Over the last week, many Goldenites expressed environmental concerns through social media following reports that Edmonton-based Hi Test Sand is considering opening a silicon metal plant south of town.
Environmental concerns are always a consideration with these kinds of projects, says Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm MacDonald, and he has had several productive discussions with Hi Test officials since the proposal’s inception.
“There’s no question that there is tremendous appeal to the possibility of substantial employment…The other factors, of course, are that we live in this area and many have for generations or intend to…you have to look after the environment and you have to make sure that we’re thinking of our friends and neighbours in the community who may be living in close proximity,” he said.
Many of the health and environmental concerns may have stemmed from the well-known danger of frac sand operations, which isn’t a part of Hi Test’s proposal.
Crushing silica can create large quantities of dust, which can have severe health-related impacts, including a lung disease known as silicatosis. Typically, it is the workers that are at the highest risk, but public in the surrounding area can be impacted as well.
However, and most importantly, the project that has been proposed for Golden doesn’t involve the crushing of silica at all. Instead, the silica would be mined, cleansed with water, and heated in one to four inch pieces to break the chemical bond between the silicon and the oxygen compound, releasing carbon dioxide and leaving behind pure silicon.
“If you’re looking for silicatosis as a potential issue…silicatosis is associated with crushing and grinding raw silica and we don’t do any of that. There has never been a case of silicatosis associated with silicon metal production,” said John Carlson, the vice-president of Hi Test Sand.
There was also some concern about the impact the operation could have on the Columbia River and the surrounding wetlands.
“We’re not pulling any water out of the river and we’re not putting anything into the river…we are not touching the wetlands that border our property at all,” Carlson said.
The $300 million project would bring 150 direct, full-time jobs should it go forward - plus many more jobs in a related capacity - and Golden is considered one of the two front-runners for a plant along with a site in Washington. A final decision from Hi Test Sand is expected within two to six months.
Silicon metal is a key component in the production of aluminum, computer chips and solar panels. The plant in Golden would be used for solar panel production.