Regina – Sitting in a lecture theatre on Oct. 4, watching a University of Regina School of Journalism student film called Crude Power – An investigation into oil, money and influence in Saskatchewan, I had several realizations. You can find it here.
First of all, my heart rate was up the whole time. Wearing a jacket with “Pipeline News” emblazoned on my back, and sitting in the front, I was likely the only visible presence there, from the oilpatch, except for Norm Sacuta from the Petroleum Technology Research Centre. He was one of four panelists who spoke after the 47-minute film, as an industry representative. No oil company was willing to send someone, apparently.
The film was well put-together, and raised some very harsh questions, but it was also obviously slanted against the oilpatch. For instance, in its portion of hydrogen sulphide(H2S) venting, it failed to mention that for those working in the oilpatch, H2S Alive training is a condition of employment. How you can do a piece on H2S and NOT mention it? That, to me, is either a gross oversight or deliberate exclusion. And since I know for certain they spoke to someone who is very familiar with the program, I’m leaning towards deliberate exclusion.
The film spoke of four areas: “Fire” – the influence of oil in Saskatchewan, speaking to people around Estevan, “Air” – H2S venting and flaring and its negative impacts, including a fatality, “Water” – the Husky spill into the North Saskatchewan River in the summer of 2016, and how it affected the James Smith Cree Nation, and “Earth” – concerns at Thunderchild First Nation about infringements onto sacred land, and a farmer’s decades long struggle with oil companies and their contamination of his land.
The film was not kind to the oil industry.
In a lecture theatre on the U of R campus, filled with students and family members of the students, as well some of those in the film, it wasn’t surprising to hear the harrumphs, missive comments and gasps at the expected times during the film. Revelations of the statistics – almost exclusively without context – made the oilpatch sound like the devil’s afoot on the prairie. The reactions were in tune with that.
Having spent the whole week speaking to people about this journalistic endeavour, and many times sharing in the outrage from the oilpatch’s perspective, I realized something. We, in our insular world of the oilpatch, may feel items like this film are indicative that the world is against us. They just don’t get it.
And in many cases, they don’t. Those spill counts imply nothing is cleaned up, or how most of those spills are inconsequential. In the case of the pipeline spill, while an atrocious event, the pipeline failure itself was a result of ground slumpage on a river valley. That wasn’t referenced in the film. But the way Husky dealt with James Smith Cree Nation is inexcusable.
We, as an industry, have to realize that this is the world we live in now. It really doesn’t matter what we think. We cannot allow these things to happen anymore, because we now live in a zero tolerance society. There is no more expectation of leniency, or that “things happen.”
When it comes to H2S, this may mean that in some instances, flarestacks, particularly at batteries, may need to go the way of the dodo bird. We know they are not getting it all, especially in high winds. Perhaps oil companies will have to buck up and spend the money on incinerators, which are much more efficient than flare stacks. I spoke to someone much smarter than me who said that’s exactly what he thinks.
My kids should not be smelling H2S in the back seat of my SUV when we drive down Highway 18. No one should.
Nine years ago, when we were looking at houses in moving to Estevan, I considered a farmyard near Bienfait that was for sale. But there were sour wells just across the road, and I did not want to run the risk, no matter how slight, of that affecting my family.
One of the comments on this topic on our Facebook page said, “I have worked in this industry for many years. Last year my buddy and his six-year-old son were gassed in their yard. The government gave the company a slap on the wrist and that well to this day stinks. A man died here people. How the f do you defend that?”
There is no defence of that.
As for Shirley Galloway, who was the lead interview in the Toronto Star’s piece, I have seen the viciousness of backlash come at her from all sides. It became apparent the student film was spot on when it came to community backlash.
We can’t let these things slide. The greater public has no tolerance for it, and neither should we. After all, we live here.
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.See related stories:
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