Alberta Government, regulators, health agency and company silent for years as groundwater contamination spreads and families poisoned

Gas plant near Edson first leaked sulfolane in 2008 by CBC News, April 16, 2014
A plant near Edson that is now the focus of an advisory from Alberta Health Services leaked unsafe levels of sulfolane six years ago, CBC News has learned. On March 12, Alberta Health Services advised residents near the South Rosevear Gas Plant not to drink their well water after a monitoring well tested high for sulfolane, a chemical used to remove compounds from sour gas.

[The sulfolane would be at small levels in the acid gas compared to the H2S, which is very soluble and deadly. Are they looking for H2S? What else are they looking for, or not looking for?

Mersadese Royale says her family started drinking the water when they moved into a trailer on a dairy farm last December. She, her husband and her two children became sick with diarrhea and headaches. She says the water also had a very bad smell. “It smelled like hard boiled eggs, like a really pungent, offensive odour,” she said.

Toxnet on Sulfolane:

Odor: Odorless
[Sax, N.I. and R.J. Lewis, Sr. (eds.). Hawley’s Condensed Chemical Dictionary. 11th ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1987., p. 1106] **PEER REVIEWED**

Hazardous Decomposition: When heated to decomposition it emits toxic fumes of /sulfur oxide/.
[Lewis, R.J. Sax’s Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials. 9th ed. Volumes 1-3. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996., p. 3040] **PEER REVIEWED** ]

Provincial government officials now confirm that the same plant leaked sulfolane in 2008, but Alberta Environment spokeswoman Katrina Bluetchen says her department wasn’t told about it until 2012. However, no sulfolane was detected in tests in 2010, 2011 and 2012. “So at that point there was no report to follow-up on,” Bluetchen said. A report from 2009 could not be found, even though companies are supposed to submit one each year.

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. James Talbot says the 2008 leak is why the advisory included all homes within a five kilometre radius of the plant, because it may have had time to spread further. “We were sure that the exposure had been at least weeks to months,” he said. “And that there was the potential that it could have been years.”

The earlier leak was not mentioned on last month’s health advisory. Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth says that’s unacceptable. “It’s incumbent upon the government to let people know how long they knew about it, what have they been doing, and how are they going to fix it,” she said. [Like how the government, including some current Wildrose MLAs, did nothing to warn residents of Rosebud? ]

Bonavista Energy bought the South Rosevear Gas Plant from Suncor in 2010. Bonavista says the current leak — which has 125 times the interim Health Canada guidelines for safe sulfolane levels —started before they took over.  

Investigators from the Alberta Energy Regulator are now trying to determine the cause and the size of the leak, a process that will take months.

Alberta Health will keep the advisory in effect until they receive more information. The advisory will remain in effect while the investigation is underway. [Emphasis added]

Water woes part two by Ian McInnes, April 11, 2014, Edson Leader
The Sulfolane contamination of water wells near the Rosevear Gas Plant has caused quite a stir and we are gradually building a clearer picture. From talking to officials from the State of Alaska we have discovered that a similar occurrence near the town of North Pole in 2007 has still not been resolved. We were told that 300 water wells were affected.

According to the information we were given, Sulfolane binds to water and travels with it. Thus, I guess making it pretty difficult to remove. Alaska State officials that Sulfolane contaminated water should not be used to water leafy vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, etc. To be honest if my water was contaminated I wouldn’t want to eat anything that grew or was potentially watered by that stuff.

The guys in Alaska say that although work is being done on the effects of Sulfolane it’s likely to be many years before we know what the effects of the chemical have in humans and over what period of time. I also note that the levels of acceptable, and I use the term with caution, are lower in the U.S. than in Canada. I think I would prefer a zero tolerance.

We still don’t know how much Sulfolane was spilled/leaked or how often. However, we have been told that soils are being tested as is the McLeod River. We also know that the town of Edson is checking its wells for chemical contamination. We have also been told by a source that a high level meeting between company officials and members of the Alberta Government may have taken place at the back end of last year regarding the situation at the plant. We have been unable to confirm this so far.

Going forward I think that we have to look backward, so to speak, and companies, regulators and governments are going to have to test water and soil for chemicals. And not just for Sulfolane I hasten to add, and check the records for what may have happened when the regulatory process was not so rigorous.

I think that a lot of people in all kinds of industries that have ever worked at the sharp end of the business can recall incidents when stuff happens and spills or leaks occur. Probably they’ve never even thought too much about it. Remote areas. There’s no harm in just a bit right? WRONG, big time. Until the chemical industry can come up with benign, safe alternatives and I think I will be long dead when that happens, there could be a huge can of worms opening up here. Something that not only could be seriously detrimental to our health, livestock, pets, plants and trees and the food chain that flows from them but there is HUGE potential for liability. Where is the buck going to stop on this one?  [Emphasis added]

North Pole Alaska also had Sulfolane leak by Ed Moore, April 3, 2014, Edson Leader
The state is currently dealing with a large leak of Sulfolane at a fuel conversion plant at North Pole, 22 km south of Fairbanks. And like here, State officials are endeavouring to find as much as they can and as quickly as they can about the long-term effects of the chemical. Kristin Ryan, director for the Division of Health Prevention Response for the State of Alaska said the leak is at the Koch Brothers Flint Hills facility.

The plant refines oil turning it into jet fuel, which is sold throughout the state to airports. “They have been using Sulfolane for many years,” said Ryan. Quite a bit has leaked off refinery property since first discovered in 2007. “So we have a large plume about three miles (4.8 km) by two and a half miles (4 km).”

Ryan said the leak has polluted 300 water wells in the area. The company has provided those affected with an alternate water source.

She said Sulfolane binds to water and travels with it. “It doesn’t seem to be interested in sod or ground — so it’s travelling with water under the refinery site.”

The Town of North Pole has a public water source but most of the town is on private wells. Information is known about Sulfolane in the short term — not so much in the long term, Ryan said. “It’s not cancerous. Not much is known about long-term chronic effects.”

Ryan said state officials have asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help with clean up. She said there’s lots of uncertainty about Sulfolane’s effects on humans. “We’re erring on the side of caution and assuming the worst and saying very little at this point.”

Ryan said her agency is recommending gardeners not water their leafy vegetables such as lettuce or cabbage with Sulfolane infected water. “We have done a study with Sulfolane that shows leafy veggies like lettuce or cabbage takes Sulfolane up into the leaves — so we’ve advised homeowners not to water their gardens with Sulfolane contaminated water.”

State officials have tracked the movements of the Sulfolane tainted water. “Groundwater in the area seems to be moving very fast. It’s [Sulfolane] moving right along with it at depths of 300 feet. It’s staying with the water,” said Ryan.

The Koch Brothers allege that the Sulfolane leak occurred prior to them acquiring the plant.

Ryan said it is thought that the leak occurred from when the company used to use open pits to store excess water, along with Sulfolane and that the liner at the time failed. She blamed the current situation on a combination of leaks and improper disposal methods. “They weren’t disposing of it through a process that would remove the Sulfolane.” As a result, the product got into the soil and got into the ground water.

Meanwhile, Ryan’s department is advising people on the side of caution when it comes to Sulfolane. “We pretty much have told everyone not to drink it [the water] or shower with it and to use an alternative water supply.”

State officials have asked the EPA to conduct more extensive studies on Sulfolane and its effects. Ryan said the National Institute of Health has already agreed to do that, along with more studies on chronic contamination. These studies won’t be done overnight. “But those will take several years. We won’t have any more information for a while,” said Ryan. [Emphasis added]

Councillors feel Sulfolane issue can be fixed by Gord Fortin, April 4, 2014, Edson Leader
Two Yellowhead County councillors said they are confident that the Bonavista Energy Corporation can properly deal with the Sulfolane found in three county wells. The wells tested fall between two county divisions, the Shinningbank, Rosevear and Peers Division as well as the Wolf Creek and Pinedale division. Councillors David Russell and Shawn Berry as well as other county representatives were at a public information session at Pinedale Hall about the Sulfolane response. Berry said the South Rosevear Gas Plan is in his division, Wolf Creek and Pinedale. Wells were also tested in Russell’s division.

Russell said he had several residents contact him. He took it upon himself to hand out information to residents. Russell said he wanted to make sure people had the proper information in their hands so there would be “no creation of imaginary truths.”

“If there is no information, information will be created,” Russell explained. “So that was my effort to make sure they had the right information from the right sources.” He further explained that lack of information can lead to fear and fear can lead to anger. From there anger can lead to anger mobs. He pointed to the public information session and said there were no anger mobs there. [Will cautious people conduct their own research and compare what they find to what industry and the county hand out?]

He said several people wanted to know what could happen if they drank the water. Based on the information he received from Alberta Health Services, Bonavista and the Alberta Energy Regulator it appeared that there are not immediate health impacts. He further explained that the long-term exposure effects of Sulfolane are not yet fully understood. More testing is currently underway on that regard.

Russell said he believes this situation can be resolved but it will not be a quick fix. “I have not heard any estimation of time but I am going to say years rather than months,” he said. Berry said he feels Bonavista is on top of the situation. “I really think Bonavista and the authorities are doing a really good job and communication is everything during a time like this,” Berry said. [Is taking 6 years to tell the public and water well owners about the leak responsible, accountable, helpful or good?

He said he has spoken with several residents at the information session. He said that some appear to be satisfied with Bonavista’s response but there will always be people who are not satisfied. Berry said that to his knowledge energy companies would come forward to test wells if a resident makes a request. “I think this is something for residents to realize,” he said. [Emphasis added]

In Hinton Parklander, April 7, 2014:

2014 04 07 North Pole Alaska Sulfolane Leak, Councilors feel Sulfolane Leaks can be fixed, but what if you're already poisoned

Water woes by Ian McInnes, March 21, 2014, Edson Leader
In 2007, when I had slightly less grey hair, I was freelancing. One of my articles was about the then Suncor owned South Rosevear Gas Plant. The plant was built in 1979 but on my visit in 2007 the story was all about new acid gas injection technology.

Suncor was very pleased that around 2.8 million standard cubic feet (mmscf) per day was being injected into the ground into a disused well with the environmental offset, Suncor said, of 85 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2 ) a day. The company went on to tell me that the plant therefore had no sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions, or carbon dioxide emissions coming from the facility. Furthermore, sulphur processing and sales was wrapped up onsite at the $11.4 million project, which began in July 2006.

At the time we were on the cusp of carbon capture technology and one could argue that the Suncor project at South Rosevear was somewhat ground breaking. Although, somewhere in the darkest corners of my mind where even I sometimes fear to go, I wondered, just a bit, about just how secure a storage facility the injection well would prove to be, and what if there was leakage.

In 2010 I heard that the Rosevear Gas Plant had been sold to Bonavista Energy Corp. (Bonavista). Now, in 2014 it looks like my nagging misgiving of “what if” may have become, “what when.” It appears that in a radius of 5 kilometres of the plant it is possible that Sulfoline (an industrial solvent) may have entered and may still be entering private water wells. Drinking the water, according to Alberta Health is not advisable.

We are running the story and following it and we know that water testing is ongoing within the radius. However, wouldn’t it be a good idea to test wells outside of the radius too to make sure this stuff isn’t spreading? I’ve been told that this is no right now. As a rural resident myself I sure would want to know if my well was polluted with industrial solvent.

From unofficial sources we have gleaned that the Sulfoline may have [migrated] (a nicer word for leaked) from the injection well to actively producing wells around it. The company we were told may not have considered this to be a problem and simply rerun everything back through the system hoping that the [migration] may not have spread beyond the producing wells.

Right now there are more questions than answers. How long has this leak gone on? When did the company find out? How much polluted water have affected residents drank? How is their health going to be going forward? What is the effect on livestock, pets and crops/garden produce? Has the pollutant gone into creeks and rivers? How can this be fixed? Can it ever be fixed? What are useless rural water wells likely to have on property values?

There doesn’t seem to be much hard public domain data on the effects of drinking Sulfoline. I guess you would have to be a few rocks short of a full load to drink the stuff, right? Nonetheless, a State of Alaska report says, “Laboratory animals exposed to very high levels have shown changes to the liver and other organs, and the nervous and immune systems.”

Frankly we need answers and actions and right quick from government and provincial agencies and, of course Bonavista.

2014 03 24 Edson Leader Water Woes Sulfolane Bonavista

[Refer also to:

March 14, 2008: Edson, Alberta, South Rosevear Sour Gas Plant: 2.8 million standard cubic feet per day of H2S / CO2 acid gas injected since 2007

Potential Impacts of Leakage from Deep CO2 Geosequestration on Overlying Freshwater Aquifers by Mark G. Little and Robert B. Jackson, Received July 20, 2010. Revised manuscript received October 12, 2010. Accepted October 13, 2010. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2010, 44, 9225–9232

2010 07 20 Little M G and R B Jackson Potenital Impacts of Leakage from Deep CO2 Geosequestration on Overlying Freshwater Aquifers

March 1, 2012: Potential for environmental impact due to acid gas leakage from wellbores at EOR injection sites near Zama Lake, Alberta

2012 04 D M LeNeveu Potential for environmental impact due to acid gas leakage from wellbores at EOR injection sites near Zama Lake, Alberta

July 30, 2013: Denbury fined $662,500 for Mississippi blowout of CO2 injected in high pressure enhanced oil recovery, So much carbon dioxide came out that it settled in hollows, suffocating deer and other animals

2014 04 15 Contaminated water in well at Edson, family worried the water is making them sick

MUST WATCH! MUST READ! Sulfolane (used to sweeten sour gas) leak at Bonavita Energy’s South Rosevear Gas Plant, Edson Alberta, contaminated drinking water, severe health harm experienced by Mersadese Royale, her husband and children; Family evicted after raising concerns publicly

UPDATED: Alberta Health Services tells residents within 5 km of South Rosevear Gas Plant not to use water from their wells because of “possible” solvent contamination; Says nothing to residents living in danger from known explosive levels of methane contaminating well water and homes! ]

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