Regulator checks oilsands companies in northwest Alberta for odours by The Canadian Press, June 16, 2014, Edmonton Journal
Alberta’s energy regulator is mounting a two-week, round-the-clock compliance check near Peace River to ensure oilsands companies are following new rules on odour emissions.
Mark Roberts, who was forced to leave his farm last January due to strong odours from nearby oilsands tanks, said Monday he’s hopeful the new regulations will stem the air pollution. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Roberts, who still lives in Peace River with wife and baby daughter, and only visits his farm. If the regulator enforces the new rules among the five companies operating in the area, it may be possible to consider moving back home in the months ahead, he said. But Roberts stressed he and his family will wait and see the results of the new enforcement action before making a decision.
After a high-profile public hearing into emissions from Batyex Energy operations, the regulator brought in Directive 60, which requires companies to contain emissions and gives the regulator new powers to order a company to do so. It took effect Monday. The regulator has brought in staff from other areas to help with “the targeted sweep,” said the regulator’s Jeff Toering. The sweep involves two three-person teams moving from oilsands facility to oilsands facility in alternating 12-hour shifts for a week. Different teams replace them after the first week. [What good is a sweep, if you publicize it?]
Companies in the area use an unusual method of heating bitumen in above-ground tanks to separate oil and sand. Baytex was ordered to install pollution control equipment on its bitumen tanks — a practice followed by other companies. Baytex spokesman Andrew Loosely said the company has installed vapour recovery systems on all its equipment in one of the troublesome fields and is on schedule to install them in the other field by the regulatory deadline of Aug. 15. “We applaud those efforts that the AER is undertaking,” Loosely said. “They’ll be out in force, holding our feet to the fire.”
[And will they quickly let go, soon as their PR stint is done and they’ve put concerned, harmed Albertans back into obedient silence?]
Roberts said it’s too bad it took a public hearing to produce new rules. “I’m happy there’s going to be [maybe] some change, but it took them two years to get there,” said Roberts.
Gerald Palanca, who is part of the regulatory team, said inspectors will depend partly on their own sense of smell to determine if the regulations are being followed. But inspectors won’t just follow their noses, he said. Methane detectors will measure gases associated with smelly emissions. Infrared cameras will be able to “see” releases. “We’re not only measuring the odours with the human nose,” said Palanca.
Nor is a one-time blast to the nostrils enough to result in enforcement. “We’re after the very strong and offensive (odours),” said Palanca, who added several things will be considered in deciding whether enforcement is required. “(Is) there … evidence that the site in question is affecting people?” [Emphasis added]
“Some of the witnesses told the inquiry they had problems getting medical care. Karla Labrecque said one doctor she saw in the area told her to move after she said she thought her symptoms were caused by emissions from bitumen tanks near the farm. The doctor also told her about Dr. John Connor whose licence was threatened after he raised concerns about cancer rates among First Nations north of Fort McMurray. In a visit to a second doctor, Karla said she was taken aback when the doctor refused to do a blood test until he had called the local MLA. She did not ask the name of the MLA.
“He said ‘I just got off the phone with the MLA and he says it’s OK to take a blood test and fill out a form.’
“It’s not very good when you go to the doctor to get help and he has to call an MLA.”
“Oil fumes so painful, families forced to move
When she finally met with an ear-throat-and-nose specialist in Grande Prairie who diagnosed her with having airborne pollution, his advice stunned her. “He just told me to move,” Labrecque said under oath at the hearing that ended Friday. “He said… you are just a small, little bolt in this huge robot, and you don’t matter. Move.”
The industry-funded oversight agency heard two weeks of testimony from Peace River residents with health concerns about odours and emissions from the oil sands industry. Labrecque claims the specialist who made the provocative comments was Dr. Mel Delacruz. The Vancouver Observer called Dr. Delacruz at his medical office Friday, but he said he was instructed by his lawyer not to speak about the matter, and hung up the phone.
Unfortunately for Labrecque, her alleged encounter with the doctor was only the start of a sad journey through Alberta’s medical system that ultimately failed to help her know the truth about what was making her, her husband Alain, and two little children sick. The grain-farming family had previously enjoyed northern Alberta’s big skies, fresh air, and the opportunities that came from hard work. But fearing for their health, the family relocated to Smithers, B.C.
Doctors afraid to speak out
An environmental health expert hired by the Alberta government testified at the hearing last week that many Alberta doctors are afraid to speak out against the oil sands. The industry has pumped billions in investment into the region in recent years. Labrecque said Dr. Delacruz spoke to her about the troubles that can come to doctors who connect oil sands to health problems. “[Dr. Delacruz] then proceeded to tell me about patient-doctor confidentiality, and how there was a doctor in Fort Mac who got [dragged] through the courts,” Labrecque told the hearing.
Labrecque says the specialist was talking about Fort McMurray’s Dr. John O’Connor – a family physician who was threatened with having his license taken away for sounding the alarm about cancer rates near the oil sands several years ago. The Alberta Medical Association rallied to his defence. Dr. John O’Connor, a physician who raised concerns about the high cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan downstream of the oil sands in 2006. On Wednesday, Dr. O’Connor said doctors need to be “advocates”.
“It is a very tough position to have to take… to suggest that the goose that lays the golden egg might be causing some health issues.”
“To question the possible connection between… health issues and exposure to pollutants from industry has been a no-go area for so many years,” said Dr. O’Connor.
Broken trust: Alberta family without answers about oil sands’ health impact
Following Labrecque’s encounter with her specialist, odours and emissions near her home did not improve. So under the advice of an Alberta Health Services representative, she went to a hospital in Peace River to late 2012 to get a “toxicity test.” She claims the ER doctor initially declined her. “When [the ER doctor] said ‘you can’t do [the] test’… it’s like, where do you go from there?” she asked. But under pressure from Labrecque and her husband, the ER doctor obtained higher approval for the test. He returned to sample her blood.
‘Useless’ blood test
Labrecque was floored to later learn the blood test she received was “practically useless” for determining petrochemical contamination. O’Connor and one other physician contacted by the Vancouver Observer reviewed Karla’s blood test results (with her permission), and both said, the test could not possibly have revealed oil emission chemicals.
Labrecque was also handed a questionnaire at the hospital designed specifically for patients with “hydrocarbon odour / emissions” concerns. Trouble was, the form had almost no questions about hydrocarbon exposures. Instead, the form quizzed on many other factors, such as medication, stress, travel history, etc. “They were asking me about depression [and such] – it was like they were trying to blame it on something else, and not the [oil] emissions,” she said. Dr. O’Connor says the Alberta Health questionnaire seemed more intent on ruling out the oil sands industry. “I don’t know why in a setting where someone is exposed to petrochemical emissions – that that isn’t a central focus of a form or questionnaire like that.”
“You don’t ignore the elephant – you include it.”
[Refer also to:
June 10, 2014: Terry Greenwood, 66, died after 3 months fighting cancerous brain tumors, years of fighting fracing and for appropriate, accountable regulator response to frac contamination on his farm
April 5, 2014: Anadarko Petroleum settles U.S.-wide clean-up and health harm lawsuit for $5.15 billion, US Bankruptcy judge ruled the company should pay 19.35 billion and legal fees; Settlement ensures that: “Anadarko was not found to have done anything wrong.”
April 3, 2014: Colorado Investigates a Spike in Fetal Abnormalities Near Natural Gas Drilling Site, A prevalence of anomalies such as low birth weight and congenital heart defects are found within a 10 mile radius of a concentration of gas wells
March 11, 2014: Santos CBM in NSW Australia contaminates aquifer with uranium at 20 times the safe drinking water levels; Regulator does not test for thorium, radon and radium! Thorium and radon are known to cause lung cancer.
February 18, 2014: Big Oil, Bad Air: Where has the College been all these years? Why not SUPPORT ALL ALBERTA DOCTORS treating citizens and workers poisoned by oil and gas? Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons tells Peace River doctors it will support them in face of intimidation
February 5, 2014: Broken trust: Alberta family without answers about oil sands’ health impact, When an Alberta mom met with an ear-throat-and-nose specialist in Grande Prairie about oil-sands emissions pollution, his advice stunned her
A new study has found that certain types of chemical pollutants emitted by Canada’s oilsands tailing ponds have gone underreported for years.
January 29, 2014: Study, rural Colorado: Positive association observed between greater density, proximity of natural gas wells within 10-mile radius of maternal residence and prevalence of congenital heart defects and possibly neural tube defects
January 21, 2014: Health report: some Alberta doctors refused to treat families exposed to toxic emissions by Baytex in Peace Country, one lab refused to process a test; 10 day public hearing starts Tuesday
Who is going to test the homes of those of us living in oil and gas fields where companies are releasing radon?
December 26, 2014: MERRY CHRISTMAS! Where are the regulators in Alberta? Fed up with toxic fumes: families suffering ill health ask Peace River court for 8 month injunction to shut down 46 wells and 86 venting tanks owned by Baytex Energy
December 18, 2014: Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in ground and surface water at fracking sites, Peer reviewed study of fracking sites in Garfield County Colorado finds chemicals linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer
May 10, 2013: Dr. Eilish Cleary, New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health, uncomfortable with shale gas blueprint, Health officer surprised policy document doesn’t include health as a key objective
April 26, 2013: US EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Final Guidance for Assessing and Mitigating the Vapor Intrusion Pathway from Substance Sources to Indoor Air (External Review Draft)
March 21, 2012: TINY DOSES OF GAS DRILLING CHEMICALS MAY HAVE BIG HEALTH EFFECTS, Authors of new study encourage more low-dose testing of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, with implications for the debate on natural gas drilling
August 15, 2012: Toxic Wastewater Dumped in Streets and Rivers at Night: Gas Profiteers Getting Away With Shocking Environmental Crimes, Allan Shipman was found guilty of illegally dumping millions of gallons of natural gas drilling wastewater. But he’s part of a much bigger problem
Does Alberta’s legally immune, “No Duty of Care” regulator look for health harm or any kind of harm caused by the oil and gas industry? ]