Hearing opens into oilsands odour

Hearings have begun in northwestern Alberta about odours blamed on oilsands operations that have driven families off their land.

PEACE RIVER — Hearings have begun in northwestern Alberta about odours blamed on oilsands operations that have driven families off their land.

Residents of two tiny communities near Peace River are concerned over the way Baytex Energy has operated its oilsands extraction process in the area. They say it is creating powerful gassy smells that are impossible to live with.

One family has relocated to Smithers, B.C.

In an affidavit filed with the Alberta Energy Regulator, one resident complained of symptoms that included severe headaches, dizziness, sinus congestion, muscle spasms, popping ears, memory loss, numbness, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, eye twitching and fatigue.

Baytex uses an unusual method of heating bitumen in above-ground tanks to extract oil.

Reid Glenn, a mechanical engineer, told the hearing Tuesday that his personal examination of Baytex’s operations suggested vapours were coming off those tanks.

“You can see the leaks on a cold day by where the steam’s coming off the top of the tank,” he said.

Geologists also described the nature of the bitumen that Baytex is drilling for, describing it as being high in sulphur. Sulphur is a common component of smelly chemicals.

Baytex spokesman Andrew Loosley said the company is working within the rules.

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