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6 Tuesday September 1 2015 INDUSTRY OIL GAS By MEAGAN WOHLBERG Bitumen in the Peace River region of Al- berta is no more odorous than oilsands in other parts of the province though the ex- traction methods that involve heating could be responsible for the overabundant com- plaints about air quality in the region ac- cording to researchers. A recent study by the Alberta Geological Survey AGS which looked into the geology and chemistry of the petroleum at four spe- cic sites in the Peace River region found no evidence that location has anything to do with the odours complained about by residents. No trend is observed to indicate that oils from the Peace River Oilsands area emit greater reduced sulphur compounds RSCs or volatile organic compounds VOCs than thoseinotheroilsandsareasthereportstates. The investigation was launched in response to recommendations made last year during a public review into complaints around emis- sions and odours in the Peace River region. Landowners near oilsands facilities which are scattered throughout the region have complained for years of headaches nausea nosebleeds respiratory problems and other health impacts that they attribute to emis- sions from nearby oil tanks. Several house- holds have since relocated abandoning their farmland due to health concerns related to possible emissions. The Peace River oilsands area differs from the Athabasca region in that the bitumen de- posits are unable to be mined through con- ventional processes. Instead much of the Peace River oil is extracted through Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand CHOPS a process that pumps thick bitumen out of the ground similar to how a grain elevator uses an auger. Once at the surface the oil must be heated to 70-80 degrees in 1000-barrel capacity tanks to allow the sand to sink down. The bitumen is then transferred by truck to the main plant for further renement. While there is nothing in terms of geology or chemistry that points to the four Peace River oilsands sites as being more odorous than other areas geologists say the heating process could be a factor in the strong odours surroundingresidentssaytheyveexperienced. The conclusion was that the increased odours and emissions from these compounds is more related to the depth and type of oil and the heating of the oil as opposed to any of those specic locations said Shar Anderson a geologist with AGS and one of the authors of the study. Anderson said bitumen is heavier than oil located deep underground and has been exposed to environmental factors that are causing it to biodegrade. While a small amount of bitumen was taken from the Athabasca and Cold Lake oilsands areas Anderson said the sample set wasnt large enough to make any comparisons be- tween oil in the Peace River area as a whole to deposits elsewhere in the province. But with this new data available to the public she said other researchers can con- tinue on with the work to assess variations in odour and emissions across the province. This study is one piece of the puzzle she said. There really wasnt any geochemi- cal data with respect to RCSs and VOCs so weve added that data and made it public... Its a stepping stone. New regulations around gas emissions The Alberta Energy Regulator AER es- tablished new regulations around gas vent- ing from the oil tanks as a result of last years investigation into odours and emissions in the Peace River area. As of August 2014 a key new directive requires all Peace River heavy oil and bitu- men operators to capture and either flare incinerate or conserve all solution gas from their tanks. Since these changes came into effect monitoring stations...have shown that total concentrations of hydrocarbons in the air have decreased and routine venting of so- lution gas...has been virtually eliminated according to an update from AER in July. That said an unannounced inspection sweep in June found 16 sites were in non- compliance with the directive. Those sites were operations approved prior to May 2014 when a requirement was made that all new tanks had to be shut in and all gases cap- tured. An investigation is now underway into the noncompliance. The AER has also developed draft require- ments for fugitive emissions inspections leak repairs and reporting that are expected to be released this fall along with a report on new technology that can reduce odours and emissions during the trucking and un- loading process. The regulator estimates that 95 per cent of gases will be conserved by Sep- tember 2018. Peace River oilsands odours linked to heating not location geology report PhotoJean-PhilippeMarquis ENVIRONMENT WILDFIRES By CRAIG GILBERT Less costly but no less dangerous the 2015 re season is petering down at last. EnvironmentandNaturalResourcesMinis- ter Michael Miltenberger said Friday Aug. 28 that this season kept alive by about 44 res still burning across the Northwest Territo- ries feels like a sigh of relief after last years record-setting monster season. This year we were able to not only take care of our business but help out other juris- dictions as they helped us last year when our backs were against the wall he said. Last year we were stretched to the limit. We had help from every other jurisdiction in Canada and some states. This year our re season has been modest enough that weve been able to send some of our highly skilled folks down to the northern States where there are res threatening close to the border. The big news of course is no news no major loss of property and no casualties. There was one close call in Hay River where a few resi- dents faced a re at the doorstep and were evacuated briey from their homes. Iwouldberemissnottopointouthowwell- servedwevebeenbythemenandwomenwho ght res and put themselves in harms way to protect us during the re season the Theba- chaMLAsaid.Thisyeartheweathercooper- atedbuttheyrestillhereanddoingtheirjobs. The fire season has cost 33 million and destroyed 662000 hectares of forest so far a far cry from the 3.4 million hectares lost and 60 million spent in 2014 but still the second-largest season on record. Whats worse anything saved so to speak this fire season will be more than swal- lowed up by the 28 million-and-counting hydro shortfall mounting as the Territo- ries parched rivers are too low to turn the turbines. So we have all these extra diesel costs and the broader issue of course is climate change he said. In normal circumstances precipitation falls in patterns you can count on and theres a certain range where the climate responds. That for the most part no longer exists so you never know what to ex- pect and were all paying a big price. Fires start earlier they burn hotter they last lon- ger and they move faster. Information on current re conditions is available online at nwt-re-map. 2015 fire season sigh of relief after last years record-breaker PhotocourtesyofENR Oil tanks are used to heat bitumen extracted through Cold Heavy Oil Production near Peace River in northern Alberta where residents have complained of odours and emissions. A re near Reid Lake located northeast of Yellowknife forced the evacuation of a campground and cabin owners in early August.