Environmental groups are calling on the Alberta government to place a hold on new oil development projects in the province following the release of a report connecting emissions from industry operations to local health concerns.
The report, released Monday by an Alberta Energy Regulator panel, says that odours emanating from bitumen tanks in the Peace River area are sufficiently connected to negative health symptoms affecting nearby residents to require the company operating the tanks to install pollution-control measures within the next four months.
Baytex, a Calgary-based energy company, has said that it will comply with the regulator’s recommendation, although its spokesman told Sheila Pratt of the Edmonton Journal “it might be challenging” to do so within the timeline given.
“We applaud the effort of the AER; the inquiry was a massive undertaking,” said the spokesman.
In a statement released following the publication of the AER report, however, Greenpeace said the panel’s recommendations indicate problems that go beyond a single set of tanks in the Peace River area. “The government must also acknowledge that the AER recommendations have large-scale implications for tar sands development across the province,” said Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema. “New projects should be put on hold until the appropriate safeguards can be put in place.”
The AER panel was set up to investigate concerns about emissions produced by a less conventional method of oil production known as Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand (CHOPS). At least seven families have left the region where Baytex employs the CHOPS method in the last two years, citing health concerns connected to the vapours that result from the process — concerns validated by the AER report.
“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,” the panel reported.
“This report reaffirms what local residents have known for years,” said Hudema. “That these emissions were part of the reason their families were getting sick. It’s unfortunate that it’s taken this long for the government to finally listen. The government should move quickly to fully implement these recommendations in the Peace River region and look at what else can be done to help this troubled region.”