January 21, 2014 11:40 pm
Updated: January 21, 2014 11:50 pm

Hearings begin in northern Alberta over smell from nearby oil sands operations

EDMONTON – An Alberta Energy Regulator hearing into fumes from oil sands operations near Peace River got underway Tuesday.

Several landowners say fumes from the oil sands operations have been making them sick, and in some cases, have even forced them from their land.

It’s been two years since Alain Labrecque and his family packed up what they could and left the Falher area.

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“We had just survived a really bad night of emissions and it was just getting worse. In the winter months it always gets way worse. And we were just on the fence where we just couldn’t take it anymore, and we had a really bad night – and that was it,” he said.

Inside tanks owned by Baytex, oilsands bitumen is heated to prepare it for transport. That process leads to emissions being released into the air, which Labrecque believes made his family sick.

“The kids were clumsy, I’d come home and…they seem to have no balance, the little girl would, was just flopping off the chairs. And it took a while to figure it out,” he recalled.

READ MORE: Ill wind: Alberta families leaving homes for health reasons blame oil giants next door

Hundreds of complaints like the ones by Labrecque have led to a public hearing by Alberta’s Energy Regulator. Eight days of testimony will cover everything from the geology of the deposits, to impacts and potential solutions.

The company at the heart of the concerns is taking part in the hearings every step of the way.

“We want to be a good neighbour, we want to be a part of the communities in which we operate, we’re going to be here for some time,” said Andrew Loosley, from Baytex Energy’s Stakeholder Relations.

He adds that the company is operating within the government’s regulations and that air quaity studies have shown the emissions are well below acceptable levels. But the company is committed to take it one step further by adding vapour capture technology to the tanks, and even shutting down wells where that isn’t economically feasible.

“Our plan is to ultimately undertake all those retrofits in a timely manner to address those concerns.”

On Tuesday, a geologist testified that the oil sands in that part of the province have a higher sulphur content than in other areas. No test has been done, though, to determine whether the bitumen has a higher degree of volatile compounds.

The hearing continues Wednesday. Labrecque, who now lives in British Columbia, plans on attending every minute of it.

“Hopefully everything is brought out that needs to be brought out,” he said, “and then they can make the right decision accordingly.”

With files from Tom Vernon, Global News

© Shaw Media, 2014

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