Hearings to start on Peace River oilsands odours

PEACE RIVER — Hearings are scheduled to begin this week on odours blamed on oilsands operations that have driven northern Alberta families off their land and at least one of the affected farmers hopes it will all wind up with tougher rules against bad smells.

PEACE RIVER — Hearings are scheduled to begin this week on odours blamed on oilsands operations that have driven northern Alberta families off their land and at least one of the affected farmers hopes it will all wind up with tougher rules against bad smells.

“The best result possible is that they make some regulations to get companies to capture their vapours,” said Alain Labrecque, who’s had to leave the farm his father pioneered over pungent smells that he says are destroying the health of his wife and children.

The hearings, scheduled to begin in Peace River on Tuesday, were called last fall by Alberta’s energy regulator after repeated complaints from families in the tiny communities of Three Creeks and Reno.

In an affidavit filed with the regulator, Labrecque complained of powerful, gassy smells and symptoms including severe headaches, dizziness, sinus congestion, muscle spasms, popping ears, memory loss, numbness, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, eye twitching and fatigue.

All those symptoms began in 2011, after Baytex Energy purchased 46 wells in the area.

Baytex uses an unusual method of heating bitumen in above-ground tanks to extract the oil. While there are other operators in Three Creeks, Baytex is the only one in Reno.

Previously released studies commissioned by the regulator strongly suggested that Baytex’s operations were the source of the odours.

One found that the bitumen produced in the area is rich in sulphur, a common source of bad smells. Another showed the amount of gas vented from a large area that includes Peace River has roughly doubled since 2010.

Another cast doubt on the quality of data from Baytex-commissioned reports measuring air contaminant levels.

New studies have reached similar conclusions.

“Venting is the likely issue,” said a study from one consultant, who added that previous studies on the issue probably underestimated odour impacts by a factor of two.

Another report found that while contaminants in the air have remained below levels required to damage health, odours themselves can cause many of the symptoms the families complain of.

“Studies of the health impacts of odours have revealed a number of different symptoms that can be attributed to odour alone, fully distinct from toxicological effects,” said Donald Davies of Intrinsik Environmental Sciences.

Taken together, the findings reveal a gap in Alberta’s oilpatch rules, said lawyer Keith Wilson, who is representing the Labrecques.

Those rules govern emissions of toxic gases or gases that can be collected in enough quantity to be profitable. But they don’t directly address the production of odours.

“The regulations that we have in place now are designed for one of two things — either for the traditional oilsand operations or the old conventional oil and gas,” said Wilson. “This type of production, where they’re pulling it out of the ground cold and heating it on the surface in open tanks, that is an approach that the regulations were never written for.”

Baytex spokesman Andrew Loosley said the company welcomes the hearings, which will run for eight days.

He said the company has taken steps to try and address odour problems. No new wells have been drilled for two years and a pipeline is being installed to help carry off fumes.

Baytex hopes the hearings will clarify what’s expected of industry operators, Loosley said.

“We like to have clear line-of-sight with everything that we do. We believe that’s important so everybody understands what the expectations are.

“We feel that it’s important to have a safe environment for our workers as well as the residents in the area, so as far as we’re concerned, the government will set the regulations and we’re going to abide by them.”

The regulator has said it will release its findings by the end of March.

Just Posted

Police is still looking for Second World War army passport owner

No one has claimed a rare Second World War German army passport… Continue reading

Red Deer readies for supervised drug consumption site

Now all we need is an application for one

Rent subsidies for Asooahum Crossing tenants sought from Red Deer city council

Coun. Lee feels the city should be ‘last resort’ for housing subsidy requests

Castor murderer denies he’s a killer

Jason Klaus tells courtroom he loved his family who were murdered in December 2013

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

RDC chosen to host 2019 men’s volleyball national championship

Sports enthusiasts in Red Deer will have more to look forward to… Continue reading

Police is still looking for Second World War army passport owner

No one has claimed a rare Second World War German army passport… Continue reading

DJ Sabatoge and TR3 Band kick off Sylvan Lake’s Winterfest 2018

Central Alberta’s youngest DJ will open for TR3 Band kicking off Town… Continue reading

Two Canadians, two Americans abducted in Nigeria are freed

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna to Abuja highway

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

Liberals quietly tap experts to write new paternity leave rules

Ideas include creating an entirely new leave benefit similar to one that exists in Quebec

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Are you ready for some wrestling? WWE’s ‘Raw’ marks 25 years

WWE flagship show is set to mark its 25th anniversary on Monday

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month