Baytex Finally Successful, Gags & Settles Poisoned Alberta Families: Does a lawyer-touted “positive outcome” of displacing and gagging poisoned families, stop the poisoning? “Our house is contaminated…there’s a smell now…Part of the torture of all this is not only abandoning our farm, but the health experts…told us we shouldn’t bring anything (with us).”

Baytex settles lawsuit by buying four farms by Dan Healing, October 7, 2014, Edmonton Journal

Baytex Energy Corp. has resolved a lawsuit brought by a Peace River extended family by buying the four farms they claimed they were forced to abandon because of emissions from its heavy oil works.

Both Baytex and family representative Brian Labrecque confirmed Tuesday the lawsuit has been resolved but neither would give any details.

The Labrecques’ lawyer, Keith Wilson of Edmonton, however, said the settlement, to buy a total of 160 hectares of farmland for an undisclosed amount, was finalized in late September and he can now talk about it.

“It’s a good example of how you can have a positive outcome when the government has the courage to look in a serious way into allegations of a serious impact from oilsands production,” he said.

“It was a very difficult road but the outcome is positive.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Labrecque told the Herald the matter had been settled but “at this time I’m not at liberty to discuss the situation.”

Brian Ector, senior vice-president of public affairs for Baytex, also confirmed the company has “resolved” its issues with the Labrecque family.

He refused to confirm or deny the company had bought the land, nor would he say if it has offered compensation to any other landowners affected by emissions.

Years of complaints from residents about odours and emissions from northwestern Alberta heavy oil operations led to the Alberta Energy Regulator hosting its first public hearings in Peace River last winter on the issue.

In April, the AER panel issued a report that said the emissions were likely causing health problems and should as much as possible be eliminated. Baytex and four other companies extract oil from bitumen in the area by heating above-ground tanks, a process linked with greater risk of odour-causing emissions.

In June, the AER issued a directive requiring companies in certain areas near Peace River to take steps to eliminate gas venting, reduce flaring and conserve all produced gas by Aug. 15.

A compliance sweep was staged in late June and a second in the second half of August — the latter involved 258 inspections and uncovered six facilities that were non-compliant. They were repaired or shut down until they could be brought into compliance.

The emission orders are helping, says area grain farmer Mark Roberts, 33. He said he moved into a condo in Peace River last year upon the birth of his child to avoid the odours on his farm but moved back in late August.

“From what we’ve seen, it’s improved. Are they where we’d like to see them? Nope,” he said Tuesday.

He said the familiar gassy odour returned last Sunday for about two hours — at a lower level than before but strong enough to be followed to its source at a Baytex well site.

He immediately reported it to the AER but it was unable to get an inspector out to the field, he said. He said he let Baytex know about it also but they were unable to offer an explanation.

“Under Directive 60, there’s supposed to be zero venting off,” he said. “For me to get that smell two miles away from the plant, something went wrong … the scary part is not that something failed, the scary part is something failed and they don’t know what it is.”

AER spokeswoman Carrie Rosa said the AER field office in Grande Prairie reported that “industry personnel in the area” were sent to the site — likely employees of the operator.

“No odours were identified by the responders,” she said. “They also checked the operating facilities in proximity.”

Ector said Baytex staff went to the site on Sunday but didn’t detect an odour problem. He said the vapour recovery unit was found to be operating normally but the company is continuing to investigate.

Meanwhile, another resident who attended the AER hearings said she won’t be returning to the farmhouse her husband’s family built in 1928 and which they abandoned two years ago.

Vivianne Laliberte, 60, said she and her husband Marcel, 65, decided after living in Peace River with their son for several months to sell one of their seven quarter sections of land and buy a separate quarter with a house on it, far removed from oil operations. They moved in January.

“Our house is contaminated … there’s a smell now,” she said. “Part of the torture of all this is not only abandoning our farm, but the health experts have told us we shouldn’t bring anything (with us).”

She said the lingering odour made them feel ill again on trips over the past months to collect belongings to move to their new home.

Wilson said families who feel they have an issue with an oil company should seek legal advice, while conceding that legal process can become a “David and Goliath” struggle.

Ector said Baytex is scoring well in terms of compliance with the new AER standards and is continuing to work on enhancing community relations.

He said the company expects to add 36 new wells this year and will be active in 2015. It currently produces about 26,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from the Peace River area. [Emphasis added]

Baytex settles lawsuit by buying four farms, Peace River farm family sued company after moving due to emissions by Dan Healing, October 7, 2014, Calgary Herald

[Refer also to:

The tar sands horror story you weren’t supposed to hear, Toxic emissions forced a family out of their home — and Big Oil tried to buy their silence by Lindsay Abrams, February 18, 2014, Salon

The oil industry was willing to pay big money to keep this one quiet.

Instead, ThinkProgress has the heartbreaking story of a family forced out of Alberta by the exploitation of Canada’s oil sands (the ones Keystone XL, if built, would tap).

“You’ve gotta understand, I’ve worked for oil sands, I was a contractor,” Alain Labrecque told ThinkProgress. “I’ve never been negative toward oil.” Then this happened:

Just as things were becoming comfortable for Alain in December of 2010, he began experiencing some minor health issues. He also owns a logging business, and was busy trying to get the trucks ready for the season. As he was working on the engines, he began to get headaches — nothing serious, he said, but big enough where he had to pop an Advil every few hours. As time went on, he gained a new ailment: eye-twitching, or as he says, a “quick little pull on the eyes.” The headaches persisted. And he was not the only one with problems.

“Why is the little girl always falling?” Alain recalled thinking of his then-two-year-old daughter. He assumed she was just clumsy. But then, in March 2011, his wife, Karla, fell down the stairs. She began to notice that she could make herself faint if she turned her head too far to the left. Around that time, Alain noticed his house smelled like gas — the same smell they would smell the evenings before outside, when Baytex would vent its simmering tanks of oil sands. He checked the furnace, the carbon monoxide monitor. Nothing.

The symptoms progressed. Every night, Karla said she would fall asleep to popping ears. She had sinus congestion, hot and cold flashes. She began to feel as if her arms were hollow. She developed “massive” headaches, like migraines, but different. “I get migraines; this is not like a migraine,” she said. “This is like somebody’s taking a two-by-four to your head.”

Their then three-year-old son, they said, started developing dark grey circles under his eyes, and struggled with constipation. Despite being put on laxatives, he would sometimes go a week without a bowel movement. He once went 12 days. As time passed, Alain developed a growth on his head, which was removed by a doctor.

“You are just a small, little bolt in this huge robot, and you don’t matter,” their doctor told them, according to court documents. “Move.” Baytex Energy, the owners of the tanks releasing unregulated emissions that the family says caused their health issues, was willing to help them get out — so long as they stayed quiet:

Before moving to British Columbia in 2011, after a year of complaining, the Labrecques entered into alternative dispute resolution with Baytex, where the company offered to buy their 160-acre farm for as much as it would have been worth before the environmental damage. No one else would have offered the Labrecques that much. But there was a catch.

According to the sale contract the Labrecques provided ThinkProgress, the sale of their land would have meant silence. No social media posts from them, their children, or their children’s children about Baytex. No more StopBaytex.ca, no more “Stop Baytex” group on Facebook — those would be turned over to the company. No communicating with government representatives about issues concerning Baytex. No talking to the media.

Obviously, the Labrecques didn’t take the deal — on their doctor’s advice, they left Alberta and are now fighting Baytex from afar. But their story raises one obvious question: How many similar stories have we been prevented from hearing? [Emphasis added]

Meet The Family The Tar Sands Industry Wants To Keep Quiet by Emily Atkin, February 18, 2014, Think Progress

At a January hearing on Baytex’s emissions, an environmental health expert hired by the Alberta government testified that many Alberta doctors are afraid to speak out against the oil sands, and afraid to connect it to health issues. A family doctor for the Albertans who live downstream from the tar sands, Dr. John O’Connor, agrees. He was threatened with having his license taken away for talking about cancer rates near the oil sands in 2006.

“My experience … strongly suggests to me that government does not want to know [and] is not interested in knowing what’s going on,” Dr. O’Connor told the Vancouver Sun.  [Emphasis added]

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