Regulator vindicates families complaining of fumes

The Alberta Energy Regulator has issued its decision in a case that saw seven families leave their Peace River homes due to health issues they attributed to oil operations. The AER investigation which began in January says residents in the area filed 881 odour complaints between January 1 2009 and November 1 2013.

Calgary-based Baytex Energy’s operations in a small strip of land called Reno Field involved venting waste gas from heated oil silos. It was mainly that venting that resident believed were the source of the tar-like odours and health problems such as frequent headaches dizziness insomnia and difficulty breathing. In January 2014 the Lebrecque family many of whom had moved out of the area because of these issues hired lawyer Keith Wilson to aid them in bringing a case against Baytex to the AER.

The regulator’s finding issue April 1 states “odours from heavy oil operations in the Peace River area have the potential to cause some of the symptoms experienced by residents; therefore these odours should be eliminated.” It recommends Baytex “eliminate venting reduce flaring and ultimately conserve all produced gas.”

It also recommends the government establish regional air quality monitoring to confirm any improvements increase the regulator’s enforcement capacity in Peace River and further study the effects of hydrocarbon emissions on human health.

Greenpeace representative Mike Hudema has been following the case closely and says he’s glad the report has confirmed what residents near Reno Field have been saying for nearly five years.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s taken this long for the government to finally listen” Hudema says. He also argues the government should put new tarsands projects on hold until better safeguards are in place.