Kitimat Smelter Expansion Meets Opposition

Rio Tinto Alcan’s Kitimat smelter

A group of concerned citizens and environmental organizations plans to appeal approval for an expansion of the Kitimat smelter that includes increased sulphur dioxide emissions

A group of citizens and environmental organizations in the Kitimat area plan to appeal the B.C. government’s April 23, 2013 decision to allow Rio Tinto Alcan to increase sulphur dioxide emissions at its Kitimat aluminum smelter as a part of its Kitimat Modernization project.
The group complains that while the project will reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions, it will result in an increase in sulphur dioxide emissions.
The group, which includes two environmental organizations and four individuals, says approval will allow the Kitimat smelter to increase its sulphur dioxide emissions limit 55 per cent, from the current 27 tonnes a day to 42 tonnes a day. “The permit will enable the company to boost smelter production without requiring it to invest in emissions reduction technology,” claims SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, a member of the group, in a press release.
Rio Tinto Alcan says the Kitimat Modernization project, now 50 per cent complete, will see $3.3 billion invested into upgrades at the 60-year old smelter, lowering overall emissions by nearly 50 per cent and increasing aluminum production by 48 per cent, from 282,000 tonnes a year to 420,000 tonnes a year.
The new smelter will see polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons reduced by 98 per cent, total particulates reduced by 80 per cent, fluorides reduced by 72 per cent, and greenhouse gases reduced by half a million tonnes per year, according to Colleen Nyce, spokesperson for Rio Tinto Alcan’s B.C. operations.
“That’s probably the highest reduction in GHGs in the whole province, if not the country,” says Nyce. “So it’s a huge, huge decrease in environmental footprint. Even with the one emission that will increase [sulphur dioxide], put them all together and the overall reduction is close to 50 per cent.”
Nyce agrees that the company’s team of scientists have suggested that “wet” scrubbers are an option for capturing the sulphur dioxide. This process removes pollutants from gas by bringing a scrubbing liquid into contact with the gas, by forcing it through a pool of liquid. The process is in use at smelters around the world, but also has drawbacks, says Nyce.
“If we put a wet scrubber in place, that would mean we would discharge into the ocean 25,000 cubic metres per hour of sulphur dioxide scrubbed substance. Given the volume [of sulphur dioxide] that would have to be placed into the ocean here it was decided once all the studies were done that the least impactful way [to deal with the sulphur dioxide] was to emit it into the air.”
SkeenaWild plans to appeal the decision to the Environmental Appeal Board. Spokesperson Greg Knox says his group is awaiting a determination from the provincial government as to its eligibility to make an appeal. “Once we receive their response as to whether we have standing, we will go into the actual appeal process and hearings, with the decision sometime potentially next spring,” Knox says.