Toxic pollution, odors caused by Baytex heavy oil operations in the Peace River area need to be eliminated says AER; Two-tiered AER? What about the AER saying nothing about Encana fracturing Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers? What about the AER violating Ernst’s Charter Rights trying to cover up Encana’s unlawfulness?

Tar Sands Likely Caused Sickness That Forced Families From Homes, Canadian Regulator Says by Emily Atkin, April 1, 2014, Think Progress
The panel’s recommendations, however, are not orders set in stone. Now, the full AER board has two weeks to respond to the panel’s recommendations. … It is also not the blanket recommendation that some of the families had hoped for. As the Global News points out, the AER’s report “shies away from a blanket recommendation that odors be completely eliminated, instead suggesting that they be eliminated ‘to the extent possible,’ and that all produced gas should be conserved ‘where feasible.’”

It has been extremely difficult for families like the Labrecques to get answers from Canadian officials regarding whether certain sicknesses are increasing with the current tar sands boom in Alberta. Doctors have been reportedly afraid to talk about their concerns surrounding the health effects of tar sands activity, and have refused to care for residents who have questioned whether their medical problems are connected to emissions. [Emphasis added]

Alberta inquiry finds oil odours may be making people sick by Leslie Young and Anna Mehler Paperny, March 31, 2014, Global News
It’s at least a partial victory for families who have insisted for years the smells have made them so sick they’ve been driven from their homes. But, it shies away from a blanket recommendation that odours be completely eliminated, instead suggesting that they be eliminated “to the extent possible,” and that all produced gas should be conserved “where feasible.”

In a report released Wednesday, the panel found that odours from heavy oil operations in the area have “the potential to cause some of the symptoms experienced by residents.” As such, they recommend that the odours be eliminated as much as possible and the linkages between odour and health be studied more closely. But the panel didn’t find any indication the chemicals themselves were poisoning residents – just that people’s symptoms were likely linked to odours. … Baytex did not respond to questions Monday afternoon.

Brian Labrecque, whose family has argued for years the smells have made them sick and driven them from their homes, was buoyed by the report- not least because it came out on time.

“It is encouraging. It’s nice to see that what we’ve been saying for the last number of years, a lot of it has been confirmed and has been supported by the panel,” he said.

“It’s a step in the right direction. Obviously, we’ve got a long road ahead of us: These are recommendations; they’re not legally binding.”

But he’d like to see them implemented – “too much time has passed. It’s imperative,” he argued. That includes recommendations to curb emissions as well as independent measures to  monitor them. …

In the meantime, the families await word on an injunction that would force Baytex Energy to halt its operations until it installs equipment to minimize its emissions. That decision could come within the month.

After that, it could be a years-long battle for damages and compensation.

But in the meantime their lawyer Keith Wilson is pleased with the report, and confident its recommendations will be implemented and have teeth. “There’s strong political support to see this problem fixed,” he said. But “as much as this is a victory and a vindication for these families, the reality is theyre still out of their homes. This does nothing to address the harm of the past or the harm of the present.” [Emphasis added]

Baytex Reno Field injunction Court Brief by  March 28, 2014

Click here to download the entire brief as a PDF

This court brief is a compiled synopsis of the Labrecques’ story to date and is presented to the court when requesting an injunction. Details contained within this document are typically expanded upon in the courtroom.

A few key highlights from the brief:

48: The Labrecques later discovered that emissions from tank top emissions are known to include over 160 compounds including the following offensive and toxic chemicals: hydrogen sulphide, hexane, benzene, heptane, carbon disulphide, methane, cyclohexane, o-xylene, benzyl chloride, p-ethyltoluene, and toluene among other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

94: With respect to the Baytex claiming that Andy’s “blockade’ is the reason why Baytex has not yet stopped open venting, it should be noted that Baytex was examined on this allegation at the inquiry.Baytex testified that Baytex itself had made the decision not to proceed with the gas conservation pipeline. There was no material delay caused by Andy’s blockade.

96: Baytex has also claimed it can’t stop the tank emissions in winter because it has to keep the thief hatches open to prevent freezing. However, Shell has implemented simple and inexpensive approaches to prevent these hatches from freezing and offered to show Baytex how to do it:

And a very, very simple example of that is what’s actually come up in the last two weeks. So I think I heard — I think I heard Baytex say that they had issues with the hatches freezing in the wintertime and then causing issues, and as a result of that, they – I think it was in Reno, they — they wire open the hatches. And Shell had faced very similar problems to that, and we had put — I think it’s glycol heat tracing around the hatches to keep that problem at bay, and we found that to be very successful. So, I mean, we’re sharing that with Baytex.

120: It should be noted that the injunction requested in this application is not akin to an application that would see a major employer having to displace a large number of workers like might be the case if the injunction were being sought against a pulp mill or manufacturing plant. In this case, the few Baytex contractors and employees who would otherwise be conducting routine maintenance and related operations on the well sites in the Reno field can be re-tasked with the installation of the vapour recovery equipment that Baytex has long promised to install. Given the cost estimates in evidence for installing the tank top vapour recovery and related equipment, the effect of the injunction may be to increase the level of employment in the region. In any event, the case law supports the proposition that the employment of a few contractors and employees should not be given precedence over the Labrecques’ right to the use and enjoyment of their property. In contrast, the disproportionate hardship of not granting the injunction would be placed upon the Labrecques.

Both Baytex and land owners await court’s decision in emissions dispute by Thomas Dias, March 21, 2014, 630 CHED
Both sides involved in an oilsands emissions dispute, just south of Peace River, are now awaiting a decision from the Court of Queen’s Bench after presenting their case to Justice Alan Macleod on Wednesday.

His ruling is now expected sometime over the next three to five weeks.

Affected landowners want Baytex Energy to cease its operations until it installs pollution control equipment on super-heated bitumen tanks, but Baytex says it’s complying with regulations. Environmental Lawyer Keith Wilson represents the families who say the emissions are so bad they’ve had to abandon their homes, and he says two more families have now joined the list. “We’re now up to seven families that are out of their homes and anxiously wanting to get back in,” remarked Wilson. He says one those families just had a baby and is now living with relatives in Edmonton to escape the fumes, adding the judge understands the gravity of the situation after hearing more stories like that. “We’ve got Andy and Joyce Labrecque who are in their early 60′s; they’ve got six adult children — 11 grandkids — and they’re living in a bunk house that their daughter and son-in-law built in their back yard near Slave Lake.”

Wilson says other oil companies like Shell seem to get it, but apparently not Baytex. “I asked Shell, when you made the decision to install these vapor recovery units on all your tanks and stop your emissions, did you do it because you thought there was a regulatory requirement or did you do it because you thought it was the right thing to do? And they said there is no regulatory requirement, we did it because we thought it was the right thing to do. What’s interesting is Shell has 30 tanks that used to have open vents that are now closed — their nearest neighbour is 14 kilometres away. The Baytex situation, there’s 86 tanks and there are several neighbours where the closest tanks are 500 metres away.”

The Alberta Energy Regulator is expected to present its findings to the government at the end of the month, after it held a two-week public inquiry in January into the matter. The displaced families, however, are concerned it will then take the government several more months to act on the recommendations, should they be in their favour. [Emphasis added]

Battle with Baytex goes to court, Families want oilsands facility shut temporarily by Sheila Pratt, March 19, 2014, Edmonton Journal
A group of Peace River-area families who left the their homes because of fumes from a nearby oilsands operation will be in court Wednesday to try to have the facility temporarily closed until air pollution equipment is installed. The families are taking the unprecedented step because Calgary-based Baytex Energy has not yet installed promised pollution controls on heated bitumen tanks in the Reno oilfield, said Brian Labrecque, whose father and brothers left their farms south of Peace River due to ill health they blamed on the emissions. Also, court is the only avenue left since the Alberta Energy Regulator has made clear it has no jurisdiction to regulate the fumes coming from the heated bitumen tanks, said Labrecque, who testified at public inquiry in January held by the regulator into the Baytex emissions. [And the AER made it clear in legal filings for the Ernst lawsuit that the regulator owes no Albertan ANY duty of care, and the Court of Queen’s Bench agreed] “The regulator has admitted it has does not have any jurisdiction, so the courts are our only option,” Labrecque said.

The case could set a precedent if the court rules for the families and grants the injunction. So far, only the regulator has shut down company operations to deal with pollution issues or spills. Baytex spokesman Andrew Loosley said company studies show the air is safe and that landowners are opposing company efforts to install the equipment needed to capture the fumes from the tanks. “The landowners asking for the injunction do not live there and have said they have no plan to move back,” Loosley said in an email. “Therefore, they are removed from any risk they may believe exists.”

Keith Wilson, lawyer for the area residents, noted that other companies operating near Peace River have installed the tank-top vapour recovery units to capture the fumes. But in its latest letter last week, Baytex offered to install the equipment only where and if it is “operationally feasible to do so,” he added. “If this is what the future looks like for people living near a major oilsands development, that’s troubling.” [Emphasis added]

Peace River area families go to court to stop Baytex by Emily Mertz, March 19, 2014, Global News
A number of Peace River area families were scheduled to go to court Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to shut down some oil wells they claim have affected their health. … Wednesday afternoon, they are trying to have the facility temporarily closed until air pollution equipment is installed. [Emphasis added]

Regulator says Peace River area emissions potential cause of health problems by Sheila Pratt, March 31, Edmonton Journal
Calgary-based Baytex has four months to install pollution-control equipment on bitumen tanks near Peace River in an effort to resolve the health problems of area residents, says a new, strongly worded report from an Alberta Energy Regulator panel released Monday. The AER panel, reporting on a January public inquiry, goes further in its recommendations and calls for reduction of emissions across the Peace River oilsands area because of possible health concerns. “Odours caused by heavy oil operations in the Peace River area need to be eliminated to the extent possible as they have the potential to cause some of the health symptoms of area residents,” says the panel report.

Brian Labrecque, whose relatives are among seven families who left the area in the past two years, said he is “pleased and relieved” by the strong recommendations from the AER panel. Families who suffered health problems including dizziness, headaches, fatigue and cognitive impairment feel their case is confirmed. “This validates what we have been saying for years — that the tank-top emissions are causing health problems,” said Labrecque. “It’s been a very long road and we are relieved the AER is showing some teeth and holding industry accountable.”

Baytex spokesperson Andrew Loosley said the company promised at the January public inquiry to install the vapour-recovery units and will proceed — “though it might be challenging” to meet the four-month deadline, he added. “We applaud the effort of the AER; the inquiry was a massive undertaking. We are reviewing all recommendations,” he added.

Keith Wilson, land-rights lawyer representing the Labrecque family, said the report is an “encouraging signal from the new regulator” at a time when it was unclear how seriously it would deal with industry issues. “They’ve said the problem is real, that it’s wrong and it needs to be fixed and that’s a strong message,” said Wilson, adding he hopes Baytex “will finally come to realize it has caused some harm.”

[Is the AER (previously ERCB) trying to look good?  This is abnormal response for the AER. For example, when will the AER (conveniently now led by ex-Encana VP Gerard Protti) admit that Encana fractured and contaminated Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers with petroleum distillates, toluene, ethane, phthalates, alcohol, other toxics and extremely dangerous concentrations of methane? Another example, when will the AER publicly admit the regulator violated Ernst’s Charter rights trying to cover up Encana’s unlawfulness and the dangerous methane contamination in the community’s drinking water (relied on by 100 residents and 40,000 – 50,000 thousands visitors to the Rosebud Dinner Theatre)?]

The families have suffered in the last two years and deserve some compensation, Wilson added. [Encana started fracturing many gas wells above the base of Groundwater Protection at Rosebud in 2001, and in 2004, fractured directly into the Rosebud drinking water aquifers.  What about the 100 residents bathing in, ingesting and inhaling contaminated water at Rosebud? What about the Daunheimers?  The Hawkwoods? The Thomases? The Tressiders? The Campbells? the Zimmermans? Lars Lauridsen? Debbie Signer?  The Jacks?  The many more?]

The AER board has two weeks to respond to the recommendations from the panel charged last fall with looking into emissions associated with the more unusual Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand (CHOPS) method used in the northwest. In conventional in situ production, steam is sent underground to melt bitumen. In the CHOPS process, the bitumen is augured up from wells and heated on the surface in storage tanks, causing hydrocarbon emissions that Baytex mostly vented (released into the air) in the Reno field. “Operational changes must be implemented in the area to eliminate venting, reduce flaring and, ultimately, conserve all produced gas where feasible,” the report said in a sweeping recommendation to all operators.

All excess gas from tank tops or gas that comes up the well with the bitumen must be captured, says the report.

Venting must be stopped, and flaring (burning off the fumes) is only a short-term solution, says the report.

“Following the implementation of gas-capture measures, the AER (should) prohibit venting from all facilities,” say the report.

By Oct. 31, operators “either collectively or individually” must provide a feasibility study to the AEA to conserve all gas at sites in the Peace River area, recommends the report.

“The panel recommends further study be conducted to examine linkages between odours, emissions and health effects,” says the report.

The panel also recommended a major change, calling for as “localized” regulatory approach, rather than provincewide. That would allow rules to take into account unique features, such as the much higher sulphur content of Peace River deposits.

The report also recommends the AER move quickly to deal with a “regulatory gap” by passing amendments to Regulation 60 that would extend to CHOPS operations.

Environmental activist Mike Hudema of Greenpeace said the panel’s report is significant in that it “reaffirms what the local residents have known for years — that the emissions were part of the reasons the families were getting sick.”

The energy department should move quickly on these recommendations in the Peace River region, said Hudema. [Emphasis added]

Emissions-area families hope regulator’s report will call for pollution controls by Sheila Pratt, March 31, 2014, Edmonton Journal
Brian Labrecque, his father and brother are waiting anxiously Monday to see if the Alberta Energy Regulator will take steps to clean up smelly bitumen fumes that forced the farmers off their land south of Peace River. The report from January ’s public inquiry into hydrocarbon emissions that residents say are causing serious health problems was originally scheduled for release Monday though the regulator declined to confirm a release date. “We’re hoping the AER will call for new regulations to cover tank top emissions from this CHOPS production method,” said Labrecque.

In the CHOPS (Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand) method, oilsand is augered up into huge surface tanks where it is heated to separate the oil and sand and melt the bitumen for shipping. The fumes from heating the bitumen, when released into the air, are causing health problems including dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive impairment, among farmers near the Reno field operated by Calgary-based Baytex, the unprecedented public inquiry heard.

Labrecque said it’s been a two-year battle with Baytext to get some pollution controls on the tank top fumes, so the sooner the report is released, the better. “It’s very upsetting to wait. Can they not see Baytex is the reason we had to move off our land?” said Labrecque. Baytex Energy, which operates 86 heated tanks near the Labrecque land, does not use pollution control equipment on all tanks. Baytex spokesperson Andrew Loosely said the company is committed to the promise it made at the inquiry to install the vapour control equipment on all tanks. “We’re going ahead to get all he permits required,” he added.

The inquiry heard that the regulator does not have the authority to order such equipment be installed — though companies operating in the area, such as Shell, already use tank top vapour control devices to contain the fumes. Even if the inquiry report recommends new regulations to cover tank top emissions, it will likely be months before they are put into force, says Keith Wilson, lawyer for the area landowners. With this report, the regulator has a chance “to move ahead toward its goal of responsible energy development” if it does the right thing, says Wilson. “If the AER takes no action, it will send a signal about their lack of commitment to responsible development and a signal to other companies about putting profit over responsible development,” said Wilson. [What does this say of the AER’s lack of responsible development and clear evidence of allowing profit over public health and safety in Alberta frac fields?  What about the many cases of dangerous methane contaminated well water, including Rosebud’s exploding community water tower seriously injuring the area water manager, and Bruce Jack and two industry gas-in-water testers seriously injured when the Jack methane contaminated water well exploded? Where is the AER on the many cases of contamination in the Lochend, Wetaskiwin, Spirit River, Ponoka, Beiseker, Strathmore, Rockford, Rosebud, etc?]

“These are hard working Alberta families not opposed to the industry and they’ve been harmed.” [What is Mr. Wilson saying?  OK to harm Albertans that are opposed?  No help for them?]

Wilson has also applied for an injunction in Peace River to order a halt to production until control equipment is installed to contain the fumes.

Meanwhile, Monday also marks the official transfer of responsibility for environmental protection of laws in the oilpatch from Alberta Environment to the regulator. The new regulator, officially started last June, is designed to make it faster to get new energy projects approved and put enforcement of environment laws over air, water and public land with the industry-funded regulator. [Emphasis added]

Report of Recommendations on Odours and Emissions in the Peace River Area by the AER (previously ERCB), March 31, 2014

The AER’s report contains many escape hatch words, for example, the unenforceable word “should” was used 43 times.

2014 03 31 Report of Recommendations on Odours and Emissions in the Peace River Area by AER snap

[Refer also to:

Karla Labrecque’s doctor refused to do a blood test until he consults with a local politician; Mike Labrecque gets sick working for Baytex, Baytex lets him go: “You’re done.”

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

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

Several families taking Baytex (Alberta oilsands company) to court over toxic emissions; Buyout packages allegedly silence Albertans struck with industry-related cancer

Baytex Gag Order and Can You Silence a Child? Inside the Hallowich Case; Peut-on empêcher un enfant de parler? Le cas des Hallowich ]

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