Families hope new video will help fight bitumen extraction

A court injunction has been filed to force a controversial heavy oil extraction facility in the Peace Country to shut down. Several families in the area have complained about mysterious health problems after the facility opened.

Complaints of health problems prompts injunction to close Baytex Energy's Peace Country facility

New video reveals oilsands emissions invisible to human eye. 1:57

A court injunction has been filed to force a controversial heavy oil extraction facility in the Peace Country to shut down.

As CBC News first reported, several families in the area have complained about mysterious health problems after the facility opened. 

Mike Labrecque says he has to wear a gas mask when he visits his Peace Country property, which he moved out of two years ago. (CBC)
The Baytex Energy site employs a relatively new process of extracting bitumen from beneath the ground called Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand, or CHOPS. Heavy oil  is pumped from the ground and stored in heated tanks which produce emissions that form an aerosol-type plume.

Some families have left the area, claiming that the emissions have caused various health problems. Mike Labrecque moved away from his property two years ago after he lost weight and had difficulty breathing. 

Labrecque and other families have filed an injunction to stop Baytex Energy from operating 86 vented bitumen storage tanks. The stop-work order would last eight months — enough time to add equipment to capture emissions.

Video was released this week showing emissions from the storage tanks not visible to the human eye. The infrared images were captured by an inspection team with the Alberta Energy Regulator, which visited the site between April and July.

"This is occurring at a time when Alberta and Canada and the industry are trying to send a message to the world — that oilsands can be developed responsibly. And the action of this company and the experience of these people says otherwise," said the families' lawyer, Keith Wilson.

Baytex insists it has improved the safety of its process. 

The injunction is expected to be heard in a Peace River courtroom in two weeks. Meanwhile, a public inquiry into CHOPS starts at the end of January.

with files from Kim Trynacity

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