Bitumen emissions drive some families from their homes near Peace River

Edmonton, AB, Canada / 630 CHED
November 21, 2013 06:54 am

Five separate families say they’ve had to move away from their homes just south of Peace River, due to the emissions from a Calgary based oilsands company.

Brian Labrecque, a member of one of the affected families, says Baytex Energy has been operating 14 bitumen processing sites in close proximity to them, with open vented tanks.

And he says their efforts to get the company to change to a closed system — like a lot of sites in Fort McMurray — have not been working.

“We recognize there are many companies out there who have gone above and beyond what is required so they can coexist with their neighbours, and I don’t see why this should be any different,” remarked Labrecque.

Keith Wilson, of Wilson Law Office, has sent a letter to Baytex warning of further legal action unless the company shuts in all of its facilities and associated bitumen wells no later than 5 pm, next Wednesday (Nov. 27).

All of the families report suffering adverse affects such as severe headaches, dizziness, loss of balance, throat and nose problems.

Wilson says he has never seen, or smelt anything like it.

“I was struck by the level of emissions and odor in the area,” exclaimed Wilson. “It was the worst I’ve ever seen in 18 years of helping land owners deal with impacts of energy development. I never imagined that we’d have a situation like this in Alberta, but it’s real, and it’s very real to these people.”

Alain Labrecque, Brian Labrecque’s cousin who also owns a now abandoned home in the affected area, says his family decided to sell some of their land and move to British Columbia to farm, tired of inhaling the bitumen emissions.

“It smells, kind of, like if you got burnt oil on your exhaust on a car or something,” explained Labrecque. And that’s kind of how it started — you could really smell it thick, and where our home was situated it would come in in the evening when there’s no wind and just settle in the yard; entering your home through the fresh air intake and it wasn’t very pleasant.”

The affected families say they originally agreed to allow some of the bitumen wells on their properties several years ago, but when Baytex took over their operations, they say the company suddenly started heating up the bitumen in the open vented processing tanks a lot hotter than the previous company did — over 175 degrees — so it would flow faster into the arriving semi-tankers; increasing the toxic emissions in the process.

The provincial government is said to be concerned about the matter, with the Alberta Energy Regulator conducting an inquiry into the issue, but it’s not expected to be complete anytime soon.

Wilson says his clients are not opposed to oilsands development, realizing it’s an important part of the Alberta’s economy, but he says Baytex needs to implement a closed system without toxic emissions or leave the oil in the ground until it can. (td)

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