility on April 9. 

Under the Manitoba Environment Act, companies can split applications into different stages. CanWhite Sands has divided the project into two parts: the silica sand processing facility and the mining operation. 

“That’s wrong,” said Don Sullivan, founder of What The Frack Manitoba. “But all things being equal, [the EAB] should have assessed the mining extraction activity first. Licensing the processing plant first, well how are they going to deny you the license for the extraction component?” 

Sullivan became familiar with these processes while working with the provincial government. Now retired, he’s an environmental watchdog, informing the public about what’s happening in the local resource extraction industry.

Our Line in the Sand Campaign Manitoba, a similar group, is also active in its disapproval of the province’s silica sand mining sector. 

Silica sand is used in the fracking industry as a lubricant. Silica sand’s durable and spherical structure keeps the drill holes open and allows oil and gas to pass freely.  

CanWhite Sands must drill through two aquifers divided by an acid-laden shale layer to get to the desired material. The main concern for many surrounding communities is that the drilling will taint the aquifer, Sullivan said. 

The company hopes to extract and process up to 1.36 million tonnes of silica sand per year for the next 24 years. To get the sand out of the ground, workers would drill boreholes and inject water into them to carry the sand up to the surface. 

Tyler Garbacki is an avid backcountry camper and routinely forages for mushrooms in the eastern forests of the province. He said he learned of the project about four or five months ago.

“I’m fully opposed to the mine,” said Garbacki. “The last thing we need right now in the midst of a looming climate catastrophe is to facilitate further degradation of the land and water through a project producing sand for fracking.”

The 28-year-old describes the project as “shameful” and “short-sighted.”

“I feel a sense of personal responsibility towards what happens in this province,” he said. 

Some environmental groups such as What The Frack Manitoba and the Wilderness Committee of Manitoba are critical that public experts and independent scientists aren’t able to present their project assessments to the province’s Technical Advisory Committee for consideration.  

Those who have spoken out against the current structure believe it doesn’t allow for public input and transparency. 

“Any public involvement in the Manitoba Environment Act is merely a window-dressing exercise,” Sullivan said. “You have an illusion that there’s a public process.”

The public can access the company’s proposal, public comments, and project files on the Government of Manitoba’s website.