Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Albertans at Risk as Energy Regulator Looks the Other Way and Whistles

Alberta's provincial energy regulator, the AER, is charged with protecting the safety and health of the people of Alberta. However the former chief environmental scientist for the Alberta Energy Regulator, Monique Dube, says the AER doesn't have the expertise to meet those responsibilities.

“The expertise to assess the health risk of abandoned wells really doesn’t exist in house,” charged Monique Dube, former chief environmental scientist with the Alberta Energy Regulator and one of the authors of a report on the toxicity of abandoned wells in Alberta.

A report for Natural Resources Canada has described methane leakage from active or abandoned wells as “ a serious threat to the environment and public safety” with the risk of “irreversible contamination of freshwater aquifers, accumulation of explosive gases within and around residences and other structures and contribution to greenhouse gases.”

In addition repair and clean up of leaking wells can be prohibitively expensive, which explains why the issue has become an explosive one throughout western Canada and even Quebec.

The report, completed in November, recommended that Alberta Health assess the health and public safety risks of six wells in particular that exceeded a “life-threatening” threshold of 10,000 parts per million.

Alberta Health says it is reviewing the wells, but no action has been taken.

Dube, who was fired “without cause” in March by the AER, said the response to the risks has been too slow.

“At the end of the day we have wells leaking at acute levels,” she said.

17,000  Rural Wells Also Leaking

The province has another 170,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in rural areas. The report estimates that 17,000 of them are leaking and 3,400 at levels that pose risks to any nearby residents.

“At this time it is not known what percentage of wells in rural Alberta would be in proximity to surface development or human receptors,” said the report.

But methane, which can be highly explosive in concentrations ranging from five to 15 per cent, isn’t the only problem. The gas from leaking wells also travels with highly toxic hydrocarbons such as benzene and xylene.

Dube said there is no data on those risks from leaking wells.

Letting Industry Self-Regulate

After a series of scandals engulfed its predecessor, the Energy Resources Conservation Board, the Alberta government introduced new legislation in 2012 to rebrand the organization as the Alberta Energy Regulator and “streamline” its operation.

The new legislation eliminated a previous mandate to operate in the public interest and made the agency almost entirely dependent on industry funding.

The new agency also assumed duties on well reclamation previously administered by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. The reorganization was completed in 2015.

Daryl Bennett, a director of the Alberta Surface Rights Federation, a group that represents landowners, said Dube’s report reflected the Alberta government’s messy approach to leaking wells.

While most North American jurisdictions require companies to clean up and restore non-producing oil and gas wells in a timely fashion, Alberta allows companies to put off cleanup indefinitely.

As a result the province has another 90,000 inactive wells that are no longer producing oil or gas that have not been properly sealed and abandoned. Many are leaking and pose threats to the public or environment. At the same time the number of wells being orphaned by bankrupt oil and gas companies has grown from hundreds to thousands while the liabilities now stand in excess of $30 billion.

Leaking wells in Alberta and other jurisdictions have contaminated groundwater, caused explosions, devalued agricultural land and in one recent case forced the demolition of homes outside of Edmonton.

“These guys at the AER really don’t have a clue what they are doing,” said Bennett, who works as an advocate for landowners. “They are just making things up as they go along. They don’t have the tools in the toolbox they need. We’ve also got the fox guarding the henhouse.”

This is on Rachel Notley's NDP government every bit as much as it is on her Tory predecessors. She has her head as firmly in the sand as they did.

Alberta already has the highest greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Imagine what those numbers would be if leaking methane and other hydrocarbon gases were included in that tally.

And these are the clowns who, along with our prime minister, tell coastal British Columbians that we just have to accept their hazmat bitumen pipelines and supertankers. Sorry Justin. I don't think so.


Anonymous said...

Anyong...there is a church with a gas well either next to it or half under it from the early 19 hundreds. Every time I go in it, I cough until I leave.

The Mound of Sound said...

You have to wonder why, in a church of all places, nothing has been done to rectify the problem.

Northern PoV said...

According to someone that has extensive contacts in the "conventional" oil rig industry, even the most basic regulations (against flaring gas for example) are routinely ignored if a dollar or two can be saved.
Their has never been adequate oversight of this industry any where in the world.

The surge of "unconventional" extraction of ff since 2008 (on top of 100 years of massive carbon pollution) has likely tripped us into the "runaway global warming" cycle.
If true it is dripping with irony that this happened AFTER we humans had the knowledge about the consequences and was exactly the opposite of the behavior required to prevent extinction.

But don't think twice its alright.