Metres away from homes and businesses, Kaiser Exploration Ltd. could drill as early as April

A lot of people know what a pain bad neighbours can be.

Constant noise, lights, and activity can be an annoyance for any community. Residents of Calgary’ s Royal Oak community are concerned they will soon be welcoming one of these neighbours, but one far less conventional than the usual party-hardy crowd.

On Dec. 20, 2011 Kaiser Exploration Ltd., was issued a license by the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) to drill a sweet-oil well approximately half a kilometre from the nearest residence, and 250 metres behind the Royal Oak Shopping Centre at 85th street and Country Hills Boulevard in the city’s northwest.

According to Kara Tobin, a spokesperson for ERCB, there are currently 16 producing oil wells within Calgary city limits.

What is sweet oil?

Bob Curran, ERCB spokesman, said, “If we feel any well is going to present an unacceptable risk to any community, individual or the environment we would not approve it.”

He explained that when oil is referred to as ‘sweet’ it means the oil is free of hydrogen sulfide, which is more commonly known as sour gas, which is a dangerous and deadly substance.

“Sweet-oil-well risk factors are extremely low. If there was a spill, no dangerous fumes could come off of that,” Curran added.A vacant field located directly behind the Royal Oak Wal-Mart is where Kasier Exploration Ltd., plans to begin drilling for sweet oil sometime this year.
Photo by Gina Iaquinta

Impact on the community

Ned Beattie, Kaiser general manager, said he doesn’t see this project being a risk to the community.

“We did a risk assessment where we tried to figure out if everything went wrong and we lost control, and had uncontrolled flow of oil and gas, what would the impact be, and how far would it extend?”

He said his company found that if an incident ever occurred, it would stay contained within the six-acre well site and not affect the nearby community.

If there was an oil spill or fire on site, a resident would have to be within 10 metres of the lease area to be considered at risk, Beattie said.

Residents concerned

Despite reassurances from ERCB and Kaiser, Royal Oak resident Don McKinnon said he’s never seen a clean, odour-free oil well.

McKinnon said his grandchildren live very close to the drill site, and that he is concerned for their safety.

“It’s nothing against the oil and gas industry, but this kind of stuff doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard.”

“There’s always going to be some spillage, and it’s not pleasant,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon has been an oil and gas auditor for 16 years, and has 46 years of experience in the industry.

The large drilling rig will be located directly behind the Royal Oak Wal-Mart.

“We’ll hear diesel engines running aloud to conduct operation 24 hours, seven days a week,” he said — not to mention the huge, high-powered lights on the oil rig that will be shining throughout the night.

However, Beattie said the diesel generator and lights would only be used during the drilling period, which would last between 10 days to three weeks. After this initial period, he said the well would be relatively silent, and may have a street light on site, similar to the ones lining 85th Street.

As well, he added that the site would have very little impact on the aesthetic of the area.

The site “is not visible for most of the residents,” Beattie explained. “It’s completely shielded from view by the Wal-Mart, the Royal Oak Shopping Centre, and the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre from the west.”

Calgary MLA shares in concern

MLA Lindsay Blackett says he was surprised to find out about plans for the sweet-oil well to be drilled so close to the Royal Oak community.

“I thought: we have so much land all over Alberta, do we really have to do it so close to a residential community?” he said.

He said although ERCB has let Kaiser go ahead, their regulations are for rural, not urban Alberta.

“It’s amazing we don’t put public safety and residents’ concerns above public profit,” Blackett said.

“We all support oil and gas, but at some point you have to step back and say ‘hold on, do we have to do this right here.’”

Dawn Stewart, another resident of Royal Oak, is also concerned. “I think they could find a different place,” she said.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, and I think this is a prime example.”

Stewart said Blackett has been a huge help in getting involved with concerned residents.

What’s next?

McKinnon said that a small group of people in the community have come together in efforts to put pressure on the government to have the well relocated or even cancelled.

However, he added that the City of Calgary is unable to intervene in the issue, as the site is on Crown land, making it a provincial government issue.

And according to Stewart, the Royal Oak community association is just beginning to get involved due to a number of complaints they have been receiving from residents.

Spearheaded by concerned residents, and with help from both the Royal Oak community association and Rocky Ridge Homeowners Association, a meeting has been set for Feb. 11, 2012.

It is hoped that all parties, including representatives from Kaiser will attend so that everything can be put out on the table, Stewart said.

For now, McKinnon explained that although Kaiser has a drilling license, they are still waiting for the approval of a surface lease license in order to begin drilling.

Once Kaiser has been granted a surface lease license from the surface lease owner, he said drilling is expected to being anytime from April to September of this year.

For more information visit the Rocky Ridge Royal Oak community association.

giaquinta@cjournal.ca