Letter to Baytex

An open letter to Baytex Energy…

I am not a tree hugger, environmental activist or anti-oil activist. Quite the opposite; I fully appreciate the prosperity that our region has experienced thanks in no small part to Alberta’s thriving oil and gas industry. While I believe that Alberta is rightfully an energy superpower, I’m also a mother tired of my family being poisoned by Baytex Energy’s emissions and the Alberta Government allowing them to do so. I also believe that it’s possible for Baytex Energy to extract oil from the ground responsibly while simultaneously growing their company and at the same time protecting the health of those that live near and around their sites.

It took us three months to realize that a seemingly unending list of maladies like constant severe headaches, dizziness, loss of balance, continuous sinus congestion, overwhelming red sinus’, muscle spasms, eye twitching, and more were all directly related to the emissions of gases from eight oil wells on four pad sites 3/8 of a mile south of our home . For three months I questioned every item I had in my house and wondered, “Is this what’s making us sick?” Finally, after second guessing everything in my home and ruling it out as a source of our sickness, I realized that I had considered every conceivable source except the most obvious: a foul odour outside emanating from the Baytex Energy sites (NYSE:BTE).

I have two young children who I initially thought were going through a clumsy stage related to either a growth spurt or simply due to their age but now I know that they were being poisoned. My three year old looked like he was a ghost most days while my two year old would repeatedly lose her balance while sitting and fall off furniture. Since making the difficult decision to leave our farm, both my children have made dramatic recoveries but I can’t help but think about what long-term effects they may suffer. Even now, anytime it’s necessary to return to our farm house to pick up belongings or just to inspect the condition of the premises, all of our symptoms return, even when we limit our visits to less than 30 minutes.

We have been trying to work with Baytex Energy executives who continue to reiterate they are within regulation. This is rather appalling to know that within regulation means that they can poison my family.

We live in what Baytex Energy (TSE:BTE) calls the Reno Field. It’s south of Peace River, Alberta approximately 43 kilometres and while it’s made up of many separate sites, the ones that are mainly affecting us are 3/8 of a mile south of our farm where eight oil wells sit on four pad sites. Baytex uses the CHOPS method of recovering oil.

CHOPS (Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand) is the process used to recover oil found in the Peace River Oil Sands. Extracted oil/sand is stored and heated in open-air storage tanks in an effort to ease the separation of oil from the sand it’s mixed with. During this heating, the tanks are free to vent into the atmosphere.

Our experience has been that during the evening and throughout the course of the night, thermals drift north bringing emissions from these tanks into our yard. At that point, these same emissions are brought into our house through our ‘fresh’ air intake. This means that my family and I are sleeping in these emissions virtually every night for hours on end. In the morning when the outside air starts to move around, we can step outdoors to clean air only to step back into our house and find it to be totally contaminated. The inside of the house would stay this way until about lunchtime. In an effort to remove these noxious fumes from our family home, I would open some windows and fan the entry door, even in the dead of winter with the temperatures below zero.

Within these home-filling emissions are poisonous gases that are especially devastating when released into a contained environment. The immediate effects from these gases are impairment and intoxication while long term effects are believed to inhibit brain development, cause premature death, and even contribute to rare cancers.

After finding just how toxic our home had become, we had little choice other than to move away from our farm. I could not allow my children, my husband, or myself to live in an environment full of poisonous gases that Baytex Energy and the Alberta Government claim to be “within regulation,” (which, by the way, were set for light oil production not heavy oil production).

Even more concerning is the fact that these regulations are to be enforced by an industry paid organization.

In one example, Baytex installed a flare stack on one of their pad sites. This flare stack has a constant flame height of 10 to 15 feet tall. In the regulations, flaring is discouraged near residences especially if H2S is present and flaring should only be done occasionally and only if it is absolutely required. If there are residences in and around the area, residents are to be given 24 hours advance notice of any flaring. We have asked if there is H2S present and neither Baytex nor ERCB can answer that. Not only is Baytex’s flare stack in constant operation (as opposed to the occasional use as outlined in the regulation), it should never have been erected in the first place due to its proximity to numerous residences.

We had the air on our farm tested by Alberta Environment and the results that came back indicated contaminated air saturated with a long list of chemicals. In spite of this result, Alberta Health says there are no immediate or long-term effects but cautions us to keep our windows and doors closed to minimize exposure. Alberta Heath’s position makes no sense. If the air on our farm isn’t harmful, why do I have to minimize my exposure?

Despite a respected scientist’s review of the results AND a professional opinion that the air is contaminated AND that we continue to experience health issues when even temporarily returning to the farm we were driven from, Baytex Energy and the Alberta Government continue to claim that any exposure is non-threatening.

Whether one inspects the scientific or anecdotal evidence present, I can only draw one of two conclusions:
1) Baytex Energy and the Alberta Government are wilfully ignoring the irreparable damage being done to hard working, taxpaying Albertans; or
2) Baytex Energy and the Alberta Government see revenue dollars as more important than the health of our community.

Here is the offer that my husband and I extended to Baytex Energy and as well as the Alberta Government: We told them they were invited to stay on our land rent free in order to experience my family’s concerns first hand. We invited them to stay in our home or to park their holiday trailers in our yard and most importantly, we told them to bring their wives and children to come spend time in the same conditions that my family and I have been forced to live in for the past 18 months. Unsurprisingly, Baytex Energy has refused this generous offer on a number of occasions. They tell me the emissions are “within regulations” and they tell me we’re fine to breathe the air but when it comes time to put their loved ones in the same situation they expect my family to live in, they have nothing to say.

As disappointed as I am with both Baytex Energy and our Alberta Government, I’m not lobbying to have them removed from our area or to deny them access to drill nor do I wish to deny Baytex Energy employees a living. I just want to be able to safely return to my home.

I simply ask Baytex Energy to clean up its act, keep their emissions contained in a closed system and to provide all of us with a community in which we can breathe freely.

I know my family is not the only one being affected by these emissions. The fact that we left our farm due to health concerns is hardly a secret and neighbours are now calling us to ask about their own constant symptoms and looking for some kind of help. With that in mind, we’ve launched this website, www.StopBaytex.ca, as well as a Facebook page. We will be a resource where affected residents can share their concerns and have their voices heard. Baytex Energy has crews working throughout Alberta, as well as in BC, Saskatchewan and even North Dakota and I refuse to believe that our community is the only one impacted by unsafe conditions. Share this article with friends and family members that may have similar concerns and let’s create one unified voice that will be impossible to ignore.

Karla Labrecque
Peace River, Alberta

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