Canadian Manufacturing

Oilsands odours in Alta. must be curbed to combat health concerns

Alberta Energy Regulator issued 20 recommendations to eliminate oilsands processing odours

PEACE RIVER, Alta.—Alberta’s energy watchdog has made a series of recommendations to eliminate oilsands processing odours that could cause health problems.

The report from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) includes 20 recommendations and comes after hearings into complaints from people near Peace River, Alta., who claimed powerful smells were emanating from Baytex Energy Corp.’s operations.

It did not specifically name Baytex in the recommendations.

Among the recommendations, the AER said oil and gas operators in the area in northwestern Alberta should be required to implement measures to minimize odours, eliminate gas venting, reduce flaring and conserve all produced gas where possible.

The report also recommends Alberta Health takes steps to ensure local doctors are connected with environmental health specialists to help diagnose possible symptoms associated with odours and emissions from heavy oil operations.

Doctors should also work with specialists to “provide appropriate treatment to residents” affected by operations.

Margaret Sears, a doctor specializing in chemical engineering, wrote in a report commissioned for the hearing doctors in Alberta are reluctant to draw ties between health problems and the province’s oil and gas industry.

The AER also recommends operators in the area conduct monthly fugitive emission inspections, with results submitted to the regulator.

“Where sources of fugitive emissions are identified, these be repaired within 12 hours of being detected or the facility be shut down until such repairs are completed,” the report reads.

It also calls for an enhanced “operational and enforcement presence in the Peace River area” on behalf of the AER to ensure compliance.

The report comes after local residents complained of a variety of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, sinus congestion, muscle spasms, popping ears, numbness, eye twitching, fatigue and memory loss they claimed was associated with nearby oil and gas extraction.

All those symptoms began after Baytex bought 46 wells in the Peace River area in 2011.

The Calgary-based company uses an unusual method of heating bitumen in above-ground tanks to extract oil.

Called by the AER in the fall of 2013, the hearings launched in January and lasted about two weeks.

—With files from The Canadian Press

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