The City of Dawson Creek and energy and petrochemical company Shell Canada find common ground on an innovative water treatment project.
As far as public-private partnerships go, you’d be hard pressed to find a more mutually beneficial arrangement than the one that’s been struck by the northern British Columbia community of Dawson Creek and Shell Canada.
The city has been a hotbed of natural gas exploration and extraction in recent years, but that activity has placed a strain on its water resources, consuming up to 20 per cent of the available supply of potable water. When those demands and a particularly severe drought in 2006 combined to bring the nearby Kiskatinaw River, the source of Dawson Creek’s fresh water, to dangerously low levels, city officials knew something had to be done.
As it turned out, the answer to their water woes lay in their own backyard. Instead of trying to limit the oil and gas industry’s use of fresh water in its operations, the City elected to find a more familiar source. After the requisite feasibility studies and engineering reports, the City realized that it could treat and trade its own effluent water.
Finding a solution was just one half of the challenge. Figuring out how to pay for the $12-million project was the other. That’s where Shell Canada came in. The company agreed to pay $9.75 million in exchange for 3,400 of the 4,000 cubic metres (m3) of treated water the facility would produce each day. The City agreed to cover the remaining $2.25 million, in return for the other 600 m3, a resource that can be used for watering parks and sports fields or sold to other industrial users for an estimated $500,000 a year.
For Mayor Mike Bernier, the partnership behind the Dawson Creek Reuse Project was a natural fit for his community’s needs. “Most communities, especially small communities our size, really don’t have the economic means to try to pull off a project of this magnitude without looking at partnerships,” he says. “It only made sense to partner with the people who were causing some of the issues.” Shell Canada was just as enthusiastic about the idea, says Kevin Henderson, the City’s director of operations. “They don’t want to be using potable water any more than we want them to be using it. They’re very excited to find an alternative, and they were very aggressive in this.”
The facility, which Henderson hopes will be completed by November 2011, will have longer-term implications for the City of Dawson Creek. By ensuring the viability of the city’s supply of drinking water until 2035, and by reducing the share consumed by the natural gas industry, the facility allows for growth that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. “We’re looking at shifting twenty per cent of our potable water use right off the plate onto this, so that’s going to free up all that usable water for growth in other sectors,” Henderson says. “It’s a win-win. There’s no way around it.” — Max Fawcett