As word spreads that the American oil company Halliburton is setting up shop in Walton, it appears many locals – including some politicians – have more questions than answers.
Rupert Jannasch, the local municipal councillor for the area, said he had heard rumours about something being set up at the site approximately six months ago, when the road leading to the former mine was being upgraded.
“News of the development begs an awful lot of questions that went unanswered for a long time,” Jannasch said. “People in the community first got wind of it in the summer, but no one was sure what it was.”
Halliburton is planning to establish a storage facility for oil equipment, including perforating carriers, or explosives used in oil extraction.
Emily Mir, director of communications for Halliburton, said these materials contain the same grade charges as that used in the mining industry.
Seeking answers, Jannasch went to the site with a resident who used to work at the former barite mine off of Dresser Minerals Road, and spoke to an employee of Halliburton, who explained the nature of the facility.
Jannasch said he was initially surprised how little fanfare surrounded the development, as any commercial activity in a remote, rural area is usually something governments would “jump at a chance” to promote.
But in this case, Jannasch said that would likely only happen if the facility expanded in scope.
“Maybe this is a lower-key project, but the biggest concern people have at this point is a lack of information,” he said. “All parties concerned should agree that leaving this to rumour mill isn’t helpful for anybody.”
Jannasch said rumours about what the facility was going to be were flying wildly in the community initially, including the possibility of an ammunitions factory. He’s hoping that Halliburton will hold a public meeting in the community soon to explain the work that they’re doing more fully.
“One of the big concerns that people have is transportation,” he said. “People are basically looking for some reassurance.”
He added that the local fire departments have been made aware of what materials will be transported to and from the site.
The Halliburton spokesperson said the facility will be comprised of several secured storage modules surrounded by a steel fence.
West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian said council was not notified about Halliburton’s plans initially, but the municipality approved its application.
The permit allows for an industrial accessory steel storage building for storage relating to future offshore oil and gas industry, Zebian said.
The permit was issued Nov. 13, 2018, for a 16-foot by 60-foot single storage building.
Zebian said the area is zoned as General Resource (GR), which does not permit processing or assembly.
Rezoning to the resource industrial zone would be required for any processing or assembly and no applications have yet been received by the municipality.
Hants West MLA Chuck Porter said he wasn’t aware of the Halliburton facility until it was alluded to in a CBC article Jan. 31.
“I knew nothing about it,” Porter said. “When you’re bringing in a business of any kind to a local area, I would say that council is almost always aware, even through rumours or calls.”
No public meeting, consultation or council vote was undertaken prior to the approval of the facility.
“If someone came in and applied for a building permit for a deck or a home or something, council probably wouldn’t have to get involved. This is, seemingly, a little different than that,” he said.
“It’s a substantial business and a substantial kind of business.”
Mir said Halliburton received all necessary permits from Canada’s Department of Natural Resources – Explosives Regulatory Division for storage.
“The company transported and placed storage buildings last week and is now working to finish the facility’s fencing and security,” Mir said. “Halliburton’s No. 1 priority is safety, and we are putting all necessary measures in place to prioritize the safety of our employees, as well as those near our facility and operations.”
Mir said that the transportation and storage of the explosive materials are strictly regulated.
“The carriers will be transported to and from the Walton facility via truck,” she said. “The carriers will come from the company’s Jet Research Center in Alvarado, Texas, and will go to customer work location in Eastern Canada.”
When asked where Halliburton operates in the region, Mir said that information is not available publicly due to the “competitive market” Halliburton is involved in.
She added that the company does not have plans for additional equipment to be stored at the facility and that the number of carriers to be stored at the facility depends on the regional activity by local operators, most likely less than what they are permitted to store.
Halliburton owns the property in Walton, which is on approximately 230,000 square metres of land and includes the approximately 8,000 square metres storage facility.
“We have worked in the area for more than 34 years,” she said. “To date, Halliburton has hired three positions at the facility and will continue to hire locally as the regional market activity increases.”
The company expects operations to begin at the end of February.
According to a company press release, in 2018 Halliburton made $24 billion in revenue, a 16 per cent increase over 2017, with operating income reported at $2.5 billion.