A study done by researchers from Harvard and Northeastern University showed air quality indicators were reporting off the chart levels of H2S gas in southeastern Saskatchewan, and there was no action taken by the provincial government. The readings were gathered by the researchers who were working with a collaboration of journalists from various outlets across Canada, and the University of Regina.
The reports and findings presented by the group showed the provincial air quality standards had been breached multiple times since 2014, and no action was taken by the provincial government in response. This includes penalties for companies who are responsible for the emissions.
In a written reply to Discover Weyburn’s questions about the report and the province’s response, the Ministry of Energy and Resources didn’t directly provide a response when asked about the government’s reaction or position to the report. The reply did highlight the province has made a number of steps to strengthen oversight of sour gas management, including increasing inspections, collection gas composition data, increasing staffing levels and funding of air monitoring stations.
H2S is also known as sour gas or hydrogen sulphide. It is a colourless, poisonous gas which is found commonly around crude oil and natural gas production sites. It can be fatal when inhaled. The report presented last week in the media indicated high levels of the gas were found in many areas, which does provide an immediate health risk to some residents of southeastern Saskatchewan.
The statement from the province indicated there had been no need to issue any notices to residents of the air quality reaching critical levels, as the regional air quality levels didn’t reach the point where they would pose a risk to public health and safety. They did state they took action where there were high levels of the gas, and followed up on public complaints related to odours of the gas.
In order to operate a well or facility in Saskatchewan, a company needs to have an emergency response plan in place, which puts the onus on the operator to take steps to notify those at risk of an incident, and to protect safety in the immediate area of the incident, including contacting the Ministry of Energy and Resources when there is an uncontrolled release of sour gas.
While the report from the researchers last week stated there were cases of levels of the gasses high enough to cause corrosion to various items, there were no incident reports available from the individual companies according to the researchers. The province, which monitors incidents to make sure they are dealt with by the operator, said there has been no need for prosecution under The Oil and Gas Conservation Act for failure to follow the reporting procedures. There was no clarification if any companies had their licenses suspended for not following procedure.
In their statement to Discover Weyburn, the government highlighted the regulatory staff respond to all sour gas complaints on a 24/7 basis, and the cases are investigated and corrective actions ordered when necessary, with a commitment to keeping public safety as the number one priority.
No officials from the Ministry of Energy and Resources were available for an interview to clarify or elaborate on any of the responses received in the written statement.