(Editor's Note: this is the first in a series of several related stories on H2S in Southeast Saskatchewan. Additional stories will be posted at pipelinenews.ca in the coming days)
Oxbow – Shirley Galloway of Oxbow, was the lead interviewee in the opening piece on a series of stories on the Saskatchewan oilpatch done by a collaboration of the Toronto Star, Global News, National Observer, and journalism schools at the University of Regina, Ryerson University, Concordia University and University of British Columbia.
She has had a string of serious concerns about oilfield operations near and around Oxbow, describing continuing issues with poisonous H2S and a serious incident in her own yard in 2012. She’s seen continual conflict during the past five years, and has had frustration with both the companies operating there, and the government’s enforcement of its regulatory obligations. A senior health, safety and environment (HSE) consultant, Galloway has offered training in H2S Alive for many years, and is quite familiar with the topic. Here are her words on the matter, by way of email, on Oct. 11, 2017.
Pipeline News: Just what exactly has been going on around Oxbow and area over these recent years? What happened in 2012?
Shirley Galloway: A family member was exiting their vehicle. When they opened the door, they were exposed to H2S gas. They vomited almost immediately and experienced burning eyes and throat. I went outside and was immediately confronted with a strong H2S smell. I brought them inside and retrieved my four-head monitor. It alarmed out at 100 ppm. This was the second time that this particular facility, which was three per cent sour, vented H2S and had affected someone. The previous occurrence was a few weeks prior on the road as this person was driving by. They, too, had vomited. It took almost three hours to finally find out and contact the owner of the facility. There was no available ERP number. After I had notified the Ministry, I received a very terse email from one of the owners of that facility stating that “I ruined their family because you reported this to the regulator.”
The Ministry investigated and found that this facility was out of compliance and I believe it was shut in. It is now repaired and we have had no further issues from this facility. It took almost two years, but it is now operating as far as I am aware, in compliance.
The Ministry underwent a series of inspections and found that over 70 per cent of facilities were operating out of compliance and were leaking dangerous levels of H2S. This was, and still should be, very concerning to everyone. The South East Sask Airshed has been monitoring air quality. Several years ago, Glen Ewen had exceedances of H2S and particulate matter for more than half of the months. Wauchope presently has far too many days where the air quality does not meet the provincial standards. How is this ok, when children are living in these environments? We, as people who live in these communities regardless of where you earn your living, should be concerned that the government is not enforcing regulations.
When I asked the regulator why they were not enforcing the regulations, he looked directly at me and stated, “I can enforce the regulations, or I can eat.” Again, that should concern every person in this province.
P.N.: Understanding that you are trained as a nurse practitioner, and an H2S Alive instructor, did you take your family member to the hospital, or call an ambulance, at that time?
Galloway: They sought medical attention after I gave initial treatment.
P.N.: What efforts have you made since then to resolve this matter? What has been the response of the oil companies, and of government?
Galloway: As noted above, I received a terse email. When I spoke with the CEO of the operating company of this facility, he was very annoyed that I had reported this. Not once did he ask about the health of the person who inhaled the H2S. The best he could come up with was “Well, tanks vent you know.”
The government has responded in random and incomplete ways. They have been quite secretive. The Ministry has kept many things hidden about the scope of non-compliance and sour gas/particulate matter emissions. They have fired good people because they wanted to resolve issues. Through an access to information request, I have evidence that the government knew about many problems, but did not act. They are not allowing the regulators to do their jobs. The executive director of the Petroleum and Gas Division asked me directly why I would have moved to Oxbow if I did not like oil and gas. My response was simple and twofold: “When I moved here 22 years ago, it was not like this. And I never said that I did not like oil and gas. I am very pro ‘RESPONSIBLE’ industry. However, this government cares not for the health and safety of the public at large. They are not promoting responsible development.” That is their attitude.
P.N.: Has there been any sort of resolution over this time?
Galloway: Yes, with the particular well noted above. However, I have had many people come forward to me with their concerns about H2S around their homes and in the town itself. People are concerned about all of the smoking flares. Directive S-20 states that a flare can only smoke for six minutes, and then it must be rectified. When a flare is smoking, it is emitting particulate matter that is extremely harmful to human health. One doctor I spoke with advised me that he has seen more cases of asthma and breathing problems in this area, than in most. Anecdotal? Perhaps. However, many people have stated to me that when they leave the area, their breathing improves. Minister Erhardt, who was also in the (Toronto Star) article, had to leave her home for 17 months in order to regain some of her lung function.
P.N.: How have you been treated by the community, and industry, since you’ve come forward with your concerns. We have heard unflattering things directed your way. Are you receiving backlash?
Galloway: From what I understand, there have been some not so nice comments; however, no one has spoken directly to me. I suppose it is easier for these people to attack from behind. I certainly am open to respectful and rational discussion. This is why others have not spoken up. One person I spoke to who works in the industry, has been made ill by the constant gas exposure. He will not speak up for this very reason. Another person who also works in the industry, was gassed in their own yard. This person spent several days in the hospital and does not want to speak up because the family is afraid of the backlash. He has gone to both the government and the oil company. They are trying to avoid the entire conversation.
I sometimes feel that thinking with a broad and reasonable perspective can be difficult. It is easier to judge. Not one person has asked me why I spoke about or what my views really are. I find it very difficult to understand why anyone can think that breathing in H2S gas and particulate matter is ok? It is not inherent to oil and gas operations. The chief scientist at CAPP stated much the same. He advised industry that there is no reason why there should be H2S or particulate matter being emitted into the atmosphere.
I am not an anti-oil Liberal. I truly believe we can have a robust oil and gas industry without jeopardizing the health, safety and wellbeing of the public, the environment or workers. I am concerned about public health. As a health professional and a health and safety specialist, I would be remiss not to come forward and point out that these emissions, which we know through scientific study are harmful to our lungs, our brains and our bodies. Children and the elderly are more vulnerable. Why would we all not advocate to do better?
On the upside, I have had numerous messages that support more transparency and accountability from this government. The people in the community of Carievale have many concerns. People are sick. A pipeline company CEO emailed me and applauded what the story stood for: Accountability from the government. He stated that Saskatchewan was an easy place to work, because no one checked if you were complying with any regulations.
Another person stated the following: “I am not so ashamed or dissatisfied with my life that I have to be mean and cruel to anyone. If I have an issue, I will speak to you, not about you. I am ashamed of how some of my colleagues have been behaving. Some of these people sit in my church reviewing scripture, yet they act like godless fools. Hypocritical. Just know that when they speak like that, I shut them down immediately. I have no problem with more government accountability. That is how we as an industry will improve. ”
P.N.: What needs to happen to make things right?
Galloway: The government needs to allow regulators to enforce the regulations. They need to work with industry to improve. Industry must operate in our communities with due care and attention and be responsible. They must follow the regulations. I work for several smaller oil companies and a few large ones who are concerned for the communities and people that live there; they follow the regulations and endeavour to make it healthy and safe for the public and their employees. So I know it can be done.
P.N.: Is there anything you would like to add?
Galloway: We can disagree on many things, but still be decent to one another. We can engage in intelligent, respectful conversations without being odious, contemptable or unsavoury. We do not have to bully, harass, threaten, slander or intimidate. That makes for poisoned and divided communities, which doesn’t do anyone any good. We all need to work together for the health of our families and our communities.
See related stories:
Craig Lothian responds to H2S concerns
What is going oin with H2S in Saskatchewan, from the ministry's perspective?