CBC News has obtained a report from CBCL Limited — an environmental engineering firm hired by the province — that states Northern Pulp should be able to meet stricter environmental conditions.

The CBCL report, obtained through freedom of information and protection of privacy legislation, says it’s doable for those pertaining to water and wastewater.

Paper Excellence, the company that owns the mill, asked the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a review of water and a total of 20 conditions on the grounds that some are “impossible to meet” and would require “building a new mill” to do so.

The Nova Scotia Environment Department has yet to make a final decision on conditions that — for the first time — regulate how much water the mill can use and how much effluent it can discharge for treatment at Boat Harbour.

Water review underway

Those conditions have been under review by the government since July and now form part of the Northern Pulp’s request to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a judicial review.

The Nova Scotia Environment Department received a report it commissioned from CBCL last June after Northern Pulp appealed to the minister to change many conditions, including those around water usage.

The province has a contract to supply 25 million gallons of water a day from Middle River to the mill.

The CBCL report says a 30 per cent reduction in the water the mill is currently using is “technically feasible.” It says it would put Northern Pulp’s consumption on par with the North American average for similar mills.

It says a 23 per cent reduction in effluent is also “technically feasible” provided both measurements are based on a yearly average rather than the daily average the province proposed.

CBCL data shows the average for softwood kraft mills is 82 cubic meters of water per tonne of pulp produced.

The Pictou County mill takes in 106 cubic meters per tonne today and must reduce that to 81 cubic meters per tonne by 2020.

“The Industrial Approval target of 81 m3/t  is comparable to the average kraft mill intake volumes in North America. The experience in other parts of Canada has demonstrated that softwood kraft mills (like Northern Pulp) can achieve water use targets of less than 70 m3/t, however considerable investment would be required at Northern Pulp to achieve those types of targets,” said the CBCL report.

In Alberta, where the province brought in regulations modelled on those in Europe, all pulp mills consume water in the 65-70 cubic meters a tonne range.

The CBCL report says in British Columbia, a mill owned by Paper Excellence (the same company that owns Northern Pulp) uses 68 cubic meters a tonne after the company spent $100 million replacing the recovery boiler years ago.

Only one mill in Canada of the same type and vintage as Northern Pulp but larger in size uses more water.

Report supports Nova Scotia’s target

The CBCL study also supports the province’s target of a 23 per cent reduction in wastewater discharged by Northern Pulp.

“The reduction targets by 2020 for wastewater are greater than the Canadian average and should therefore be technically achievable,” said the CBCL report.

The 2020 target for the Pictou County mill is 87 cubic meters per tonne compared to 74 cubic meters a tonne which is the North American average for kraft mills of the same kind.

Northern Pulp currently discharges 91 cubic meters of water per tonne of pulp produced.

Province mum on the subject

Despite support for the water reduction targets contained in Northern Pulp’s operating permit, no one from the Nova Scotia Department of Environment is willing to comment on the CBCL study.

“As the Minister’s decision on the outstanding items has not yet been made, it would be inappropriate for us to speak about the report’s finding or how it may relate to the terms and conditions of the approval at this time,” said an emailed statement to CBC from the Nova Scotia Environment Department.

The Province isn’t saying how long it will be before a decision is made. Three environment ministers have had the file in the past year.

The CBCL study lists a number of technologies — including cooling towers and a process called oxygen de-lignification — that could bring the mill’s water use in compliance with regulations.

The cost of each technology ranges from ten million to 100 million dollars.

In Pictou County, Northern Pulp also put a freedom of information request for the CBCL study.

Northern Pulp disagrees with findings

The company disagrees with findings it is “technically feasible” to reduce the mill’s water consumption by 30 per cent.

“We do not know at this time know how we could meet those targets,” said Bruce Chapman, general manager of Northern Pulp.

“The Nova Scotia government hired a second consultant, AMEC, to look at possible projects that we could undertake. They looked at our site and recommended a cooling tower but they were unable to identify enough projects to meet the targets by 2020. Certainly a brand new mill would meet those targets but it’s much more difficult to retrofit an older mill,” said Chapman.

Chapman says he doesn’t believe the new operating conditions will significantly reduce water pollution.

Northern Pulp is asking for another change to allow production at the Pictou County mill to increase to five per cent in its request to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a review.

“Production is often the best way to pay for projects such as water reduction,” said Chapman. “The production increase we are asking for will not harm the environment.”

The operating permit restricts the company to its current production of 310,000 tonnes of pulp a year.