PEACE RIVER, Alta. — an Alberta family is calling for regulatory reform at a public inquiry after being forced off their farm due to health concerns associated with nearby oilsands production.
An organizational meeting for the inquiry, which will examine odours and emissions from Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand (CHOPS), took place in Peace River today. The inquiry comes in the wake of growing public concern over CHOPS, an oilsands extraction method that is becoming more common in the Peace River area.
Ecojustice lawyers will represent the Labrecque family at the inquiry.
Karla and Alain Labrecque and their two children left their family farm in the Peace River area almost two years ago. The farm is located within one mile of several Baytex Energy Corp. wells used to extract heavy oil using the CHOPS method. The heavy oil is heated and stored in tanks, venting noxious emissions into the surrounding area.
The family suffered through months of headaches, sinus congestions, muscle spasms, dizziness and loss of balance, before making the difficult decision to leave their family home, eventually settling in Smithers, B.C., an 11-hour drive away.
“It simply became unbearable,” said Karla. “We were genuinely concerned for the health of our children and had to leave.”
The Labrecques aren’t the only family that’s had to make that hard choice.
“We’ve seen other families in the area pack up and leave, and the people who still live in the area are experiencing the same symptoms we did,” said Alain. “We just want Alberta to enforce stricter regulations and for Baytex to clean up its act so we can all go home.”
As Baytex operations in the region have increased in recent years, so too have community concerns. Despite bringing several complaints to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), the Labrecques say that the province has failed to effectively address their concerns.
“Clearly, existing regulations are inadequate if people like the Labrecques are leaving their farm to protect their health,” said Melissa Gorrie, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “We see this Inquiry as an important step and we hope that at the end of this process a regulatory framework is developed to address the impacts associated with CHOPS.”
The scope of the inquiry is currently being determined.
“Not only do we need answers from this inquiry, but we need regulatory reform,” Karla said. “Alberta must implement stronger protections so my family and my neighbours aren’t forced to evacuate their homes.”