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Ever since a sour gas leak at an EnCana well site occurred more than a year ago, the Peace Environment & Safety Trustees Society has been trying to lobby different ministries to hold an inquiry into the health risks associated with the oil and gas industry.

After garnering support from several groups across the Peace Region and B.C. the Society sent a letter on Monday to the province’s Minister of Health Colin Hansen to hold an inquiry under the Public Health Act.

When a sour gas leak at an EnCana well site near Pouce Coupe first occurred in November 2009, the Society sent a letter to the Minister of Energy asking for an inquiry, says Society member Lois Hill speaking on Issues and Answers. Hill says it took several months to get a reply, which simply said the Society should trust the outcome of the Oil and Gas Commission’s investigation into the incident. However, she says the OGC commissioner told the group that the OGC had no ability to investigate health concerns.

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Since the new Oil and Gas Activities Act came into effect in the fall of 2010, it does not address some of the main health concerns regarding oil and gas activities, says Tim Thielmann, the Society’s lawyer.

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Thielmann says there is a need for set standards for the oil and gas industry, instead of simply reviewing each facility permit as if it is an isolated item. He also says health authorities have wanted to become involved with preparing emergency management plans, since they are the ones that have to deal with the potential consequences to someone’s health.

One of the biggest problems, Hill says, is that oil and gas companies are only required to notify land owners of how much dust and noise there might be, along with how a facility may affect their quality of life and not the potential health risks or hazards. Despite the current regulations and a former lack of knowledge about the potential hazards, she says there is a growing awareness of the risks.

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Ultimately, Hill says the Society’s goal is to have the Health Ministry take a more active role in regulating the industry and to use some of the revenue it receives from the industry to work effectively to protect residents’ health.

A full copy of the letter to the Minister of Health can be viewed below.

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