PEACE RIVER, Alta. – Landowners in Alberta’s Peace River region will get a chance to tell the province’s energy industry regulator what they want to see in an inquiry into a tar-like smell they say is making them sick.
The Alberta Energy Regulator is to hold a meeting Oct. 7 in Peace River to set the scope for the inquiry into concerns expressed by people in the Three Creeks and Reno areas.
Several companies in the region have cold heavy oil production sites which heat oil in tanks to separate it from sand.
Residents claim the process creates a gas that escapes into the air and onto their properties, particularly during the night when cooler temperatures create an inversion.
“It smells like when you’re right by a paving machine. That’s what our house smells like,” said Carmen Langer, whose family farm is next door to one of the operations.
People complain of headaches, burning eyes and throats that are itchy and parched.
Langer’s parents used to live on the farm but had to move because of the smell. Others have moved out of the region, too.
Langer still lives on the farm himself but said he sleeps at friends, a camper, or even a motel when the smell gets unbearable.
A spokesman for the energy regulator, Bob Curran, said all of the companies have met regulatory standards. He said the inquiry is the next stage to finding a solution.
“Given that we’re still getting complaints even though the companies are meeting requirements, this is the next logical step,” Curran said Wednesday.
Curran said the inquiry could make recommendations to government based on its findings.
Jim Ellis, the regulator’s CEO, requested the inquiry in July.
The date of the inquiry has not yet been determined.
“While a great deal of progress has been made in reducing emissions in the area since 2009, and despite the fact that Alberta has some of the strictest requirements in the world for flaring, venting and incineration, there are still concerns being raised in these areas,” Ellis said in a news release when calling the inquiry.
“This inquiry will provide residents with an opportunity to express their concerns in a public forum that will also include a review of the industry practices and potential solutions to address the issue.”
In 2010, Alberta Environment released results of extensive air monitoring in the area during a community meeting. The results showed chemicals in the air at the affected homes were in some cases more than 40 times higher than normal.
While the province conceded the smells may be sickening people and animals, the study didn’t pinpoint the source.
Curran said the meeting next month will hear from stakeholders to determine the structure of the inquiry, such as whether it will include public hearings or be based on written documents.
The regulator will also consider how any recommendations from the inquiry would affect the energy industry.