Grande Prairie neighbours sour on natural gas deal

A sweet natural gas storage facility planned for a depleted reservoir on the outskirts of Grande Prairie, Alta. has struck a sour note with people who live over the site.

'The only choice I have, if I don't accept the risk, is to sell and move,' landowner says

Mike Partsch's home of 27 years sits over a depleted reservoir marked for a sweet natural gas storage facility. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

A sweet natural gas storage facility planned for a depleted reservoir on the outskirts of Grande Prairie, Alta. has struck a sour note with people who live over the site.

Mike Partsch bought an acreage outside the city nearly three decades ago. His property sits on the Dimsdale Paddy A reservoir, which was developed in the early 1900s.

Energy company Tidewater Midstream and Infrastructure Ltd. now wants to store sweet natural gas in the depleted reservoir, about 1,300 metres underground.

Partsch says he's weighing risks of the pending project with selling the home he built for his family in the '90s.

He worries about the potential of a gas leak, citing a massive four-month methane leak in California in 2015 and a nine-day gas fire in Prud'homme, Sask., in 2014.

"I'm feeling like we're being forced out," Partsch told CBC News. "We were here first. We've been here for 27 years.

"If I was making the decision at this point in time to move out here, I would be making the decision based on knowing that this facility is there, knowing what the risks are, and I was accepting it. But now, I'm not being given a choice.

"The only choice I have, if I don't accept the risk, is to sell and move."

Mike Partsch says he is unsatisfied with the concerns he has raised about a sweet natural gas storage facility in Grande Prairie. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

In a written statement to CBC News, Tidewater Midstream and Infrastructure Ltd. said the depleted reservoir is an ideal site for storage wells, a compression facility and a sales gas pipeline. 

"The geographic location for the Dimsdale project was based on the location of the depleted Dimsdale Paddy A reservoir and its superior ability to be converted into a world class storage reservoir," wrote David Barva, the company's vice president of legal and general counsel. 

"The specific location of the facility was chosen with consideration for nearby residents and stakeholders. The planned location minimizes the overall footprint of the project."

Tidewater Midstream and Infrastructure Ltd. employs about 300 people in Alberta and British Columbia. The project will help develop hydrocarbon resources in both provinces, Barva said.

"It is expected that the project will create significant tax dollars for the region," he said.

"Tidewater is committed to ongoing community and stakeholder engagement throughout the life of the project as we work to establish ourselves as a respected operator in the Grande Prairie area."

The project has been approved by the Alberta Energy Regulator.

Shelley Svetanova, an AER spokesperson, said the company must satisfy all safety requirements before it can forge ahead.

"Our primary concern at the Alberta Energy Regulator is that the development occurs in a safe, efficient and orderly fashion," Svetanova told CBC News.

"We encourage anyone who has a concern to file a statement of concern with us."

'We're going to take a hit'

Partsch has filed a statement of concern and attended numerous stakeholder meetings, but said he was not satisfied by the response.

"A stakeholder meeting, I was always under the assumption, was we would voice concerns, they would counter and we would talk and try and come up with resolution," Partsch said. "We're being told what they're going to do and that's what it is."

He raised his concerns at Grande Prairie city hall during an infrastructure and protective services committee meeting on Jan. 9, alongside two of his neighbours.

The growing city annexed their neighbourhood in 2017 and is amending its zoning bylaws to accommodate the new gas storage facility.

Coun. Clyde Blackburn said there is nothing the city can do to stop the project. 

"Those residents would have been in the same position, had the annexation not taken place," Blackburn said. "It's not really awkward for us as a city, though we do sympathize with the concerns that they have.

"These people are frustrated and they wanted to be able to raise their concerns with somebody. We are happy to provide a listening ear."

But Partsch said he doesn't feel heard.

He's preparing a formal request for an investigation by the Alberta Ombudsman, who responds to claims of unfair treatment by provincial government authorities and professional organizations.

Without intervention, Partsch said he and his neighbours will lose out regardless of whether they choose to leave or stay on their properties.

"I either live here with the fear every day that something could happen," he said, adding his other option is to sell the property.

If he chooses to sell, Partsch must disclose the planned sweet gas storage facility to potential buyers, which he said could decrease the value of homes in the neighbourhood.

"Our properties, our acreages that we bought, it's part of our retirement," he said.

"When we retire, we're going to sell, go someplace else and that's our nest egg. Now we're going to take a hit."



Zoe Todd

Video Journalist

Zoe Todd is a CBC video journalist based in Alberta, filing videos and stories for web, radio and TV.