Public complaints about odours and emissions from heavy oil operations in Alberta’s Peace River area have led to a series of non-binding recommendations that could force companies to change how they operate.
Nearly 900 health complaints about odours were filed to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), formerly the Energy Resources Conservation Board, between January 1, 2009 and November 1, 2013. A total of 715 complaints came from just four residences. Forty per cent of the total complaints included statements of human health impact, according to an independent panel’s Report of Recommendations on Odours and Emissions in the Peace River Area released March 31, 2014.
The public complaints about odours and emissions warn of headaches, nausea and breathing problems.
The panel’s recommendations, which will be addressed by the AER within two weeks, examines the use of CHOP technology by companies like Calgary-based Baytex Energy and others working in the Peace River area. The panel’s report describes the cold heavy oil production (CHOP) method of using underground reservoirs. The oil is placed in heated production tanks at the surface before being transported for further processing. Natural gas is recovered and may either be conserved, flared, incinerated or vented. The panel report wants companies in the area to minimize these processes and capture as much of the gas as possible.
“The Panel recommends that venting should be eliminated and that produced gas should be captured using vapour recovery units (VRUs) within four months in the Reno and Three Creeks areas,” states the Panel report.
Another Panel recommendation addresses the need for a localized regulatory approach for oil operations in the Peace River area due to the unique geology of the Peace River Country Region, with its valleys and staggered rock formations.
The Panel is also proposing a regional air quality monitoring program to verify air quality in the area.
Lastly, the Panel stated that it should approve its own draft edition of Directive 060: Upstream Petroleum Industry Flaring, Incinerating, and Venting, which would enable the AER to take enforcement action in the case of non-compliance with odour issues.
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