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Environmental Group Investigate Sour Gas Pipeline

The day before the second blast in a week rattled a sour gas pipeline near Dawson Creek, a Vancouver-based environmental group wrote to provincial Energy Minister Richard Neufeld to complain about government foot-dragging

The day before the second blast in a week rattled a sour gas pipeline near Dawson Creek, a Vancouver-based environmental group wrote to provincial Energy Minister Richard Neufeld to complain about government foot-dragging in relation to setbacks – regulations that dictate how close wells can be to homes, schools and other public places.

Setbacks have been “a key area of concern among a broad array of stakeholders in Northeast B.C. for several years now,” the Oct. 15 letter from West Coast Environmental Law says.

“Despite this, and despite the fact that government has repeatedly committed to taking action, nothing has been done that we are aware of to address this issue through changes to the regulatory regime.”

The letter makes several recommendations, including an interim one-kilometre setback for all new oil and gas wells. Current regulations allow sour gas wells to be as close as 100 metres to homes in rural areas.

Mr. Neufeld was not immediately available to comment on the letter. When the province released its Energy Plan in February of the past year, it said it would review setback provisions as part of “building better relationships with landowners.”

Sour gas is natural gas that contains hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas that has a characteristic rotten-egg smell. At higher concentrations, the gas can kill a person in seconds.

The letter had been in the works for several weeks and was not timed to take advantage of the spotlight turned on the industry as a result of the explosions, said Rick Koechl, a member of a residents' group which worked with West Coast Environmental Law on the missive to Mr. Neufeld.

While condemning the sabotage, Mr. Koechl speculates the culprit could be someone frustrated by the proliferation of gas wells and infrastructure in the region.

“I think the person or person who did this is at wits' end,” said Mr. Koechl, one of about 50 residents who have formed the Old Hope Road Residents' Group, which represents landowners whose homes are on a ridge about 10 kilometres northwest of Fort St. John.

“When you don't have a sense of being able to deal with their own destiny, people take that destiny into their own hands in a very, very negative way,” he said.

RCMP are investigating two blasts that targeted EnCana pipelines near Dawson Creek. The first, discovered when a hunter came across a two-metre crater in the bush, is believed to have occurred some time during the night of Oct. 11.

The second was discovered this past Thursday, when workers heard a hiss of escaping gas, depressurized the line and called police.

The incidents have alarmed area residents and triggered an extensive investigation.

RCMP yesterday said explosives experts were still scouring the site of the second blast. Police are also looking into reports of a truck seen leaving the scene early Thursday morning.

Northeastern B.C. is the heart of B.C.'s booming oil and gas sector, which generates about $2-billion a year in direct revenue for the province.

Author: Jo Amey