EUB boss vows to focus on safety

The chairman of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board reaffirmed the board’s commitment to public safety Tuesday and said government studies show no danger posed by low levels of hydrogen sulfide gas.
Neil McCrank said public safety is the board’s “No. 1 priority” as it finds itself “in the eye of the storm” between sour gas producers and the thousands of Albertans who live near sour gas wells.
McCrank and other representatives of the board were at the York Lodge for the release of the 2014 Public Safety and Sour Gas Annual Progress Report. The report updates progress on 87 recommendations intended to insure the safe production of sour gas in Alberta.
“Public safety will remain the number one priority until until we have enacted every one of the recommendations,” McCrank said. He said the goal was for sour gas to be developed in an even safer way than in the past, to be an “improvement on what we felt was (already) a very safe development.”
However, the health risks posed by sour gas remained an issue for some attending the meeting.
Caroline area resident Stewart Shields criticized the board for its unwillingness to keep area residents informed of the investigation into a March 12 gas leak at a Shell Canada compressor station near his home.
“I want the board to respond to my complaints and not make me come after them,” Shields said. “They hold off on these things and hold off until people forget. It’s a question of accountability.”
Shields said any sour gas fatalities should automatically be the subject of a report.
McCrank said one of five key components in the report is the impact of hydrogen sulfide gas on animals and humans. He said a study done on Caroline-area livestock suggested “little impact, if any” due to hydrogen sulfide gas at the Caroline sour gas plant.
He said the studies completed so far do not suggest there is a problem with continued exposure to low levels of the potentially fatal gas.
Harry Lillo, the board official in charge of implementing the plan, reviewed the board’s efforts.
“Operationally, we have more staff to deal with issues important to the public,” Lillo said. “This allows us to respond to every single complaint that landowners make to us.”
He said the board now sends out letters to landowners dealing with gas producers, setting out their rights.
Eighteen of the 87 recommendations have been completed, with work on 52 others ongoing. The board has pledged to address the remaining recommendations by April 2014.
Sour gas is natural gas that contains poisonous hydrogen sulfide. Alberta has over 5,000 producing sour gas wells, accounting for 30 per cent of all the natural gas produced in the province.
Liberal energy critic Hugh MacDonald called on the government to implement all recommendations as quickly as possible.
“There are a lot of complaints from rural landowners (about hydrogen sulfide). I’d urge the EUB to proceed with speed on these issues.
“Sour gas is a killer. We have to argue that public safety is priority No. 1.”