Alberta to move quickly on monitoring oilsands emissions in Peace Country

Alberta will move quickly to improve monitoring of emissions and odours in northwestern Alberta, says the province's environment minister.
Alberta Environment Minister Robin Campbell said the province will move quickly to monitor oilsands processing emissions in the Peace Country. (CBC)

Alberta will move quickly to improve monitoring of emissions and odours in northwestern Alberta, says the province's environment minister.

"We're looking at what we can do to bring together a protocol for odour emissions and once we have that in place — and we're comfortable that it's actually going to yield real results — we'll put that in place and start monitoring that," said Robin Campbell.

This follows a decision yesterday by Alberta's Energy regulator to accept all recommendations of a public inquiry into oilsands processing emissions that forced seven families from their Peace Country homes.

"I think it's important to us to move forward as quickly as we can," Campbell said.

The recommendations include ongoing monitoring of air quality for the region, developing a "smell test" to determine when something just smells bad and when it's harmful, and establishing an odour threshold.
Mark Roberts and his wife left their Peace Country home after their daughter was born in January. (Provided)

The seven families feel vindicated after a two-year fight.  

Mark Roberts and his wife were the last of the families to pick up stakes, moving out in January.

At first they were skeptical when he heard other families were abandoning their homes until his daughter was born in December, he said. 

"We came home in January and of course the emissions were there, but there was a hearing coming up that we were very optimistic about. 

"Unfortunately, we saw throughout the hearing, that it wasn't going to be a quick fix and for the sake and health of our baby girl we were not going to stick around and take the chance that we'd make her sick."

They asked their doctor what he thought they should do and he said, "Shut the doors, shut the windows and stay inside."

"My wife and I talked about it and thought there's no way we're going to live like that."

The family now lives in an apartment in Peace River and have no intention of moving back until they're assured the emissions have stopped. 

The families are now filing a court injunction against Baytex Energy to force them to shut down until the company can capture emissions from its processing sites.

Even if the emissions are controlled the families will not be able to move back to their homes right away 

In some cases, the houses will have to be decontaminated because the odours have penetrated the structure.

With files from CBC's Kim Trynacity