B.C. horse breeder recounts fracking leak scare by Matt Kieltyka, May 7, 2014, Metro
Pat Gerlinsky and Glenda Wagar, who own a farm in Pouce Coupe, B.C., say they’ve experienced permanent health impacts after a 2009 gas leak near their property.
Glenda Wagar jolted from bed at 3 a.m. as the roar of jetting gas boomed through the frigid November air. It smelled like rotten eggs. “There’s a problem, I can’t breathe,” she said as she clutched for her sleeping boyfriend. Confused and weary, she left the safety of her home in the dead of night to investigate.
The rural landscape outside her front door was engulfed in a thick, white fog that rolled with the countryside.
“I couldn’t even see the little trees across the driveway, it was just fogged right in.”
The social worker and horse breeder spent the next six hours searching her property – a quarter section of farmland, and another half section of grazing land for her 60 horses in Pouce Coupe (just south of Dawson Creek in northeast B.C.) – for broken sewer lines and frantically trying to call neighbours and emergency responders to find out what had happened.
At 9 a.m., with the unrelenting blast of “jet engines” and stench still in the air, Wagar finally learned the severity of her situation. “A truck drove up the yard and was honking like crazy,” she recalls. It was a local hunter who had taken his life into his own hands to warn residents they were at risk. “He said ‘you’re in the middle of a cloud. Get out, get out, get out!”
On Nov. 22, 2009, Encana wellsite A5-7-77-14 L W6M, near Wagar’s ranch, failed in sudden and spectacular fashion.
A B.C. Oil and Gas Commission investigation found that a T-section of piping developed a leak when it was blasted from the inside by fracture sand (used to break up shale rock formations) that should have been cleaned out after the fracking process completed.
The leak intensified for hours until 8:38 a.m. when it developed into a full-blown “sudden failure”, according to the incident report. The emergency shutoff valve closed automatically at 9:05 a.m. but was unable to stop the “uncontrollable” flow of gas because the valve was downstream from the failure point. It wasn’t until the Encana control room in Hythe, Alta., more than 60 kilometres away, received a Hydrogen Sulphide (also known as sour gas) alarm at 9:10 a.m. that the company’s response to the incident began.
A total of 18 people were evacuated from within a 1.34-kilometre radius of the well. Most had already gotten themselves out of harm’s way.
By the time the well was shut at 10:45 a.m., approximately 30,000 cubic metres of natural gas containing approximately 6,200 parts per million (ppm) of potentially lethal sour gas were released into the atmosphere (though the commission classified it as “low level of toxicity”).
Encana, through a Community Environmental Justice Forum, paid out CAD $250,000 in compensation to the Pouce Coupe Fire Department, emergency evacuation preparedness programs at Tate Creek Community Centre and Ducks Unlimited Canada wetlands projects.
“Encana took full responsibility for the failure and deeply regrets its occurrence,” said Encana spokesperson Doug McIntyre in an email to Metro. “Encana implemented a number of mitigation measures including recommendations from the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission to help prevent this type of incident from happening in the future.”
But having lived through the ordeal, Wagar says her health, especially her respiratory system, has been permanently damaged. “I was coughing and my eyes were watering and I had a hard time breathing,” she said.
Results from X-rays and breathing tests told Wagar her lungs had been compromised, but doctors can’t link it to the gas leak. The dizzy spells she has experienced since the leak mean Wagar can’t drive for long distances and that she has been unable to continue working as a social worker.
She also can’t ride horses much anymore – the love of her life since she was five years old.
Time has not restored Wagar’s faith in the gas industry, especially as fracking operations in northeast B.C. expand to feed the province’s liquefied natural gas dreams.
“Like I told Encana, ‘you should have been finding dead people,’” she said, stone-faced.
Time also does not heal all wounds.
“It hasn’t gotten better. The dizziness is getting worse and the pain in my chest is the same. It hasn’t gotten worse or better,” she said. “There’s always a pain there.”
[Refer also to:
Starts Today to May 8, 2014: Encana and Chesapeake Criminal Anti-trust Hearing in Michigan: Encana pleads “no contest” and buys its way out on the first day with $5 Million Settlement (maximum fine for the crime is $1 Million)
B.C. school kids in danger, can suffer DNA damage illness from leaking sour gas several km away, yet B.C. allows wells within 100 m (~330 feet) of schools while Dallas City Council votes in 1,500 foot setback from homes and wells!