Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Oilpatch Odours in Northwestern Alberta Still Pungent, Years after Inquiry

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Oilpatch Odours in Northwestern Alberta Still Pungent, Years after Inquiry

Article excerpt

Oilpatch odours still pungent despite inquiry


EDMONTON - Researcher Tristan Jones was cruising the back roads of northwestern Alberta last summer when his studies suddenly became more than academic.

"It was kind of like we hit a wall of odour," said Jones, who's writing a PhD thesis at Rutgers University on how the energy industry has changed the environmental and social landscape near Peace River.

"It was heavy. It was really strong," he said. "It was kind of like a mix of fresh asphalt, sulphur and who knows what else.

"I felt tingling through my jaw. My eyes were itchy and runny. I got a headache. I felt a little dizzy."

The exposure lasted about 10 minutes; the effects a couple of hours.

"The tingling in my jaw was bizarre," he recalled. "I have no doubt that was because of the exposure to the odours."

This wasn't supposed to happen any more.

In 2014, the Alberta Energy Regulator held an inquiry into odours from heavy oil operations in the Peace River area after years of complaints from residents in tiny communities such as Three Creeks. Hours of expert testimony and reams of reports followed.

The inquiry concluded the powerful, gassy stench emitted by operators was damaging people's health. It released a string of recommendations, all of which were accepted by Alberta's energy regulator and provincial government.

More than two years later, some recommendations are in place. But seven key ones -- including everything the province was supposed to have done -- are still in draft form, under study or in limbo.

While locals say things have improved, they say the smells are still there.

"It seems to me that every government, every industry, when they meet, all they've done is meet their mandate to say, 'We're talking with people'," said Donna Daum, a retired teacher who has lived in the area for 14 years.

"That's all it does. 'We're listening and we've heard what they have to say,' whether they do anything with it at all."

The inquiry directed Alberta Environment to bring in a legal odour standard. The department is working on it.

"It's still early days," said Dave Lyder, the department's senior air modelling standards engineer. "Odour's complex.

"Odour is by far and away the most common complaint in any jurisdiction -- between 70 and 90 per cent."

Three different departments -- Environment, Agriculture and Health -- are involved. So is the energy regulator.

Any standard, Lyder said, has to work for both industry and the restaurant down the street.

What chemical do you actually measure? How are problems reported? How do you set a threshold, and how is it monitored?

"If we can provide a framework where we can manage odour across the province in a consistent manner, that's the No. 1 goal."

Lyder acknowledges no such framework is in sight yet. …

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