CALGARY — Alberta’s energy regulator has suspended issuing licences for all new sour gas projects after the province’s highest court overturned its ruling involving three families near Drayton Valley.
The Alberta Court of Appeal’s ruling means the Energy Resources Conservation Board must hold a hearing to determine whether Grizzly Resources Ltd. should be allowed to operate, perhaps with conditions, its two wells near the homes of Susan Kelly, Linda McGinn and Lillian Dupperon.
“I’ve been through two hearings where we were ruled against,” Dupperon said Tuesday. “To have a court say, ’yes, you were right,’ is just amazing.”
The three women filed objections in 2008 to Grizzly’s application to drill two sour gas wells near their homes, which are in what the board calls a protective action zone, or PAZ.
The board defines that as “an area downwind of a hazardous release where outdoor pollutant concentrations may result in life-threatening or serious and possible irreversible health effects on the public.”
Sour gas contains hydrogen sulphide, which can be fatal, even in small doses.
The ERCB dismissed the women’s objections, saying they were not adversely affected by the drilling just because they lived in the zone. Two days later, the board gave Grizzly licences to drill, and shortly after the company flared the wells.
The three then asked the board to review the decision. In January 2009, the board rejected the request, again saying the women did not demonstrate that their rights might be directly affected by the board’s approval of the application.
The Appeal Court disagreed, saying the ERCB failed to consider its own definition of where the three lived.
“The definition alone indicates that those who live in a PAZ could have their rights directly and adversely affected as a result of a hazardous release,” the justices wrote. “Should the wells leak and the wind be blowing from the southeast, poisonous gas could be blown over and into the appellants’ homes and farms.”
Grizzly had argued that the appeal was moot because the wells have already been drilled, but the Appeal Court didn’t see it that way.
“Grizzly’s concession of an ongoing health and safety risk to the appellants alone refutes the suggestion of mootness because it means a concrete dispute remains between the parties.”
Dupperon, who lives five kilometres from the wells, praised the court for its ruling.
“I was pleased that the courts saw that I was in danger where I live,” she said Tuesday.
“It’s … never been about just me, it’s my whole community. There’s a lot of children who live around here, there are no long-term studies on the health effects of low doses of H2S especially on growing bodies.”
The board said pending a review of the ruling it will not issue any new licences for wells, facilities or pipelines and that 69 such applications already in the system will be put on hold.