British medical journal, The Lancet, writes story on plight of Peace River-area families dealing with bitumen pollution

British medical journal, The Lancet, writes story on plight of Peace River-area families dealing with bitumen pollution by Sheila Pratt, May 5, 2014, Edmonton Journal
The prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, ran a story last week on the plight of seven families forced to leave their homes between 2011 and 2014 due to ill health they say is caused by emissions from heated bitumen tanks in the Reno oilfield south of Peace River.

Brian Labrecque, spokesperson for the families, said they were “surprised” to see the piece in the April edition. He says his father, who worked for Baytex Energy, was forced to leave his farm after getting seriously ill from fumes coming off heated bitumen tanks on his farm.

The British journal’s attention to the three -year- old emissions problem comes just a couple of weeks after U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer invited the Labrecques to Washington to testify on the health impacts of Alberta oilsands production as part of the debate over the proposed Keystone pipeline.

“It’s on the radar outside Alberta and outside Canada, that’s for sure,” said Labrecque, adding that The Lancet contacted the families in February.

The article is a summary of the Labrecques’ battle to get rid of the emissions, the January public hearing and notes, at the end, that there are concerns among some groups in the U.S. about high sulphur emissions from upgrading and refining Alberta bitumen.

Keith Wilson, lawyer for the families, said the Lancet article is not helpful to Alberta’s effort to convince its international customers that the province supports “responsible energy development.”

The Alberta Energy Regulator earned a lot of credibility when, in March, it gave Baytex until Aug. 15 to install vapour recovery units on its 86 tanks to contain the polluting emissions, Wilson said. But the company will continue to release the emissions into the atmosphere until then, even though the regulator has acknowledged they are a potential health problem — and that’s wrong, he said.

“The prolonged situation is doing damage to the reputation of Alberta,” Wilson added.

Calgary based Baytex Energy has said repeatedly it is complying with the conditions and deadlines set down by the regulator for installing pollution-control equipment.

Labrecque said the families in Peace River would be “very reluctant” to testify in the U.S. because they are not against the oil industry in general — they just want one company, Calgary-based Baytex, to stop the pollution that has caused health problems.

“The U.S. debate is so complex and we don’t want to be used as pawns in their political games,” said Labrecque.

Also, the New York Times business section on the weekend featured an article on CNLR’s four leak sites on its Primrose lease on Cold Lake air weapons range.

Last week, Premier Dave Hancock in Calgary stressed Alberta has “a very good environmental record” and the “best environmental regulation relative to the oil and gas industry.”

Meanwhile, the families are hoping an Alberta court will rule, possibly this week, on their application to to shut down the wells temporarily until the vapour recovery system is installed.

Labrecque said he would like to go into his father’s abandoned house to sort through his parents’ possessions, most of which have to be thrown out. His father is so sensitive he could not go back. “We’d like to get at that this summer, but not if the emissions are still being vented,” he said. [Emphasis added]

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