“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?

Regulator checks oilsands companies in northwest Alberta for odours by The Canadian Press, June 16, 2014, Edmonton Journal
Alberta’s energy regulator is mounting a two-week, round-the-clock compliance check near Peace River to ensure oilsands companies are following new rules on odour emissions.

Mark Roberts, who was forced to leave his farm last January due to strong odours from nearby oilsands tanks, said Monday he’s hopeful the new regulations will stem the air pollution. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Roberts, who still lives in Peace River with wife and baby daughter, and only visits his farm. If the regulator enforces the new rules among the five companies operating in the area, it may be possible to consider moving back home in the months ahead, he said. But Roberts stressed he and his family will wait and see the results of the new enforcement action before making a decision.

After a high-profile public hearing into emissions from Batyex Energy operations, the regulator brought in Directive 60, which requires companies to contain emissions and gives the regulator new powers to order a company to do so. It took effect Monday. The regulator has brought in staff from other areas to help with “the targeted sweep,” said the regulator’s Jeff Toering. The sweep involves two three-person teams moving from oilsands facility to oilsands facility in alternating 12-hour shifts for a week. Different teams replace them after the first week. [What good is a sweep, if you publicize it?]

Companies in the area use an unusual method of heating bitumen in above-ground tanks to separate oil and sand. Baytex was ordered to install pollution control equipment on its bitumen tanks — a practice followed by other companies. Baytex spokesman Andrew Loosely said the company has installed vapour recovery systems on all its equipment in one of the troublesome fields and is on schedule to install them in the other field by the regulatory deadline of Aug. 15. “We applaud those efforts that the AER is undertaking,” Loosely said. “They’ll be out in force, holding our feet to the fire.” 

[And will they quickly let go, soon as their PR stint is done and they’ve put concerned, harmed Albertans back into obedient silence?]

Roberts said it’s too bad it took a public hearing to produce new rules. “I’m happy there’s going to be [maybe] some change, but it took them two years to get there,” said Roberts.

Gerald Palanca, who is part of the regulatory team, said inspectors will depend partly on their own sense of smell to determine if the regulations are being followed. But inspectors won’t just follow their noses, he said. Methane detectors will measure gases associated with smelly emissions. Infrared cameras will be able to “see” releases. “We’re not only measuring the odours with the human nose,” said Palanca.

Nor is a one-time blast to the nostrils enough to result in enforcement. “We’re after the very strong and offensive (odours),” said Palanca, who added several things will be considered in deciding whether enforcement is required. “(Is) there … evidence that the site in question is affecting people?” [Emphasis added]

Affected residents may have to seek permission from local politicians to allow your doctors to gather the “evidence.” ]

“Some of the witnesses told the inquiry they had problems getting medical care. Karla Labrecque said one doctor she saw in the area told her to move after she said she thought her symptoms were caused by emissions from bitumen tanks near the farm. The doctor also told her about Dr. John Connor whose licence was threatened after he raised concerns about cancer rates among First Nations north of Fort McMurray. In a visit to a second doctor, Karla said she was taken aback when the doctor refused to do a blood test until he had called the local MLA. She did not ask the name of the MLA.

“He said ‘I just got off the phone with the MLA and he says it’s OK to take a blood test and fill out a form.’

“It’s not very good when you go to the doctor to get help and he has to call an MLA.”

Are medical professionals interested in gathering “evidence?” And how can affected residents expect the “evidence” to be gathered? ]

“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 at the hearing that ended Friday. “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. The industry has pumped billions in investment into the region in recent years. 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.

Labrecque says the specialist was talking about Fort McMurray’s Dr. John O’Connor – a family physician who was threatened with having his license taken away for sounding the alarm about cancer rates near the oil sands several years ago. The Alberta Medical Association rallied to his defence. Dr. John O’Connor, a physician who raised concerns about the high cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan downstream of the oil sands in 2006. On Wednesday, Dr. O’Connor said doctors need to be “advocates”.

“It is a very tough position to have to take… to suggest that the goose that lays the golden egg might be causing some health issues.”

“To question the possible connection between… health issues and exposure to pollutants from industry has been a no-go area for so many years,” said Dr. O’Connor.

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 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.”

[Refer also to:

June 12, 2014: Air Pollutants From Fracking, Acidizing Threaten Public Health, Report Says; Oil Companies Used More than 45 Million Pounds of Toxic Chemicals in Los Angeles Area Over Past Year

June 10, 2014: Terry Greenwood, 66, died after 3 months fighting cancerous brain tumors, years of fighting fracing and for appropriate, accountable regulator response to frac contamination on his farm

May 21, 2014: In Utah Oil Boom Town, Dramatic Spike in Infant Deaths after Drilling and Fracing Raises Questions; Industry Funded Study Intends to Leave Out 2013 – the Year with Most Infant Deaths

May 21, 2014: New study links fracking to birth defects in heavily drilled Colorado, Risks of some birth defects increased as much as 30 percent in mothers who lived near oil and gas wells

May 16, 2014: Texas Judge John D. Rainey Gives Oil Giant Citgo Slap On the Wrist for 10 Years of Illegal Operations; Restitution to Poisoned Families: “Absolutely Nothing”

May 3, 2014: Alberta Government, regulators, health agency and company silent for years as groundwater contamination spreads and families poisoned

April 19, 2014: Third Report in Three Days Shows Scale Of Fracking Perils; PSE Study: ‘We can conclude that this process has not been shown to be safe’

April 8, 2014: Worldwide cancer cases expected to soar by 70% over next 20 years; The mysterious decline in female life expectancy

April 5, 2014: Anadarko Petroleum settles U.S.-wide clean-up and health harm lawsuit for $5.15 billion, US Bankruptcy judge ruled the company should pay 19.35 billion and legal fees; Settlement ensures that: “Anadarko was not found to have done anything wrong.”

April 3, 2014: Colorado Investigates a Spike in Fetal Abnormalities Near Natural Gas Drilling Site, A prevalence of anomalies such as low birth weight and congenital heart defects are found within a 10 mile radius of a concentration of gas wells

March 11, 2014: Santos CBM in NSW Australia contaminates aquifer with uranium at 20 times the safe drinking water levels; Regulator does not test for thorium, radon and radium! Thorium and radon are known to cause lung cancer.

March 8, 2014: Harms unknown: health uncertainties cast doubt on the role of unconventional gas in Australia’s energy future

March 8, 2014: New York State consultant, John Adgate, hired by health department to assist in review of health effects, slams fracking

February 18, 2014: 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

February 11, 2014: Alberta workplace fatalities close to record numbers in 2013, led by a near doubling of fatalities caused by occupational disease

February 5, 2014: 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

February 4, 2014: New Study: Emissions may be two to three times higher, some pose cancer risk; Environmental health risks of Alberta tarsands probably underestimated

new study has found that certain types of chemical pollutants emitted by Canada’s oilsands tailing ponds have gone underreported for years. 

January 31, 2014: 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.”

January 29, 2014: Study, rural Colorado: Positive association observed between greater density, proximity of natural gas wells within 10-mile radius of maternal residence and prevalence of congenital heart defects and possibly neural tube defects

January 24, 2014: Federal judge excuses Shell’s pollution of Illinois town’s groundwater with carcinogen benzene 26,000 times greater than allowed by state law

January 24, 2014: Experts Margaret Sears and Donald Davies at Baytex hearings differ widely on the health effects of emissions

January 21, 2014: 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; 10 day public hearing starts Tuesday

January 21, 2014: University of Calgary researchers testing their own homes in search of radon, Results will be used to spur larger look at cancer-causing gas

Who is going to test the homes of those of us living in oil and gas fields where companies are releasing radon?

January 18, 2014: Court date set in Baytex fumes case for families that were forced to vacate their homes in the Peace River area of Alberta

January 5, 2014: Investment fraud is booming along with oil and gas drilling, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) says

December 30, 2014: Researchers find 7,300-sq-mile (19,000 sq km) area of increasing mercury around Alberta tarsands, Mercury levels rising, more toxic form methyl mercury found in snow

December 26, 2014: 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

December 22, 203: BP, Chevron Accused Of Illegally Dumping Toxic Radioactive Drilling Waste Into Louisiana Water

December 19, 2013; Fort Chipewyan rare cancer cases cry out for study; Fort Chipewyan councillor latest resident diagnosed with rare cancer, ‘How can this keep happening?’

December 18, 2014: 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

December 5, 2013: Big oil, big fracing, big problems? The Hawkwoods frac’d in the Lochend: health problems, dead cattle and earthquakes causing property damage

November 29, 2013: Radon — #9 In “Top 10 Toxic Ingredients Used By The Fossil Fuel Industries”; Cochrane Alberta home tests high for radon

November 29, 2013: Several families taking Baytex (Alberta oilsands company) to court over toxic emissions; Buyout packages allegedly silence Albertans struck with industry-related cancer

November 26, 2013: Buyout packages allegedly silence Albertans struck with oil and gas industry-related cancer

October 24, 2013: Air Pollution and Cancer Spikes linked in Alberta; Alberta’s Oil Legacy: Bad Air and Rare Cancers, Sickening carcinogens now saturate Industrial Heartland, study finds

October 2, 2013: Fracking Chemicals May Be Unknown, Even To Gas Drillers, Lawsuit against Range Resources Documents Suggest

September 27, 2014: University Alberta Researchers say Alberta drastically under-reports workplace injuries

May 10, 2013: Dr. Eilish Cleary, New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health, uncomfortable with shale gas blueprint, Health officer surprised policy document doesn’t include health as a key objective

April 30, 2013: Alberta announces new cancer-care plan, but won’t stop hydraulic fracturing or disallow trade secrets of the toxic chemicals injected

April 26, 2013: US EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Final Guidance for Assessing and Mitigating the Vapor Intrusion Pathway from Substance Sources to Indoor Air (External Review Draft)

2013 04 12 Figure 2-1 EPA Vapour Intrusion Final Guidance for External Public Review

April 5, 2013: Arsenic Uptake in Homegrown Vegetables from Mining-Affected Soils

March 22, 2013: Colorado docs chafe at secrecy oath needed for access to chemical list

March 21, 2012: TINY DOSES OF GAS DRILLING CHEMICALS MAY HAVE BIG HEALTH EFFECTS, Authors of new study encourage more low-dose testing of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, with implications for the debate on natural gas drilling

August 27, 2012: Doctors fight “gag orders” over fracking chemicals

August 15, 2012: Toxic Wastewater Dumped in Streets and Rivers at Night: Gas Profiteers Getting Away With Shocking Environmental Crimes, Allan Shipman was found guilty of illegally dumping millions of gallons of natural gas drilling wastewater. But he’s part of a much bigger problem

August 13, 2012: Few studies done on air safety, health effects near drilling sites

November 25, 2012: Dr. David Schindler: Tar Sands Science “Shoddy”, “Must Change”

November 12, 2012: An exploratory study of air quality near natural gas operations

Does Alberta’s legally immune, “No Duty of Care” regulator look for health harm or any kind of harm caused by the oil and gas industry? ]

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