EUB completes seven-year overhaul of sour gas regulatory regime
The release of a final report on Public Safety and Sour Gas marks the completion by Alberta's Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) of a historic seven-year initiative that has completely overhauled the regulatory regime governing sour gas development in Alberta. The report documents how the 87 recommendations of the EUB's Public Safety and Sour Gas (PSSG) independent committee have been addressed.
The PSSG initiative was established in January 2000 to review and assess the province's regulatory regime as it related to health and safety. After nearly a year of conducting research and gathering information, the committee presented its 87 recommendations to the EUB in December 2000. The recommendations dealt with promoting a better understanding of sour gas, improving the sour gas regulatory system, reducing the impacts of sour gas on public health and safety, and improving public consultation on sour gas matters. Sour gas refers to natural gas containing naturally-occurring hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a compound toxic to humans and animals at very low levels and easily recognized by its "rotten egg" odour.
The report groups the recommendations under the headings of health effects and sour gas research; sour gas development planning and approval; sour gas operations; emergency preparedness; and information, communications and consultation. A final section discusses sustainability and performance measures.
In implementing the recommendations, the EUB reports that it has, among other things:
1. toughened the rules relating to compliance and enforcement for sour gas development;
2. assisted in the development of comprehensive health effects information around H2S exposure;
3. improved co-ordinated planning for sour gas development in both rural and urban areas;
4. initiated an extensive upfront technical review of all critical sour gas well applications and a 100% inspection rate for critical sour wells while drilling;
5. launched a customer contact centre staffed by EUB personnel to answer public questions;
6. tightened regulations around sour gas pipelines regarding inspections and testing;
7. created a public safety group consisting of a community and Aboriginal relations section to increase consultation and understanding, and an emergency planning and assessment section dealing with emergency response;
8. upgraded the EUB's air monitoring unit to state-of-the art specifications and purchased a second unit. These units utilize infrared cameras that can detect volatile organic compounds.
The EUB has also changed regulations so landowners are consulted earlier and more comprehensively than ever before by companies proposing sour gas development in their area. A specific initiative in this area included the creation of a landowner's guide listing 40 questions the public has the right to have answered.
As a result of studies done by Alberta's Health and Wellness Department, the EUB reduced the emergency evacuation level for H2S from 20 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm. Modifications to the EUB's inspection priority system have increased the inspection frequency for existing sour gas facilities, and complaint response and investigation has been made one of the highest priorities of the EUB's field surveillance group. All complaints are investigated and follow-up visits to complainants are made upon request once the complaint has been investigated, says the report.
There are over 6,000 sour gas wells, approximately 250 sour gas processing plants and over 18,000 km of operating sour gas pipelines in Alberta. In 2006, sour gas accounted for over 33% of Alberta's annual natural gas production (1.6 trillion cubic feet).
The Public Safety and Sour Gas final report may be viewed on the EUB Web site, www.eub.ca.