‘Red flags’ with urban drilling? Caroline Zentner, January 7, 2014, Lethbridge Herald
The Lethbridge NDP are raising concerns following the receipt of more than 100 pages of documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request for correspondence between the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and Goldenkey Oil. Goldenkey Oil is proposing to drill three exploratory oil wells on privately owned land within city limits on the westside. Shannon Phillips, NDP spokeswoman, said the documents are heavily redacted but they outline an incident where Goldenkey Oil operations were suspended. One email, dated Feb. 28, 2013, discusses the suspension of operations at two wells after Goldenkey voluntarily disclosed that it failed to prepare a hydrogen sulphide release rate assessment when it was required to do so. No further enforcement action was taken in view of the fact that Goldenkey took appropriate action and disclosed the matter to the proper authority.
“There is H2S in these wells that they’ve proposed to drill in Lethbridge and we have a company who had two wells shut down this year, according to these documents, over a failure to follow proper H2S guidelines, so that’s a red flag,” Phillips said. “I don’t think it provides much comfort to the people of west Lethbridge who are going to have H2S and flaring in their back yards. When people bought those homes in Copperwood and elsewhere in west Lethbridge they bought them for a quiet place to raise their families, not to be living with an industrial development in their back yard. It is going to have a negative affect on their property value.”
Another email dated March 28 from Goldenkey to the Energy Resources Conservation Board (now the AER) states an internal review found that Goldenkey’s failure to comply with H2S requirements was caused by the lack of an in-house formal licensing procedure, inexperience working in that particular geographic area, inexperience with ERCB requirements and a desire to get the wells drilled quickly. Goldenkey adds that it has hired a consulting firm to prepare the H2S reports and emergency planning zones for all its proposed drilling locations to prevent the same thing from happening in the future. In addition, the email indicates Goldenkey will work with a land company to conduct consultations with stakeholders and a consulting engineering firm to prepare the well licence applications and drilling programs.
Last January, Goldenkey responded to a request for more information from the City of Lethbridge’s planning department. In the letter Goldenkey mentioned it planned to host a community consultation event a month later “pending guidance from the Alberta Department of Energy regarding a possible extension to the mineral lease.” That wording sent up another red flag for Phillips. “The relative merits of a drilling project are supposed to be assessed by the regulator. Correspondence between Goldenkey and the Department of Energy — the people of Lethbridge deserve to know what the contents of those discussions entails. This is a very, very sensitive project and the people of Lethbridge have said time and again they do not want it. So there needs to be no evidence whatsoever that there is any kind of government interference in this project,” Phillips said. “Homeowners and parents on the westside want to be assured that the fix is not in for this process.”
David Hill, regulatory consultant for Goldenkey Oil, said the company has always been willing to share its information with anyone who asks for it. “I just encourage anybody to just approach us directly to see what they need and we’d be very willing to see what we can do to get whatever they need. It’s very confrontational to go through FOIP (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy). We like to try to be good neighbours,” Hill said.
The documents also mention the province is looking into its policy on urban oil and gas developments following a motion by MLA Sandra Jansen last April. Motion 509, made in response to a proposed gas and oil development in Calgary’s Royal Oak and Rocky Ridge communities, was carried. Since then little mention has been made of further action.
However, one email from the AER to Goldenkey refers to information it received from the Department of Energy. It says “Alberta Energy is currently scoping the work to address MLA Jansen’s Motion 509, which urged the government to establish a working group to review policies related to oil and gas development in urban areas. The Minister has publicly supported Motion 509. If stakeholders have further questions, they are encouraged to contact Alberta Energy directly.”
Phillips didn’t hesitate to point her finger at the provincial government. “What it shows us is that if the people of Lethbridge have to find out whether there’s going to be drilling within the city limits via Freedom of Information requests – this is a very silly way to be conducting business and the province obviously has not been straight with people about what they are talking about behind closed doors,” she said. “Moreover, I think what’s important to note here is that if they are doing a behind-closed-doors analysis of drilling in urban areas and we have a very high profile case moving forward here in Lethbridge, it would seem to me the first item of business for both the local MLA and the government is to come and talk to the people of Lethbridge and do some consultation on that for starters.”
Mike Feenstra, press secretary for Energy Minister Diana McQueen, said the department’s policy management office has been conducting an internal review over the past few months. “Right now what’s happening is the group in the department is reviewing whether there are adequate policies in place for development in urban areas and then they’re planning to engage with key stakeholders, including municipalities and industry on what they’ve found,” he said. Hill said the company intends to apply to the AER sometime in the first three months of the year. “We’ve still got a few loose ends to tie up in terms of the public engagement. We want to do as fulsome a job as we possibly can,” Hill said. “We know we’re not going to convince everybody that it’s going to be OK and withdraw their objections but what we do need to do though is to do a full job of making sure we get back to everybody and providing all the information that we possibly can,” Hill said. City council wants to facilitate a public forum about drilling within city limits and will invite representatives of Alberta Energy and Goldenkey to participate and answer citizens’ questions. No date or time has been set yet. [Emphasis added]
2 Responses to “‘Red flags’ with urban drilling?”
rational thinker says:
January 8, 2014 at 8:08 AM
H2S is a naturally occurring gas. It can be found in oil wells, garden compost, sewage plants, and anyplace else there is rotting organic material. You are giving only partial information as to the amount of gas, how long they were shut down for and such. Why is everyone so concerned about the potential dangers of drilling? we have a whiskey plant, fertilizer and fuel storage in the city, they are all equally if not more potentially dangerous than what is being proposed.
January 8, 2014 at 11:52 AM
Rational thinking is a bit of a misnomer here I think.
H2S is naturally occurring – but at what concentration levels? It is also considered a broad spectrum poison.
What are the concentration levels in the proposed Wells? What then would be the dispersion in relation to the distance to humans? Negative health effects can start with as low as 10-25 PPM. Elevated levels just increase the negative health effects, and increase the chance of serious damage and or death. I worked in H2S fields in this Province with concentrations in the 30-40% range. You are most welcome to live downwind of such a well. But please don’t expect any one else to do the same.
I would consider questioning this proposal every step of the way to be very rational.
January 8, 2014 at 9:40 AM
Congratulations are in order to Caroline Zentner and the Lethbridge Herald for this in-depth article. Also to the Alberta NDP for using the only tool that has been left to our so called Democracy and to all of the Lethbridge Media for spreading this news. It is most revealing that the Public Relations spokesperson refers to the use of the Freedom of Information Act as “confrontational”.
I expect that the term “confrontational” will be used next in describing the process of voting. The latter has lost all appeal to me when I see the “hand-washing” response of our elected officials. Municipal government stress that they have no say. Local elected MLA’s point to the AER. Provincial leaders have dumped all responsibility into the laps of a corporate entity paid by the Industry that they regulate. If you have any Environmental problems after their rulings, why they will also look after that, impartially of course. Just trust them to do the right thing. [Emphasis added]
January 8, 2014 at 11:55 AM
I agree. Kudos to all who continue to report on this.
I would be very curious to see an in depth article prepared on the Calgary community that was successful in chasing the well development from their community recently.
Funny that if all of this development is so safe and wonderful that this community that had many folks living off the very spoils of the development were lined up to discourage it. Did they know something we don’t?
WATCH: Drilling Company Documents 2:50 Min. by CTV News
The documents also show the oil company is receiving guidance through the application process from the Alberta Energy Regulator.
The concern here is that the fix is in.
[Refer also to:
Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in ground and surface water at fracking sites, Peer reviewed study of fracking sites in Garfield County Colorado finds chemicals linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer
B.C. school kids in danger, can suffer DNA damage illness from leaking sour gas several km away, yet B.C. allows wells within 100 m (~330 feet) of schools while Dallas City Council votes in 1,500 foot setback from homes and wells!
Weather halts Tomahawk sour gas well drilling, Suspension, ERCB ruling steel resolve to ensure future exploration done safely Tomahawk residents look at it as a reprieve, rather than a victory. As long as there is oil deep in the sour Nisku formation, they anticipate someone will try to extract it, regardless of the fact it is embedded with high concentrations of deadly hydrogen sulphide gas. But their failure to convince the Energy Resources Conservation Board that the risk to students is too high has only steeled their resolve.