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Proposal to Add Naphthenic Acids to the NPRI for the 2012 Reporting Year

Recommendations of the NPRI Multi-Stakeholder Work Group

June 2012

1.  Introduction

The Recommendations of the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) Multi-Stakeholder Work Group (WG) summarizes the WG’s current views and recommendations on the proposal that Environment Canada (EC) received to add napthenic acids (NAs) to the NPRI for the 2012 reporting year and beyond.

1.1.  Background

On November 11, 2010, Environmental Defence submitted a proposal to add NAs (CAS RN 1338-24-5) to the NPRI starting with the 2012 reporting year.

NAs are a by-product of oil sands production and are primarily found in oil sands tailings. Commercial NA mixtures are used as solvents, detergents, and rubber reclaiming agents.

While NAs are present in all crude oils and bitumen and have a number of industrial and commercial applications, Environmental Defence is primarily concerned with releases of NAs related to oil sands development. Oil sands facilities report on a range of NPRI substances released to and from tailings ponds. However, NAs are not currently listed as an NPRI substance, and facilities are not required to report NAs. Environmental Defence’s rationale for the addition, as identified in the proposal, is that NAs have been identified as a key source of toxicity in oil sands tailings and it is therefore important that information on this group of substances be publicly available.

Environmental Defence proposes that NAs be added to the list of Part 1 substances. The proposal specifically mentions the following:

  • a. CAS #: 1338-24-5
  • b. Specific substance information (uses): Naphthenic acids are a by-product of oil sands production and are primarily found in oil sands tailings.
  • c. Proposed reporting thresholds for additions: They recommend the standard 10-tonne reporting threshold for NPRI substances.

1.2. Work Group Process

A process for modifying the NPRI exists that fully describes how to propose changes to the NPRI program; the considerations when assessing changes to the NPRI substance list, including specific decision factors; and the consultative approach used by EC when considering changes to the NPRI.1

The NPRI is following the consultation process as outlined in the NPRI process for modifying the NPRI. The process calls for a multi-stakeholder work group (WG) to provide recommendations on proposed modifications to the NPRI. To obtain a balanced foundation for the NPRI, the current NPRI WG members include representatives from industry, aboriginal organizations, and environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs).

The recommendations of the WG will be considered by EC in making decisions on possible changes to the NPRI reporting requirements, which are published in the Canada Gazette, Part I.

2.  Issues Referred to NPRI Work Group

This section reflects the discussion and recommendations of the WG following a meeting in April 2012 on the topics listed below:

  1. Does the addition of NAs meet the five NPRI decision factors
  2. Reporting on a broader category (i.e. naphthenic acid fraction compounds) versus NAs with CAS RN 1338-24-5
  3. Ability to estimate quantities and availability of analytical methods
  4. Threshold
  5. Should the listing be broadly applicable to all sectors
  6. Timing

2.1. Does the addition of Naphthenic Acids meet the five NPRI decision factors

In evaluating a proposed change to the NPRI list of substances, a rationale should be provided against each of five decision factors. The decision factors are listed below and were developed to guide decision within the NPRI program in determining whether a proposed addition or deletion has merit. If the results of these five decision factors indicate that a substance should be added to the NPRI, the value of the information versus the cost of obtaining it and making it available through the NPRI should also be taken into account.Footnote1

  • 1) Does the substance meet the NPRI criteria, that is:
    • a) Is the substance manufactured, processed or otherwise used (M, P, O) in Canada?
    • b) Is the substance of health and/or environmental concern?
    • c) Is the substance released to the Canadian environment?
    • d) Is the substance present in the Canadian environment?
  • 2) Do facilities contribute significant releases of the substance?
  • 3) Does inclusion of the substance support one or more of the objectives of NPRI?
    • a) To identify priorities for action
    • b) To encourage voluntary action to reduce releases
    • c) To allow tracking of progress in reducing releases
    • d) To improve public understanding
    • e) To support targeted regulatory initiatives
  • 4) Is the substance reported elsewhere? If it is reported elsewhere, is there nonetheless additional value in reporting the information again?
  • 5) Is the substance already on the NPRI in some form? If it is already on the NPRI in some form, is there nonetheless additional value in including it in another form?

The Environmental Defence proposal outlines their rationale and concluded that all five of the decision factors were met for the addition of naphthenic acids.

Work Group Views
There was not consensus among the WG that the addition of NAs to the NPRI meets the five decision factors. Some members disagreed with the conclusion for factor 1)b) “Is the substance of health and/or environmental concern?” because the specific substance(s) to be added has not been determined, and the evaluation of NAs under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) has not been completed. They feel that this information is needed to determine if the substance(s) is of health and environmental concern. Also, the contribution of individual NAs to the overall toxicity is unknown and therefore the characterizations of individual NAs need to be completed. An ENGO member stated that recent literature documents that NAs have endocrine disruptor effects as well as other impacts, and therefore agrees that the substance meets the criteria of being of health and/or environmental concern.

A member disagreed with the conclusion for factor 2)“Do facilities contribute significant releases of the substance?” because it is uncertain if the source of NAs are naturally occurring or from facilities. There was also some question as to whether disposals to tailings should be considered under this decision factor. ECclarified that the CEPA 1999 definition of releases includes substances disposed of in tailings ponds.

Furthermore, an analysis of the burden on reporters of adding this substance has not been completed, and would be difficult at this time due to the uncertainty over what exactly would be added and what analytical methods are available and recommended. Once the substance(s) to be added are determined, the implications of reporting should be determined for all sources, in addition to the oil sands.

Work Group Recommendations
There was no consensus for a WG recommendation on whether or not the NPRI decision factors are met.

2.2. Reporting on a broader category (i.e. naphthenic acid fraction compounds) versus NAs with CAS RN 1338-24-5

The Chemical Abstracts Services Registry Number (CAS RN) 1338-24-5 refers to commercial NA mixtures, which are used as solvents, detergents, and rubber reclaiming agents. None of the commercial NAs are currently listed on the NPRI. NAs with the CAS RN 1338-24-5 met the criteria of the categorization process, which was completed in 2006 as a requirement of the CEPA 1999 to identify which chemicals required further action. An assessment will be completed at a later date to determine whether this substance meets the criteria of toxic under section 64 of CEPA 1999.

The NA mixtures with CAS RN 1338-24-5 contain only approximately 30% of the NAs found in oil sands processing water (OSPW), according to EC scientists. Using this CAS RN would not capture comprehensive data on NAs in oil sands tailings, and would limit the data to commercially used NAs. In order to capture more comprehensive data, information on a broader group of compounds known as “acid extractable organics” or “naphthenic acid fraction compounds” (NAFCs) (with no specific CAS RN) could be collected.

Work Group Views
Some comments supported that the proposed addition of NAs should not be limited to the CAS RN identified in the proposal. A WG member stated that upon reviewing the references in the proposal, they seem to refer to the broader group and not specifically that CAS RN. Reporting of the broader group may also provide a more complete picture of the overall effects.

One WG member said that regardless of which substance is added, the broad principle should be kept in mind that the addition has to be defined in a way to provide meaningful information. One WG member noted that under either option, other sectors will be impacted even though not addressed within the Environmental Defence proposal explicitly.

Another WG member prefers specific CAS RNs since they provide much better direction about what needs to be reported, and therefore more consistent data. Information about broad compound groups with no specific CAS RNs may result in less ability to understand the health and environmental impacts due to the lack of information on specific NA compounds. Reporters will need clear definitions of, and guidance around, what is to be included within the broader category of substances if NAs are added to the NPRI substance list without any specific CAS RN.

Some WG members noted that it would be helpful to know the fate (transformation) of NAs and, if there are significant differences in toxicity among the various NA compounds, it would be helpful to have a “toxic equivalent” method developed for the purpose of reporting.

Work Group Recommendations
No consensus was reached among WG members. Certain members feel that looking at the broader group of compounds better reflects the intent of the proposal while others say we should limit the listing to specific CAS RNs.

2.3.  Ability to estimate quantities and availability of analytical methods

There are currently no reliable analytical methods for measuring specifically those NAs defined by CAS RN 1338-24-5, out of the broader group of similar compounds that are present in oil sands processing water. The term “naphthenic acids” is usually used to represent a broader group of substances known as “acid extractable organics” or “naphthenic acid fraction compounds” (NAFCs). There are reliable analytical methods for measuring this larger group of compounds.

It should be noted that work is on-going within the scientific community to refine the analytical methods for measuring these compounds. The results of this work are expected to be available later this year – in time for gathering of data for the 2013 reporting year. Should the addition proceed for 2012, there are methods other than source testing that can be used by facilities to report to the NPRI (e.g. engineering estimates), and some facilities may already have information on this substance. However, an important point to consider is that for the 2012 reporting year, there may be some issues with data quality. NPRI reporting is based only on information that an owner/operator possesses or may reasonably be expected to have access to. 

Work Group Views
WG members expressed concern that there is not enough information currently to ensure that the applicable analytical methods are, or will be broadly available, reliable and of reasonable cost to reporters if NAs are added for the 2012 reporting year. Depending on the final results of the on-going work in the scientific community, there is also some uncertainty as to whether enough information will be available for the 2013 reporting year. The answer to this question also depends on what the definition of this substance would be (specific CAS RNs versus broader category).

Work Group Recommendations
There was agreement among industry members of the WG that due to the high level of uncertainty over the availability of methods at the current time, a decision on addition of this substance should be deferred until more information is known. Other members did not provide specific recommendations on this issue.  

2.4. Threshold

Environmental Defence proposed that NAs be added to the core list of NPRI substances (Part 1A). In that case the following standard NPRI threshold would apply:

Any person who owns or operates a contiguous facility or offshore installation would be required to submit an NPRI report for NAs if both of the following criteria are met:

  • 1. employees work a total of ≥ 20 000 hours (the equivalent of 10 full-time employees), or activities to which the employee threshold does not apply (incineration, wood preservation, terminal operations, wastewater treatment and pits and quarries) take place at the facility, and
  • 2. the total amount of NAs
    • manufactured, processed or otherwise used (MPO) at a concentration (by weight) of 1% or more, plus
    • incidentally manufactured, processed or otherwise used as a by-product at any concentration, plus
    • contained in tailings disposed of during the calendar year at any concentration, plus
    • contained in waste rock that is not clean or inert that is disposed of during the calendar year at a concentration (by weight) of 1% or more
  • is ≥ 10 tonnes.

Oil sands facilities producing tailings (at which the proposal is directed) would trigger this threshold for reporting, based on the large quantity of tailings produced and the fact that no concentration threshold would exist for NAFCs that are incidentally produced or that are in tailings. Once the threshold is met, all releases, disposals and transfers for recycling of the substance would be reportable, regardless of concentration. Facilities from other sectors might also meet the threshold, depending on quantities and concentrations of NAs manufactured, processed or otherwise used.

Work Group Views
A member stated that the threshold chosen should be one that would capture quantities that are of health and environmental concern. At this time it is unknown if 10 tonnes will capture this data. Another concern was that there is limited information on quantities of this substance from oil sands or other sectors therefore it is unknown what threshold is needed to capture this level of data.

It was suggested that if the default 10-tonne threshold is applied, EC should reevaluate whether the threshold is applicable after a few years of reporting, presuming that additional scientific data will be available to inform the alternative threshold decision making process.

Work Group Recommendations
WG members reached consensus that the default 10-tonne threshold would apply, since there is not currently enough information to decide on the applicability of an alternate threshold. However, WG members agreed that the definition of this substance (specific CAS RNs versus broader category) is needed before the threshold can be decided.

2.5. Should the listing be broadly applicable to all sectors

Although the focus of the proposal is on issues related to NAs in tailings, it does not propose the exclusion of reporting on this substance from other sectors or sources. Two of the guiding principles of the NPRIFootnote2 are that the coverage should be comprehensive and that the data should present as complete a picture as possible of the release sources of NPRI substances. In keeping with these principles, sector-specific reporting requirements have been established only in special circumstances (such as the need for activity-based thresholds for dioxins, furans and hexachlorobenzene). In order to be consistent with the guiding principles and with past practice, substances that are added to the NPRI should not be added in a sector-specific manner unless a clear case can be made that there are special circumstances that would warrant a sector-specific approach.  

Work Group Views
Generally WG members agreed that requirements should be as broadly applicable as possible and only by exception is there justification for sector specific requirements. Some WG members said that the question should be revisited when the substance(s) have been determined, and the sources and reporting impacts are known.

One WG member expressed that chemicals in hydraulic fracturing fluid used to extract natural gas should not be overlooked as a potential source of NAs. EC replied that the reporting of chemicals in hydraulic fracturing fluid is being looked at as part of the NPRI review of reporting requirements from the oil and gas extraction sector.

Work Group Recommendations
No reasons were given for restricting the reporting requirements to a specific sector or sectors. However a few WG members expressed that more information is required to provide a recommendation.

2.6. Timing

There are four options for the recommendation on timing of implementing this change, as follows:

  • 1)      Add NAs to the NPRI for the 2012 reporting year
  • 2)      Add NAs to the NPRI for a later reporting year
  • 3)      Defer decision to add NAs to the NPRI
  • 4)      Do not add NAs to the NPRI

Work Group Views
All WG members agreed that adding NAs to the NPRI for the 2012 reporting year (Option #1) is not recommended because of the uncertainty with the ability to estimate quantities and because it is already partway through 2012 and reporters would have to already be gathering the data. It was also agreed that the decision of not adding NAs to the NPRI (Option #4) should not be recommended at this time. 

There was some discussion between Option 2 and Option 3. Some members expressed that a decision could be reached now to add NAs to the NPRI for the 2013 reporting year, with additional time to work out technical details before reporting started. Conversely, other members felt that until more information is received, the decision should be deferred. If the decision is to be deferred, certain members expressed concerns that the timing for the decision should not be left open to ensure timely resolution of this issue.

Work Group Recommendations
The WG recommends that NAs should not be added to the NPRI for the 2012 reporting year. Additional work should be completed on issues such as substance definition, analytical methods, and reporting impacts in order to make an informed decision regarding the addition of NAs for the 2013 or future reporting years.   

Appendix A:

List of NPRI Multi-Stakeholder Work Group Members 

Industry Representatives
Kathryn Podgurny *Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)
Giulia BrutescoCanadian Electricity Association (CEA)
Jim Cormack *Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA), Canadian Gas Association (CGA), and Canadian Energy Partnership for Environmental Innovation (CEPEI)
Nancy CoulasCanadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME)
Andy SebestyenCanadian Steel Producers Association (CSPA)
Karen Hou *Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association (CVMA)
Allan Mumby *Canadian Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA)
Darren Brown *Cement Association of Canada
Peter Baltais *Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC), and Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (CPPI)
Justyna Laurie-Lean *Mining Association of Canada (MAC)
Aboriginal Organizations
Andrew BlackAssembly of First Nations
Alan Penn *Grand Council of the Crees
Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations
James White *Ecology Action Centre
John Jackson *Great Lakes United
Anna TilmanInternational Institute of Concern for Public Health
Ramsey HartMining Watch
Olga Schwartzkopf *Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS), BC Chapter

* present at the April 11, 2012 teleconference discussing these recommendations


Footnote 1

See Modifying the National Pollutant Release Inventory: A Guide to the Procedures to Follow When Submitting Proposals and a Description of the Stakeholder Consultation Process. This document has been replaced by the Process for Proposing and Considering Changes to the NPRI (2016)

Return to footnote 1

Footnote 2

Guiding principles of the NPRI are from The Final Report of the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Committee (December 1992).

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