Following complaints that industrial emissions were causing health problems in Peace Country, Baytex Energy and other companies involved in heavy oil operations are being told to make changes to the way their plants operate. 

The finding is contained in report prepared for the Alberta Energy Regulator and released Monday, based on hearings held into the issue last January.

The odours forced seven families to leave their homes near a Baytex plant after they suffered headaches, nausea and breathing problems.

Baytex has said the emissions have no effect, but the report has found that they “have the potential” to cause those kinds of problems.

Brian Labrecque, a landowner, is pleased with the recommendations and hopes that they are implemented. 

"I think it was clear to everyone that there are some very real issues here and some serious issues that need to be addressed and some regulatory gaps that need to be addressed," he said.

"And based on this report, I think it was recognized by the panel as well ... so I'm glad that they got the same message."  

Plants in the area use a process known as Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand or CHOPS where oil is pumped from the ground and stored in heated tanks, which in turn, produce emissions.

The panel found that any gas produced through CHOPS needs to be captured — the necessary technology must be in place within four months — and flaring should be reduced as much as possible.

Andrew Loosley, director of stakeholder relations with Baytex, says that his company has committed to doing or is already doing what panel has recommended

However, he says it may be a challenge to meet the four-month timeline. 

“Some of the Reno-area residents are still objecting to our efforts to install those vapour recovery units or our plan to move forward to address those issues," Loosley said. 

"We’re committed and progressing forward and plan to do our best efforts to meet those timelines.”

The panel also recommends that a “comprehensive and credible” regional air quality monitoring system be set up to study the link between CHOPS and people’s health.  

The panel found that the timing of complaints about odours aren’t always matched with air monitoring results.

The recommendations in the report are not binding. Officials at the AER will make a formal response in two weeks.