Baytex commits at public AER hearing to capture tank-top emissions; the regulator granting harmed Albertans a hearing occurs rarely – like winning the lottery

FRONT PAGE: Baytex commits at inquiry to capturing tank-top emissions by Sheila Pratt, January 22, 2014, Edmonton Journal
In a surprise move [or strategically planned with the AER to make both look good], Baytex Energy committed to installing equipment to capture tank-top emissions on its Reno oilsands operations — a step residents have been requesting for two years. Martin Proctor, Baytex chief operating officer, also told the public hearing Wednesday afternoon that the company could have done a better job of landowner consultations in the past three years. “We are crystal clear in our commitment (to install the equipment),” Proctor told the panel.

Asked what he might have done differently to resolve the long-simmering dispute, Proctor said: “What I’ve learned is that we could have done a better job and we will.” The Alberta Energy Regulator is holding an unprecedented inquiry into emissions from Baytex Energy’s oilsands operations, including vapours from tanks where bitumen is heated. Five families left their homes after developing health issues such as headaches, dizziness and cognitive impairment. They repeatedly asked the company to capture the vapours coming off the heated bitumen but Baytex said it was following all regulations.

In a tense day, Baytex officials several times blamed area residents for the two-year delay in getting the tank-top equipment installed. Keith Wilson, lawyer for area residents forced from their homes, said that was surprising given residents had been clear about what they wanted. “We had to have a public hearing to get Baytex to do what other companies have done,” Wilson said later. At the hearing, Wilson asked Baytex why it took them so long to commit to installing the equipment. “As to why we didn’t do it before, it’s about the blockade,” said Baytex operations manager Chris Filik. The “blockade” was a two-week protest in December 2012 by Andy Labrecque who was frustrated the company was building a new pipeline rather than addressing the tank emissions. Baytex said that pipeline — since abandoned — was needed for their overall system to control emissions.

Residents attending the hearings said they were surprised at the company’s change of position. “Up until that point in the hearing, that had not been offered before,” said Brian Labrecque, whose father left his home. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction but frustrating that it has taken two years later and a hearing — and it’s by chance we got this hearing.”

Also, residents are concerned that rather than injecting the vapours underground, the company wants to burn them off with a flare stack.

Earlier in the day, an expert in Canadian odour regulations said Alberta’s rules are too narrowly focused and do not cover emissions from bitumen tanks. Calgary-based David Chadders told the inquiry that regulations in this province deal only with hydrogen sulphide, a potentially lethal chemical associated with sour gas wells. “There is strong wording around H2S, but other hydrocarbon odours” are not addressed, said Chadders, who was hired by the AER to provide an overview of odour regulations across the country. “Alberta’s H2S regulations do not cover a wide enough range” of hydrocarbon emissions, he said. Chadders said Saskatchewan has developed a broader way to deal with odours, as has Ontario. On questioning, Chadders also told the inquiry that the 1995 standards for industrial odours set by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment have not been updated. Those standards included regulations for large sites like refineries but do not address smaller storage tanks set up in farmer’s fields to heat bitumen. Chadders also said capturing emissions from the bitumen tank tops make sense in some cases. He said he’s less concerned about emissions on agricultural land. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

March 2, 2013: Alberta’s Tar Sands Pollution Refugees, ’Gassed’ by oil sands operations, families say they’ve been forced to evacuate

“I blame the ERCB (Alberta’s energy regulator). They are not doing proper monitoring and are withholding data. They are responsible for this going on for years. They have lied to us more than the company. I don’t know how they sleep at night.”

January 16, 2013: Three Creeks/Reno area residents are breathing air heavily affected by tar sands open lid tanks; More than 600 complaints over two years lead to little if any change in pollution control

January 22, 2014: AER hearing into Baytex bitumen emissions underway in Peace River; families hope the AER will make the company clean up ]

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