Baytex settles with families forced from farms over oilsands odours

EDMONTON – A Calgary-based oilsands producer has reached a settlement with a group of families forced from their farms over odours.

“They’ve been put in a position where they can start afresh,” said Keith Wilson lawyer for the four families whose farms have now been acquired by Baytex Energy Ltd. “That chapter’s now closed.”

The families’ former farms were located in the centre of the company’s Reno field in northwest Alberta near Peace River.

Baytex uses an unusual method of recovering oil from bitumen which involves heating the substance in large, above-ground tanks. The families complained for years that powerful, gassy odours from the tanks were causing a wide variety of symptoms, including dizziness, numbness, diarrhea, vomiting and fatigue.

Eventually, a public hearing was held last January into their concerns.

In March, that panel reported to the Alberta Energy Regulator that odours from heavy oil could be behind the symptoms. It recommended that steps must be taken to eliminate gas venting, reduce flaring and conserve all produced gas where feasible.

The regulator moved to tighten rules around oilpatch odours. Baytex was required to install odour-capturing equipment.

Company officials have said those instructions are being followed.

Wilson said the families are pleased their actions resulted in improved regulations, as well as an admission that oilpatch emissions can have health impacts.

“They wanted to make sure that no other families had to go through what they’ve gone through. Hopefully, the take-away (for the government) is that it’s better to embrace these challenges and issues than it is to pretend they’re not there.”

Three of the families have moved away from the community where they once lived. The fourth didn’t have a home on the purchased land and remains in Reno.

Specific details of the settlement are covered by a confidentiality clause.