CALGARY – Alberta’s energy regulator has set new rules to deal with long-standing complaints about powerful, gassy smells from heavy oil operations in the Peace River region.
The rules, released late Thursday, grew out of a 2014 inquiry held by the regulator after years of complaints from people in tiny communities neighbouring the operations.
Residents had complained for years that the odours gave them headaches, nausea and diarrhea. They said their livestock was similarly affected and cattle spontaneously aborted calves.
Local people continued to complain about the smells as recently as last fall.
The inquiry concluded the stink was damaging people’s health, the first time the Alberta Energy Regulator acknowledged odour as a health impact. A string of recommendations were all accepted by the regulator and provincial government.
The regulator has already implemented 12 of the 16 recommendations directed its way. New rules for practices such as routine flaring and venting gas are in place and are being followed, a spokeswoman for the agency said recently.
The four outstanding suggestions are addressed in Thursday’s Directive 84, which had been waiting for government approval since January. The rules take effect March 1, 2019.
They limit the amount of gas that operators are allowed to flare off during non-routine events to three per cent of total gas production. They stipulate that 95 per cent of the gas generated during heavy oil recovery must be conserved.
The new rules require companies to control odours coming from trucks being loaded or tanks being cleaned. They also include extensive inspection and reporting requirements and say operators must join local air quality management programs.
The inquiry also made recommendations to the provincial government, none of which are yet in place.
Alberta Environment is working on a provincial odour standard. Department officials say that standard is still a long way off.
Alberta Health is to study links between odours and health, as well as supply doctors in the Peace River area with information to help their patients.
After nearly three years, Alberta Health is almost ready to begin a review of previous research. No field studies are planned.
Karen Grimsrud, Alberta’s chief medical health officer, has said the province and the Alberta Medical Association expect to give Peace River doctors clinical practice guidelines for environmental health problems early this year.
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960.