Cleaned up historical oil spill exposed by coastal erosion in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT
The Northwest Territories government has cleaned up an old diesel scourge in Tuktoyaktuk by sending away over 500 tons of hydrocarbon-contaminated soil for treatment.
The area said the contaminated soil was exposed after erosion and storm surges devastated the coastal area.
Although the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) said the source of the spill was unknown, the hamlet’s SAO said it expects more contaminated soil to be exposed as erosion of Tuktoyaktuk’s shores continues.
“Every time permafrost collapses and shorelines collapse and riverbanks collapse, all these contaminants are exposed,” said Lucy Kuptana, SAO of Tuktoyaktuk.
“More and more will happen”
After a Tuktoyaktuk resident reported smelling of fuel on the beach in August 2022, ENR inspected the site and engaged the Department of Community and Community Affairs, which then began the assessment and remediation.
ENR’s spill report describes the location as “near the coast of the Arctic Ocean, where tourists park”.
According to ENR, the area spent $79,000 to remove the contaminated soil, stabilize the site to protect existing permafrost and ship the containers of contaminated soil from Tuktoyaktuk to Inuvik. There the materials for the soil treatment plant KBL Environment Ltd.
An operations manager of the transport company E. Gruben’s Transport Ltd. said the containers of contaminated soil are still in Tuktoyaktuk and will be transported to Inuvik in the spring.
Sammy Gruben Jr. is a Tuktoyaktuk resident who lives across the street from the compound.
“When they cleaned it up, as soon as you walked out our door, you could really smell that oil fuel,” he said.
Gruben suspects that the spill has to do with the hamlet’s maintenance workshop, which is located next to the burial site. He said he believed the shop had a leaking tank and said he wasn’t surprised that erosion exposed the fuel.
“It’s eroding really badly there,” he said of the beach area.
Kuptana acknowledged that the spill could have come from the hamlet’s garage or from a former power station, which she said used to be on the site.
“If it’s a historical fuel spill, you don’t really know who spilled that fuel,” she said.
“I think the records might go back to the early ’80s, but if we’re talking about infrastructure from the 1950s and ’60s, we probably don’t have a record.”
NTPC fixed two historical leaks
Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC) spokesman Doug Prendergast said the Northern Canada Power Commission owned the former power plant infrastructure prior to 1988, the year NTPC acquired it.
Prendergast said NTPC was aware of two spills on the site of the former federal facility.
36,000 liters were spilled in 1984 and 203 liters in 1987, he said.
Between 2003 and 2007, Prendergast said that NTPC remediated the site and that ENR said in 2008 that the energy company’s remediation met its environmental guidelines.
A study commissioned by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation in 2020 compiled an inventory of drill cuttings and swamps in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR).
The report states that oil and gas exploration has been conducted in the Northwest Territories ISR since 1961 and that waste from that exploration and production has historically been dumped in swamps near wells.
The study identified 172 marshes in the Mackenzie Delta, 41 on arctic islands and seven on the mainland.
The report notes that swamps were designed to encapsulate the waste in frozen permafrost, but warming temperatures could contribute to “swamp failure.”
Kuptana said her community is grateful for the territory’s quick response to remediate the site from freezing, but said there is still work to be done to mitigate permafrost thawing.
She said the hamlet’s garage at the crash site is now seafront, much closer to the water than it used to be.
“There used to be a good 10, 20, 30 feet [between the garage and the ocean] at one time, but now that everything is eroding and the permafrost is collapsing, all that soil is flowing into the ocean,” Kuptana said.
ENR said there is no evidence the spill is ongoing. A spokesman for the department said ENR officers had been working quickly to ensure a speedy cleanup of the area of highest concern and that any further work needed would be completed in the spring.