Community leaders hope to be consulted after Imperial Oil pulls dump application

Edwin Erutse is the president of the Yamoga Land Corporation in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., which lies downstream of Norman Wells on the Mackenzie River. He says his community should be part of decisions regarding Imperial Oil’s waste management facility because those decisions could change the health of the river. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

When Edwin Erutse found out Imperial Oil had withdrawn a pair of applications for a waste management facility in Norman Wells, N.W.T., he was pleased. 

“With this decision that they’ve made, [it] tells me they’re listening,” said Erutse, the president of the Yamoga Land Corporation in Fort Good Hope, north of Norman Wells. “We have an opportunity now to sit down with all the parties and look at this project holistically and talk about closure, and what it means.”

Imperial Oil plans to produce oil in Norman Wells for another five to 10 years, but the waste management facility — which was referred to an environmental assessment in May — would be a key component of its plans to eventually shut the operation down.

In a letter to the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) and the Sahtu Land and Water Board (SLWB) on Sept. 26, the 142-year-old oil company said the application process for both regulators was too complicated and was taking too much time.

An Imperial Oil building in Norman Wells, N.W.T., in July 2022. The company has withdrawn a pair of applications to build a waste management facility in the community. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Imperial said a “number of developments” had changed the applications over the past year. It also “became clear” community members want to be part of the process and want to talk about it as part of Imperial Oil’s overall closure and reclamation plan.

CBC News asked Imperial Oil whether it still had plans to build a waste management facility. A spokesperson for the company did not directly answer the question, but said in an email the facility would be part of shutting the operation down and it hopes to “establish a regulatory process” with the CER, the SLWB and the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board that meets everyone’s needs.

Imperial Oil has not yet filed a finalized closure and reclamation plan.

The facility

Imperial Oil has been extracting oil in Norman Wells since 1920.

The company’s infrastructure in town includes six artificial islands built as oil rig platforms in the Mackenzie River, a central processing facility, an administrative building, and piping above and below ground.

According to the application to the CER that was withdrawn, the waste management facility would have the capacity to contain as much as 1.4 million tonnes of contaminated soil and 27,000 tonnes of demolition waste long-term.

Current designs suggest it would be built on Canol Drive in Norman Wells, with either 325,000 cubic metres of storage or 900,000 cubic metres of storage. The contaminated soil would be covered with four protective layers and capped with dirt.

Some of that soil would come from the artificial islands that were built back in the 1980s. As for the cores of those islands, the company wants to let them erode naturally into the river.

Charles McNeely, chairperson of the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, wrote a letter referring the waste management facility to an environmental assessment in the spring. He said SSI should be involved in all aspects of Imperial’s plans for the facility. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Yamoga Land Corporation is part of Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated (SSI), which referred the waste management facility to an environmental assessment in the spring. SSI chairperson Charles McNeely’s referral letter also read like a letter of opposition to the project.

McNeely said for Imperial Oil to leave its garbage in the North would be “bordering on colonialism.” He said all the waste and all the soil — including that of the artificial islands — should be removed and shipped south.

The concerns

Fort Good Hope lies downstream of Norman Wells on the Mackenzie River.

Erutse said his community should be part of decisions regarding the waste management facility, because those decisions could change the health of the river — which people and animals rely on.

“We need to really revisit this whole remediation and reclamation project and talk about our relationships … with one another, with the Government of Canada, with Imperial Oil,” he said.

One of six artificial islands that Imperial Oil built in the 1980s as oil platforms in the Mackenzie River. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

McNeely pointed out that SSI serves 3,800 Sahtu beneficiaries, including those in Fort Good Hope, and has a “big role to play” in how decisions are made.

“We should be involved in all aspects of this plan they got going,” he said. “We could contribute traditional knowledge.”

While Erutse seems confident the application withdrawal is a sign they have Imperial Oil’s attention, McNeely’s response was reserved. He said he’s “not too sure” if Imperial Oil is going to consult with SSI on its waste management facility application moving forward. But, he said, he’s feeling optimistic.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Air Canada to stop flying from Yellowknife to Edmonton and Calgary, CBC News

Iceland: Iceland’s wind power working group calls for input from public, municipalities, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Sanctions are biting on Russian icebreaker builders, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Alaskans are rethinking their spending habits as record inflation hits the state, Alaska Public Media

Liny Lamberink, CBC News

Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She previously worked for CBC London as a reporter and newsreader. She can be reached at

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