A lawyer for several families forced from their homes by oilsands emissions just south of Peace River, says the company plans to keep on doing what it’s doing.
Keith Wilson sent a letter to Calgary based Baytex Energy back on November 20th, demanding that it cease operations by 5pm, Wednesday, at all of its bitumen wells and processing tanks until it could find a more responsible way of doing business, but the company advised Wilson a couple of hours after the deadline that it saw no reason to stop its operations.
“Baytex has indicated that they intend to carry on with their production and they seem to think everything is okay,” remarked Wilson. “Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s okay and nor do my clients, and I think many Albertans don’t think that it’s okay for a company to keep the tops of their tanks open and be emitting emissions that are forcing people from their homes.”
Wilson points out there are 89 bitumen processing tanks within a one by five mile stretch, with Baytex taking the approach that their operations fully comply with all Alberta regulations.
But Wilson says the problem with that is the regulations place “no restrictions” on the emissions the company is allowed to admit from open-vented, heated bitumen processing tanks.
“They’ve chosen to carry on and be content with these people being out of their homes. And so, in order to get them back into their homes, we’ve got no choice but to bring an application before the Court of Queen’s Bench and put the facts and the law in front of a justice of that court and see if he or she thinks this is a circumstance in which an injunction can be granted.”
Meanwhile, the provincial government is said to be concerned about the situation and conducting an inquiry that will stretch into next year to see what regulatory changes are required.
According to Wilson, the first family to leave has been out of their home for two years come December, and the other families have been out of their homes for over a year.
“The financial impact on these families has been huge. Some of them are on the verge of bankruptcy. They’ve had to use their retirement savings. It’s affected their employability. This has been an absolute nightmare for these families. I’ve never seen anything like this in my 18+ years of representing landowners representing energy companies — never.”
Wilson says Baytex is damaging the reputation of the energy industry in Alberta, at a time when the province is trying to demonstrate to the world that the oilsands can be developed responsibly.
“Everything was fine for over six years,” exclaimed Wilson. “And then suddenly a new operator comes in and changes the production methods. They significantly increased the temperature at which these tanks are processing the bitumen; all 89 of them by the way.”
Wilson says his clients also believe Baytex has added a chemical thinner to allow the oil to flow more quickly — all of this causing a serious increase in toxic emissions.
“Baytex keeps saying everything’s closed up, so I keep telling my clients go get the pictures. So we went out on Sunday with a telephoto lens. Picture, after picture, after picture, after picture showing these caps wide open and you even see the gases come out. So I don’t know who Baytex thinks they’re fooling? They keep saying everything’s sealed when we’ve got picture after picture showing open emissions, and why the regulator lets them do that is just beyond me, but I guess that’s why we have courts. You shouldn’t have to go to the law to get the company to do what’s right.” (td)