AER’s ADR: Enforcer or Fraud? Sakens want AER to force talks on their Edson dairy farm’s water contaminated by Suncor, Bonavista (that AER knew about since 2009 but covered-up)

AER’s ADR = Appropriate Dispute Resolution

Alberta family wants talks on farm contaminated by oil and gas industry by Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, November 8, 2015, Calgary Herald

WATCH THE VIDEO AT LINK! Alberta family wants regulator to force talks on contaminated farm by Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, November 9, 2015 12:38 pm Updated: November 9, 2015 3:17 pm, Global News

An Alberta family whose farmland has been tainted by chemical contamination is asking the province’s energy regulator to force the responsible companies to negotiate compensation.

“These are very solid facts upon which the regulator can demonstrate it does have the ability to be an enforcer when things go wrong,” said Keith Wilson, lawyer for Ron and Lonni Saken.

The Sakens were informed in 2014 that groundwater under their dairy farm – which has been in the family since 1929 – was contaminated by a solvent used in the treatment of sour gas.

That solvent comes from a gas plant owned by Bonavista Energy, which bought the plant from Suncor (TSX:SU) in 2010. Bonavista’s studies show the leaching began years before it bought the plant.

Experts say it will be at least a decade before the groundwater is safe and will more likely take 30 years or longer. Meanwhile, the contamination prevents the Sakens from selling their farm or borrowing against it.

Plans to expand the farm to allow their son and his fiancee to join it have been put on hold.

The Alberta Energy Regulator has ordered Bonavista to truck at least 9.5 million litres a year to the farm for the family, staff and cattle. Bonavista has complied.

But the water is only a stop-gap, said Wilson. He points to provisions in the 2013 law that created the agency, allowing it to direct companies to attend a dispute resolution meeting. [The regulator has been using industry-friendly dispute resolution to steam-roll harmed Albertans for years, complete with gag orders before the process even beings. What is Mr. Wilson really up to?]

His letter to the regulator asks it to force both Bonavista and Suncor to do so.

“The meeting will provide an opportunity for the two energy companies known to be responsible for the contamination of the Saken farm to develop a long-term solution,” he wrote.

In a letter to the regulator, Bonavista says it is willing to attend such a meeting but is wary of the stakes. It argues the rules say those talks could only involve the order to supply water.

“Bonavista understands Mr. Wilson’s request to relate to more than the order,” says the company’s letter.

It said it would negotiate with the Sakens if the scope was agreed on in advance. 

In earlier correspondence with The Canadian Press, Suncor has said it’s “not appropriate” to comment on a plant it no longer owns.

Nigel Bankes, a resource law professor at the University of Calgary, said Wilson might get the regulator to force Bonavista to the table, but is unlikely to get Suncor.

He said both companies could be included in a contaminated sites order using provincial legislation.

“Then there is a possibility of implicating other persons responsible, (which) would include a prior owner of the facility,” Bankes said.

“I’m not sure why that wouldn’t have been done yet. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt there is contamination.”

A spokesman for the Alberta Energy Regulator was not immediately available. [Emphasis added]

2 Comments

Diana Daunheimer
Water is life for EVERYONE, not just one dairy farm. The South Rosevear gas plant was contaminating groundwater with sulfolane treated acid gas, starting in 2008. What about all the other families in the area? Where is the order and safe water deliveries for them?

Furthermore, what about the hundreds of other Albertan residents that are living with contaminated water? The Campbell’s near Ponoka, had their H2S and thermogenic formation gas contaminated water under investigation by the AER for 7 years, until the AER closed the files with no remediation, alternate sources or compensation whatsoever. They can not sell their farm either.

What about Bruce Jack’s family? His well house blew up from industrial methane contamination, severely injuring him and two industry gas-in testers, where is that order? How about the community of Rosebud? Where is the AER order to Encana to provide this community with clean, safe water? Ms. Ernst has been hauling her own water for many years because the levels of methane in her well are dangerously explosive, not to mention the numerous other toxic chemicals in the aquifer.

In all these cases, there is not much doubt there is industry contamination, so where are the AER’s orders for all those with contamination?

Of course, it is prudent this family receive mitigation for such contamination, but as you can read, lawyers had to be involved long before the AER came to help and some 7 years after the original contamination event. There is far more to this story than the press will print. Do some research and you will find the AER deserves no credit in this situation, in fact, the AER should be facing provincial charges for failing to protect public safety and enforcing regulations.

The notion that the AER will force the companies to the table, resulting in compensation, in Advanced Dispute Resolution is ambiguous at best. The ADR process is a pretense and means to immunity for the AER, and certainly Mr. Wilson and every other lawyer in Alberta know this. The Sakens will soon come to this realization as well.

Consider the implications of such preferential treatment. Why has the AER not forced Bellatrix to the table to compensate our family for the intentional negligence of exposing our family to years of undisclosed sour gas emissions? Why has the AER NEVER advocated for any harmed family or community in Alberta, prior to now? Why was the AER not available for comment with respect to this event? Are they not a credible, protective, orderly, transparent and efficient, “world-class”, “best-in-class” regulator, as they advertise ad nauseum? Or are they already comfortable in spectacularly failing the 9 tenets of excellence they paid some 2 million dollars for, with their “best-in-class” project?

And where is our Premier, Environment, Health and Energy Ministers in all of this? The Nexen spill in remote Alberta received a great deal of attention from our government, site visits, press releases, why so eerily silent now, when people and livestock are being poisoned?

Finally, has anyone thought further on this statement…the contamination will naturally wash away, in some 10 to 100 years. To where? To what impact? And how if the plant continues to inject sour gas? Why is there no investigation to the cause, calls for remediation? Honestly, this is disturbing. A perfect testament to the failings of the AER, our legal system, the health department, corporate liabilities and the loyalties of our provincial government.

What will happen here is unclear, this can be expected though, if the AER force the company responsible to compensate this family, the line-up for the AER’s new service, will be out the door and around the block. Seeing as the AER under REDA have a good faith clause, and a mandate to protect the safety of all Albertan’s and their environment, the AER will be obligated to assist each and every one of us, otherwise, they can readily face litigation for failing their duties.

http://ernstversusencana.ca/aers-adr-enforcer-or…

http://www.aer.ca/…/regulatory-excellence-initiative

http://www.cbc.ca/…/sulfolane-contaminated-drinking…
Like · Reply · 50 mins · Edited

Barb Ryan
“Forced” talks, “forced” mediation, “forced” compensation won’t save the farm, the water, the air or the land. This is pure spin to make industry and the AER look like they’re doing something meaningful. But, below the surface, they continue to do what they do, with “force.”
Like · Reply · 1 · 15 hrs

Farm contaminated by gas industry, family seeks compensation, Groundwater under dairy farm near Edson contaminated by solvent used to treat sour gas by Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, Nov 09, 2015 2:45 PM MT, CBC News

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[A few questions must be answered first:

“Instead of Bonivista spending 15 to 20 thousand dollars on two new wells, which were also contaminated, why hasn’t a fresh water hook-up with the closest town/city been piped into the Saken’s farm?  Bonavista Energy should pay for this!” [This excellent question sent by an Alberta on November 10, 2015. Is the answer that Edson’s 11 municipal water wells are contaminated too.]

Is Kieth Wilson synergizing/engaging in setting-up oil industry gag orders & settlements that will be “forced” on poisoned and harmed Albertans by the AER’s ADR to wipe out the “millions or billions” in civil lawsuits ahead?

Are gag orders that industry insists on with “settlements” legal or do they violate constitutional rights?

After the gag order, who makes the contamination plume go away?

During negations and after the gag order, will the AER continue to allow hydraulic fracturing near Bonavista’s problem plant and toxic chemical and waste injection there and at surrounding energy wells?

What happened at Edson to cause the contamination?

How long ago did it actually start? (The regular knew since 2009, but covered it up)

Does the regulator need to be investigated for fraud in this case? Where are the police?

Where’s the data?

Will all of the data be made public or removed forever from public view as soon as the harmed families settle and gag as in the Baytex poisoning cases at Peace River that were also handled by Kieth Wilson? What about the many families still being poisoned in Alberta?

Where are the technical, health, veterinary, etc reports on this 5 km widespread groundwater contamination plume at Edson?

Will the reports, if they exist, also be removed forever from regulator and public access if the AER orders the Sakens into negotiations that end up gagging them?

Where are the emergency response plans, cumulative effects assessments and prevention, protection and mitigation plans for fracs, acid gas, enhanced oil recovery, CCS and other injections gone wrong across Alberta? The Edson contamination case is but one small case – why is it getting so much media attention and AER “enforcement?”

Does the AER have an emergency response plan yet for providing all harmed families with safe alternate drinking, farm and bathing water? How will it be done?

Does the AER have a groundwater sampling and monitoring protocol yet?

Much more important than any settlement, notably just for one family:

Is the contamination ongoing?

What’s in the milk and for how long?

How many other private water wells are poisoned?

How many farms/businesses ruined, what’s the total financial damage?

Will Alberta taxpayers bear the brunt?

How many families have been poisoned? How many children?

What are the health impacts?

Is Alberta Health helping or deflecting the poisoned families, as is their standard practice when harm is caused by the oil and gas industry?

Is Alberta Health monitoring the harms done, or has the AER put a non-health expert (eg Dr. Monique Dubé) onto the task to smear and belittle the poisoned instead of retain real health professionals to help?

What toxic and or explosive gases are venting from household water taps, coming up into basements and in how many homes and businesses?

Has the company provided copies of its commercial liability insurance to all harmed families with migrating gases through soils and or contaminated water?

Is the pollution from leaks at the plant or from waste or acid gas injection at surrounding wells, hydraulic fracturing impacts, cap rock failure, or a cumulative combination of? Who’s studying the possible causes and sources of the contamination?  Anyone?

What chemicals are being injected with the sulfolane?

Is methane, ethane, sour gas, CO2, other gases leaking with the sulfolane? How much and where? Is anyone testing for migrating gases? Have the gases been fingerprinted by a reputable (non-University of Calgary) lab?

What chemicals besides sulfolane are in the private water wells?

How many monitoring water wells are in place, and when were they drilled?

Who’s testing / monitoring the contamination plume?

How big is(are) the plume(s)?

What direction are the plumes moving in?

Has the regulator released all the unaltered historic water well records to all harmed families and those in direction of the plume’s movement? Better yet, will the AER release all the unaltered historic water well records across Alberta, including for all contaminated groundwater areas?

Has the AER warned families, farms, businesses, communities downstream?

If the Sakens gag and settle, under ordered negotiation by the AER, will Bonavista stop injecting acid gas and other waste at the plant and clean up the contaminated groundwater until it is usable again by livestock and humans?

Or will the AER enable “business as usual” profit taking at the expense of Alberta taxpayers?

***

Has the AER ensured that Esso fixed the contamination at Rumsey Ranch yet? Will they ever? 

Remembering Rumsey Ranch: A case study of the pollution of a cattle ranch in the Alberta Foothills; Report on a project in progress by Don Belanger, Arn Keeling, Catherine Kiszkiel, Susan Villeneuve and Carman Bickerton, The History Collaborative Carleton University (Canada) in The London Journal of Canadian Studies 1997 Volume 13

As well, it seemed that the company’s efforts at groundwater remediation were poor, with the time frame of the recovery and remediation options estimated at anywhere from one to three or more decades. Dr. A.W. Wilson of Reid Crowther agreed that remedial measures could take as long as thirty years, and indicated that it would be impossible to ensure that all contaminated groundwater could be intercepted and treated.

While Hanen was able to force various improvements in the plant operations in the 1970s and the 1980s, plant pollutants had seriously eroded both the environmental purity and property value of the ranch by 1990. Convinced that government and industry were working in tandem to ignore and silence her concerns, Hanen filed suit in 1991 against Esso and the Energy Resources Conservation Board [now AER] of Alberta for damages to the ranch’s cattle, soil, air and groundwater. While a settlement was ultimately achieved, the much more difficult task of finding ways of remedying, if not restoring the ranch’s environment is underway through the work of the Restoration Action Committee. There are a number of themes at work in the account given in this paper: the regulatory authority’s failure to regulate; political disinterest in redressing that failure; Esso’s refusal to acknowledge the extent of pollution and their strategy of portraying Hanen as a corporate adversary; the insignificance of the community’s role in the dispute; and perhaps most clearly, the utter lack of coherent management of remediation efforts after the groundwater pollution was confirmed in 1986….

… Dr. Hollebone cautioned that further delays in remediation would result in more extensive and persistent damage which, coupled with inflation, would “drive the costs of remediation beyond the capacity of business or government to solve.”

Of course, the first thing that should be done is to immediately prevent any more input of contaminants. If the sources are not shut down, the problem will never be fixed. …

The Hanen collection of records indicate that from the 1970s to the 1990s, the Alberta Surface Rights Board (SRB), the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), and the Alberta Department of the Environment were reluctant to acknowledge adverse environmental effects caused by the sour gas industry, and consistently circumvented Hanen’s concerns with the industry’s operations. Although the ERCB and Alberta Environment occasionally showed initiative in addressing the problems, their standards and regulations were violated frequently and without penalty, and their actions to augment controls and to remedy problems were reactive and nominal.

Neither has co-operation extended to public scrutiny into sour gas operations. Hanen’s frustration and anger in dealing with the regulatory agencies, particularly the ERCB, has been shared by many other ranchers and farmers.

The Board itself recently made a similar observation in a 1994 report, which noted, “We were told that too many people feel that they have not been listened to and their concerns do not matter.”

Potential for environmental impact due to acid gas leakage from wellbores at EOR injection sites near Zama Lake, Alberta

Leakage rates from the 350 wellbores are calculated from randomly sampled wellbore seal failure times, reservoir permeability, and initial amounts of acid gas, and from reference values of other reservoir parameters. Results indicate that for hundreds of years after injection, the entire Zama Lake area of 12 000 km2  could have lethal concentrations of H2S over each of the leaking wellbores. The shallow aquifers over the entire Zama area and over 30 kilometres in the direction of aquifer flow could be undesirably tainted with dissolved H2S. The entire Zama Lake area and hundreds of kilometres beyond could become uninhabitable for more than 1000 years after injection due to toxic plumes of H2S in the air and in shallow aquifers. This analysis has implications for the potential use of acid gas for EOR and for subsurface sequestration in general in areas with large numbers of abandoned wells.

2014 03 13 Diana Daunheimer Fracturing our lives and how it affects us all AER does not want harmed Albertans to file compliants

Slide from Diana Daunheimer presentations

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AER’s lead counsel Glenn Solomon spells it out:

“‘Okay, we damaged your water well. We’ll just set you up with potable water through a tank system forever, because, you know, we just spent a million dollars drilling this well that we made a hundred million on. And it’s costing us an extra three hundred thousand. We’re okay.’

Solomon explained more about the industry’s attitude: ‘You know, we don’t need to litigate with you, we don’t even need to know that it was our fault. We’re just happy to pay you. And by the way by doing that you shut up, the regulators stay off our back, we get to do it again down the street. And so that’s the oil company approach on these (things).'”

So whose “street” is next?

Background information on the Bonavista/Suncor Edson groundwater contamination case:

What’s in the milk? AER orders Bonavista to deliver safe water to cows at Edson, but not to Albertans living with dangerous levels of Encana’s frac’d gases in their water & homes

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