U of R showcases 'unprecedented' investigation into Sask. oil industry

A screening of the film Crude Power happens Wednesday at 7 p.m. CST at the University of Regina.

3 universities and a New York Times journalist partnered with journalism students

In Saskatchewan, both human and animal deaths have been linked to hydrogen sulphide emissions or sour gas. (CBC)

On Wednesday, members of the public are invited to view what a professor at the University of Regina's School of Journalism calls an "unprecedented" project for its students.

Called Crude Power, the film explores the province's relationship to oil companies and the impact resource extraction has on its people and land.

The documentary was created as part of an investigation into resource extraction in the province, which features research and storytelling from the students in partnerships with the Toronto Star, the National Observer and Global National, as well as three other universities.

Professor Trevor Grant acknowledges the oil industry has indeed benefited the province, but the the film looks at both sides of the issues.

"We look at government regulation, government coziness with the oil industry, a lack of regulations, self-regulated policies, companies that have perhaps skated away without due justice, but also very, very importantly the human consequences," Grant told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition on Wednesday.

'He just loves his land so much'

Master of journalism student Janelle Blakley was among those who worked on the project.

She examined the impact the industry has had on the land. Blakley told the story of a farmer living near the Saskatchewan-Alberta border.

"He just loves his land so much," she said.

"His farm's been in his family for 70 years and he's had oil companies on his land for 48 of those years. He understands the need to extract those resources, but he doesn't like what they're doing to his land. He just sees his land being destroyed in front of his eyes, and he really sees himself as a steward of this land and it's really important to him."

Government responds

Through an email statement to CBC News from newly-appointed Energy and Resources Minister Nancy Heppner, the province highlighted some of its effort to manage hydrogen sulphide emissions, or sour gas.

It points to the province's inspection of sour gas facilities and data collection, as well as more field inspectors and new cameras to detect potential leaks. 

"There has been a marked improvement in air quality in southeast Saskatchewan in terms of sour gas levels," said the statement.

"Air quality measurements consistently show that air quality standards are being met. The inspection activities by the Ministry confirm the sour gas management practices of industry operators have improved.

"It should be stressed that protecting the health and safety of Saskatchewan citizens is the number one priority for the Government of Saskatchewan, and we take this responsibility very seriously."

First-of-its-kind investigation 

"Crude Power looks at Saskatchewan's oil industry from four perspectives, revealing a powerful player that has few controls," reads a public invitation to the event on Facebook. (Crude Power: Oil, Money & Influence in Saskatchewan/Facebook)

Grant said with so many partners, this was a first-of-its-kind investigation for the school's journalism students.

He said it started when Patti Sonntag — a journalist from the New York Times, who ended up serving as a series producer — was awarded a Michener-Deacon Fellowship to investigate the resource extraction industry.

Grant said Sonntag got in touch with a professor from the University of Regina around the same time the journalism school was looking for a new investigation to take on.

He said collaborating with so many different news outlets and journalists on the project required some skill, but it was well worth any challenges.

Worth the work

"You imagine, as a journalist, having at your disposal 20 or 30 researchers plus national print magazines and national broadcast are all contributing research."

The film screening begins Wednesday at 7 p.m. CST at the University of Regina and will be followed by a panel discussion.

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition