Is “Best in Class, Shut the Frack Up” AER a regulator or abusive enabler of deadly harm? Bad air: Oilpatch toxic air still fuming in Alberta despite regulator huff ‘n puffing

2013 12 25 Snap from Stop Baytex

2014 01 20 Letter Keith Wilson to AER re Baytex violating procedural rules & changing its story

2013 12 25 Snap from CBC video showing regulator clip on the Baytex toxic emissions

2013 08 16 Baytex Gag Order

This update on the ongoing poisoning in the Peace is an excellent example of the brilliant oil patch strategy of gag orders and why they are pushed on poisoned and abused families by AER’s vile Appropriate Dispute Resolution, Synergy Alberta, SPOG, politicians and gag lawyers (essentially working in disguise for oil companies and regulators to shut the harmed up, keep the evidence hidden in secrets and out of court, so that companies can continue polluting to their insatiable greed’s content):

Bad air: Oilpatch odours return to northwestern Alberta despite fix attempts by Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, January 11, 2016, Edmonton Journal

A resurgence of sickening, gassy smells from Alberta’s northwestern oilsands have residents increasingly impatient over a problem they thought had been solved.

“You can smell the absolute presence of gas,” said Garrett Tomlinson, reeve of Northern Sunrise County near Peace River.

“It was to the point of making them sick — headaches, and all those things that we thought had been rectified.”

Two years ago, people in communities such as Three Creeks earned national headlines when they complained that constant tarry reeks from nearby oilsands plants using an unusual processing method were driving them from their land.

Residents complained of headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and said their livestock was similarly affected, with cattle spontaneously aborting calves.

The Alberta Energy Regulator investigated and released a report in March 2014 that called for stricter emissions controls. Air-monitoring equipment was installed and new regulations took effect last October.

But the familiar petrochemical miasmas returned shortly after.

“It has been an ongoing thing, but we noticed it as a significant issue since mid-December,” Tomlinson said. “That’s when I started getting regular phone calls and emails from residents saying, ‘This is an issue.'”

Documents released by the county suggest complaints began increasing toward the end of November. During the last two weeks of that month, the county recorded seven odour events complete with health effects from joint pain to exhaustion.

“This is not acceptable,” said county administrator Peter Thomas in a Dec. 29 email to his staff.

“Laws have been changed and equipment is in place to determine when there are issues. Now, when we can confirm there is an issue, we have no one to take action?”

[What good are laws when the “No Duty of Care” legally immune, even for Charter violations, doesn’t enforce them, or give a damn if families are poisoned?]

The problem, said Doug Dallyn of the Peace River Air Monitoring Program, is that monitoring stations don’t automatically alert industry and government when the air is bad — even though that’s well within their capabilities.

“I’m pushing the government to say, ‘You made the industry put these air stations in and now you won’t even recognize the ability these stations have?’ 

“Why are (regulators) not being told and why are (they) waiting until two days afterwards to start trying to look for a leak that isn’t there any more?”

Sunrise officials bemoan the lack of on-the-ground enforcement.

“There has to be an authority that can go do a site visit and be empowered to shut things down and issue a fine,” wrote Thomas.

The regulator said it is still developing regulations [How many decades will Protti delay to enable industry?] to deal specifically with the Peace River oilsands play. The agency had been scheduled to discuss them with the county on Thursday, but was forced to reschedule to digest the large number of public comments it had received.

“The (regulator) has received and continues to follow up on odour complaints in the Three Creeks area,” said spokeswoman Melanie Veriotes in an email.

“Our inspectors respond to all concerns and emergencies around the clock and, when requested, report back to the concerned Albertan on the findings.” [In 2004, after Ernst reported Encana violating noise laws after midnight to the regulator, on-call Brad Olive responded with abusive fury for Ernst daring to call.]

Operators in the area include Shell Canada, Baytex Energy (TSX:BTE.UN) and Murphy Oil. Dallyn said no one company has been linked to any of the emission events. [Emphasis added]

‘A cocktail of chemicals’: Alberta farmers face off with energy firms over odour from heavy oilfields by Geoffrey Morgan, December 30, 2015, Financial Post in Edmonton Journal

Mark Roberts farms 5,000 acres in northwestern Alberta, land he and his father have worked for more than 30 years, growing wheat, canola and, at times, smaller amounts of other grains like barley and timothy.

Roberts, 34, was raised on the farm, about 50 kilometres southeast from Peace River, and it’s where he and his wife planned to raise their two-year-old daughter and had hoped to raise their second child as well.

That is until the foul odours began to waft over their land.

Roberts and his family aren’t alone in their concerns about the stenches they believe are coming from nearby heavy oilfields operated by Baytex Energy Ltd. and other energy producers in the area.

But the irritating smell — residents have complained about headaches, nosebleeds, nausea and other problems, affecting both humans and livestock — has pushed Roberts and many of his neighbours into a dispute with the Alberta Energy Regulator and oil companies operating nearby.

The province’s Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd is now getting regular updates on the dispute, which has been building for several years. An energy ministry spokesperson said the government’s recent climate change legislation aimed at curbing emissions, especially nauseating methane emissions, should “improve the quality of air for Alberta families.” [Is “should” by the AER an enabling tool to allow companies to keep poisoning?]

The AER has also said it will introduce new restrictions for operators in the Peace River area by March. [To become another broken AER promise?]

But people living in the area contacted by the Financial Post aren’t convinced the new rules will actually get rid of the stink, which they describe as a tarry, rotten-smelling odour.

“There’s a cocktail of chemicals in it and nobody seems to know what they do and will it ever get studied? I don’t know,” Roberts said in an interview.

The issue has been building since at least 2011, when families living near Roberts’ farm began complaining about the on-again, off-again stench. The complaints led to an investigation by the AER, and caused the regulator to draft a set of rules that were introduced in 2014. Shortly after the rules came into effect, one group of families settled their dispute out of court [AND GREEDILY GAGGED, UNFORGIVABLY LEAVING THOSE LEFT BEHIND STILL BEING POISONED. WHEN WILL GAG ORDERS BE MADE ILLEGAL?], agreeing to sell their land to Baytex.

But Roberts, like other landowners in the area, doesn’t want to sell his land. For one thing, 5,000 acres is difficult to replace. For another, he has chosen farming as his career and plans to work the land for decades to come. He and his neighbours continue to call in complaints and file statements of concern with the AER about the stenches that persist despite the new AER regulations.

In October, as the smells continued and their concerns about the health impact grew, Roberts and his wife, who is pregnant, decided it was best if she and their daughter move, to a rented house in a town near Edmonton. He joins them whenever he gets a break from farm work.

“Optimism is fading away,” [Are Albertans “hope” experts?] Roberts said. “To date, I’m not impressed with what’s gone on.”

Roberts isn’t the only one to register a protest with regulators. In February last year, after noticing a stink, resident Daryl Duffy filed a statement of concern with the AER that said, “It is my understanding that the results of the Peace River proceeding was to already have these offensive odours eliminated!”

Carol Crowfoot, vice-president regulatory operations and economics with the AER, notes there is already a province-wide ban on “offensive odours” from oil and gas operations in Alberta.

[Reality Check:

MUST READ Diana Daunheimer: Alberta Energy Regulator should be ashamed, AER Directive 60 Deregulation as the frac poisons ramp up ]

In an interview, she added the AER will continue to investigate any odour complaints and will focus more effort in areas where there are more complaints. [Sounds like “hope” fodder, all talk, no action, as per AER’s usual]

She said the AER has consistently done unannounced compliance sweeps in the Peace River area to ensure that oil companies there are working in accordance with the rules introduced in 2014.

Andrew Loosley, director of stakeholder and community relations at Baytex, said his company was among the first in the area to accept and comply with all of the AER’s directives for the area and has spent more than $100 million since 2011 in an attempt to capture off-gasses, reduce emissions and prevent odours.

“We’ve been in compliance with the AER and we’ve been inspected over 300 times for off lease odours as well as venting and none of our facilities have been shut in,” Loosley said. [Is that why Baytex gagged and bought so many poisoned family farms?]

He acknowledged that residents have ongoing complaints despite Baytex’s attempts to solve the problem and said, “We have to be open to that kind of criticism.” He added that Baytex is considering additional steps, beyond the most recent AER directives, to address air quality concerns in the area.

Baytex’s wells are closest to Robert’s farmhouse and lands in Smoky River County but there are four other operators — including Shell Canada Ltd., PennWest Petroleum Ltd. and Murphy Oil Corp. — in the heavy-oil producing region, which also includes nearby Northern Sunrise County a few kilometres from Roberts’ house.

Garrett Tomlinson, the reeve of Northern Sunrise County, said his office has seen a spike in complaints about odours in the area since the middle of December. “When people take the time to start calling and complaining, it’s because they’re concerned about their health,” he said.

Companies in the area have said there is no link between the odours and residents’ health problems. The AER has said the same in correspondence with landowners, including Roberts. [Lying? Again?]

In a Dec. 8 letter to Roberts, an AER official said, “the AER acknowledges Mr. Roberts’ evidence that he and his family have experienced odours which have made them ill on a regular basis,” but adds “the AER concludes that any odours and illness the Roberts family is experiencing on a regular basis must have a cause other than venting from Baytex well sites.” [What else can poisoned families expect from the AER with Ex VP Encana, Deregulation Lobby Man Gerard Protti as Chair? ]

Tomlinson, however, said the monitoring equipment in the area is not able to determine exactly what chemicals and compounds are in the odours. “Who could blame for wanting to have a doctor’s opinion as opposed to industry?,” he asks.

Roberts said his doctor couldn’t tell him whether the odours would cause long-term health problems for his daughter. “Unfortunately, you won’t know until down the road,” Roberts said.

Despite the many complaints, the AER approved additional drilling in the area in 2015. Roberts filed an appeal, which was denied in the same Dec. 8 letter. [“Judicial Review” anyone?]

Roberts is looking for two things. First, a halt to additional drilling in the area until the odours are eliminated. Second, he wants a quicker response from the AER when he calls in odour complaints. The closest AER field office is over two hours away in Grande Prairie, so the odours may have dispersed before an AER inspector can arrive.

“They say, ‘We’ll respond to any complaint by any Albertan at any time.’ That’s fantastic unless you’re three hours away,” Tomlinson said. Given that odour complaints have been a recurring issue for several years, he wants the AER to open a field office in the area until the problem is solved. [Ha!  Do AER staff want to be poisoned where they work, live or play!?]

At the moment, employees of the companies in the vicinity of odour complaints are usually the first to respond to an odour complaint.

“If there’s an operator field office that’s close by, then that might be appropriate to get them up there right away,” Crowfoot said, but added that the AER will investigate every complaint regardless of who arrived first.

If the problem persists, Roberts said he will be forced to leave his farmhouse and either buy or build a house far enough away from the oilfields where he and his family can live odour-free. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

2015: Alberta Energy “Regulator” allowing more than 22,100 oil and gas wells to violate the rules for years. What other law violations is the AER allowing?

2015: Alberta misses target in oilpatch regulatory violations. Violations double since 2010. 610 High-risk violations in 2014 [Why do you think the Alberta government deregulated the regulator removed the public interest from its mandate?]

2015: Prevent Cancer Now calls out AER’s Health Fraud! “The AER has no jurisdiction for human health, and Alberta is famed for a chill against the medical community linking ill health to petrochemicals.” [The AER also, has no public interest mandate and Alberta courts and legislature put the regulator above the law]

2015: Oil and gas industry pollution travels hundreds of kilometres, No wonder Harper muzzled Canadian scientists

2015: Toxic oil and gas industry vapors suspected in deaths of three Colorado oil and gas workers; Why blame nature or the victims?

Below all dated 2014:

Baytex Finally Successful, Gags & Settles Poisoned Alberta Families: Does a lawyer-touted “positive outcome” of displacing and gagging poisoned families, stop the poisoning? “Our house is contaminated…there’s a smell now…Part of the torture of all this is not only abandoning our farm, but the health experts…told us we shouldn’t bring anything (with us).”

“No Duty of Care” legally immune even for Charter violations Alberta Energy Regulator “sweeps” tarsands operations for two weeks. And when the sweep is done, then what?

AER shows its true colours: caves to polluting tarsands company, allows Baytex to continue harmful emissions 4 more months!

Toxic pollution, odors caused by Baytex heavy oil operations in the Peace River area need to be eliminated says AER; Two-tiered AER? What about the AER saying nothing about Encana fracturing Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers? What about the AER violating Ernst’s Charter Rights trying to cover up Encana’s unlawfulness?

Court date set in Baytex fumes case for families that were forced to vacate their homes in the Peace River area of Alberta

Peace River, Alberta: Thieves stole computer, files but left cash, reports farmer Carmen Langer (who spoke out for years about Baytex’s toxic emissions)

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

Big Oil, Bad Air: Where has the College been all these years? Why not SUPPORT ALL ALBERTA DOCTORS treating citizens and workers poisoned by oil and gas? Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons tells Peace River doctors it will support them in face of intimidation

AER hearing into Baytex bitumen emissions underway in Peace River; families hope the AER will make the company clean up [Hope helped enabled the cover-up. When will humans learn? ]

Health report: some Alberta doctors refused to treat families exposed to toxic emissions by Baytex in Peace Country, one lab refused to process a test

Broken trust: Alberta family without answers about oil sands’ health impact, When an Alberta mom met with an ear-throat-and-nose specialist in Grande Prairie about oil-sands emissions pollution, his advice stunned her

At an unprecedented Alberta Energy Regulator hearing for health complaints about oil sands emissions in the Peace River region, area resident Karla Labrecque spoke of the myriad obstacles she faced when talking to doctors about her symptoms, believed to be caused by oil pollution. Following a troubling year when Labrecque suffered dizziness, fatigue, and migraines that felt like a “2-by-4” to her head, she said she decided to get herself checked out with a doctor in 2011. Her nasal passages were “overwhelmingly red”, and she had recently fallen down the stairs while doing laundry.  Her two kids and husband Alain had similar woes.  The family lived just 500 metres from four bitumen tanks that reeked of sulphur.

Oil fumes so painful, families forced to move
When she finally met with an ear-throat-and-nose specialist in Grande Prairie who diagnosed her with having airborne pollution, his advice stunned her.  “He just told me to move,” Labrecque said under oath…. “He said… you are just a small, little bolt in this huge robot, and you don’t matter. Move.”

The industry-funded oversight agency heard two weeks of testimony from Peace River residents with health concerns about odours and emissions from the oil sands industry. Labrecque claims the specialist who made the provocative comments was Dr. Mel Delacruz. The Vancouver Observer called Dr. Delacruz at his medical office Friday, but he said he was instructed by his lawyer not to speak about the matter, and hung up the phone.

Unfortunately for Labrecque, her alleged encounter with the doctor was only the start of a sad journey through Alberta’s medical system that ultimately failed to help her know the truth about what was making her, her husband Alain, and two little children sick. The grain-farming family had previously enjoyed northern Alberta’s big skies, fresh air, and the opportunities that came from hard work. But fearing for their health, the family relocated to Smithers, B.C.

Doctors afraid to speak out
An environmental health expert hired by the Alberta government testified at the hearing last week that many Alberta doctors are afraid to speak out against the oil sands.  …  Labrecque said Dr. Delacruz spoke to her about the troubles that can come to doctors who connect oil sands to health problems. “[Dr. Delacruz] then proceeded to tell me about patient-doctor confidentiality, and how there was a doctor in Fort Mac who got [dragged] through the courts,” Labrecque told the hearing.

… Broken trust: Alberta family without answers about oil sands’ health impact
Following Labrecque’s encounter with her specialist, odours and emissions near her home did not improve. So under the advice of an Alberta Health Services representative, she went to a hospital in Peace River to late 2012 to get a “toxicity test.”  She claims the ER doctor initially declined her. “When [the ER doctor] said ‘you can’t do [the] test’… it’s like, where do you go from there?” she asked. But under pressure from Labrecque and her husband, the ER doctor obtained higher approval [FROM THE TORY MLA! HOW’S THAT FOR VIOLATION OF PATIENT-DOCTOR CONFIDENTIALITY?] for the test.  He returned to sample her blood.

‘Useless’ blood test
Labrecque was floored to later learn the blood test she received was “practically useless” for determining petrochemical contamination. O’Connor and one other physician contacted by the Vancouver Observer reviewed Karla’s blood test results (with her permission), and both said, the test could not possibly have revealed oil emission chemicals.

Labrecque was also handed a questionnaire at the hospital designed specifically for patients with “hydrocarbon odour / emissions” concerns. Trouble was, the form had almost no questions about hydrocarbon exposures. Instead, the form quizzed on many other factors, such as medication, stress, travel history, etc. “They were asking me about depression [and such] – it was like they were trying to blame it on something else, and not the [oil] emissions,” she said. Dr. O’Connor says the Alberta Health questionnaire seemed more intent on ruling out the oil sands industry.  “I don’t know why in a setting where someone is exposed to petrochemical emissions – that that isn’t a central focus of a form or questionnaire like that.”

“You don’t ignore the elephant – you include it.”

Alberta Health spokesperson Timothy Wilson said the form’s 32nd and final question did include an opportunity to list synthetic chemicals exposures, and was a “useful tool” for doctors.

Protection of industry alleged
… “My experience… strongly suggests to me that government does not want to know [and] is not interested in knowing what’s going on,” said Dr. O’Connor.  Now out of province, Labrecque says she’s no closer to confirming what, if any, of the oil-emissions chemicals caused her family harm.  “We don’t know the long term effects [on my kids] – if this is going to hurt them 10 years down the road,” said Labrecque. The Alberta Energy Regulator completed its hearings Friday, and has committed to reporting recommendations by March 31. [AND, BY GAGGING AND TAKING MONEY, IS THE FAMILY AND THEIR GAG LAWYER ENABLING THE ABUSES TO OTHERS? Emphasis added]

Karla Labrecque’s doctor refused to do a blood test until he consults with a local politician; Mike Labrecque gets sick working for Baytex, Baytex lets him go: “You’re done.”

Below all 2013:

Several families taking Baytex (Alberta oilsands company) to court over toxic emissions; Buyout packages allegedly silence Albertans struck with industry-related cancer

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Where are the regulators in Alberta? Fed up with toxic fumes: families suffering ill health ask Peace River court for 8 month injunction to shut down 46 wells and 86 venting tanks owned by Baytex Energy

Bitumen project approval irks residents near Peace River ]

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