By Joni MacFarlane
Editor, Crowsnest Pass Promoter
One year after Devon announced the closure of its Coleman facility, pipes are empty, boilers are cold and a lonely quiet has descended on the once-thriving plant.
No phones are ringing, no vehicles line the parking lots and only two employees remain to act as point contacts for the company.
The long slow process of shutting down and dismantling a large natural gas plant is underway after 52 years on the landscape at the western edge of Crowsnest Pass.
Last April, Devon announced the closure of the facility because of sustained low natural gas prices and the age of the facility. The Coleman plant was commissioned in 1961 and went through several ownership changes before Devon bought it.
A public open house held by the company on March 19 explained the decommissioning process – a long and strictly regulated endeavour.
Dean Stenbeck, Manager Facilities Technical Services and former Superintendent of the facility, said the process of decommissioning a facility of this nature could take about 10 or more years.
“This is a long-term project,” added Patricia Etris, Devon Community Relations and Investment. “It’s not a quick take down.”
There are three phases to the project.
First is shutting down, which included “de-energizing” the plant, flushing and cleaning out all process equipment, and ensuring the site is safe. This phase has been completed.
Gas wells in the field have been “shut-in”, a term used when wellheads are temporarily sealed up and made inert. Adjoining pipelines were de-pressured and purged with nitrogen so there’s no gas or contaminants in the line.
Devon has several options for the future of the field such as selling the wells and pipelines, bringing the system back on-stream, piping the gas to another facility, or permanently capping the wellheads.
They have 10 years to make a final decision, confirmed Stenbeck, and they will remain “suspended” until a decision is made.
Dismantling is the next phase, which is expected to take the next three years and includes demolition of buildings and all process equipment.
“Our goal is to landfill as little as possible,” said Stenbeck. “Wherever we can recycle, reuse, those are our prime interests. If we can’t reuse it and there is no market for it, or it is hazardous materials, obviously we’ll dispose of it appropriately.”
About 90 per cent of the scrap metal will be recycled, said Kevin Bradbury, one of the long-term operators remaining at the plant.
Contractors will be retained to conduct the overall planning of the dismantling as well as hiring sub-trades, said Stenbeck. Anyone working on the project will require specialized training regarding safety and removal of hazardous materials including asbestos, he stressed.
“That’s the responsibility of Devon to see that that’s occurring and… It’s a shared responsibility with the companies we bring in,” Stenbeck added.
He said many aspects of the dismantling remain undecided and it’s possible some buildings could remain depending on the final land use.
“At this point, our end goal is to level the entire facility and remove everything,” he added.
Finally, there is the reclamation phase, which is the longer-term phase and includes pulling up concrete and dealing with potentially contaminated soil and ground water.
Devon’s Robert Boyce, Environmental Operations, said there are several aspects to the remediation and reclamation processes, which is expected to take another four to five years.
Once everything is taken down and the ground is accessible, samples of the soil and ground water are taken from numerous sites to determine what treatment is required. Samples are taken continually throughout the remediation process to ensure no contaminants are left untreated, said Boyce.
In addition, removing the soil depends on what is found, he said, but digging it out and disposing of it is not optimal.
“That’s basically throwing it in a landfill, so treatment is preferred,” he said.
Boyce said the brick smoke stack will be it’s own project – understanding everything that’s in the brick and then determining how to deal with it.
The magnitude of the project is quite challenging, he admitted.
“One thing that really drives the challenge is, this is the end of the facility’s life so it’s not good enough to leave it half finished,” he said. “It needs to be finished and finished well. Whatever’s left behind, it needs to be the right thing.”
A plan for remediation and reclamation has been submitted to Alberta Environment & Sustainable Resource Development. Devon hopes to receive approval of the application later this spring.
Of the 35 employees working at the plant when the closure was announced, about one third were relocated to Devon’s Jackfish facility, another third went to other companies and the remainder retired, Bradbury said.