Because of our print schedule, I’ve had to put together this issue of Grainews before we get into the field. That’s why I’m running this aerial photo of our farm from last year rather than photos of spring seeding action. We have been in the field, but as of May 1, but only to make sure we can run the new Case IH AccuTurn system. (It’s pretty slick.)
We like this photo of our farm. It includes our house and enough of the field behind the yard to give a good picture of where we live.
But what the aerial photo doesn’t show is the gas plant/battery site just down the road (looking at our farm photo, it would be to the left, in front). So, I’ve included a photo of the battery site that I took from our front lawn. It’s only fair to tell you that the battery site isn’t usually flaring as much as it was on the day I took this shot. Normally, it looks more like a regular industrial site than a potential emergency.
This is the Innes Gas Plant. It’s operated by the company now called Ridgeback Resources (after a few rounds of takeovers and name changes). Because the plant is within 1,600 m of our home, they’ve included us in part of their “Emergency Planning Zone.” (They said 1,100 m is their normal “hazard” zone, but they included us as a precaution.)
This morning, two men from Ridgeback brought a safety consultant to our house for a voluntary safety update. According to the consultant, if you live in the emergency planning zone, the Alberta government requires them to come by and make sure you know what to do if there’s a problem. Our Saskatchewan government doesn’t require this, he said, but the company decided to take extra steps.
The three men counted all the people and pets who live in our yard and gathered cellphone numbers for everyone old enough to have one. Then they left us with a couple of pamphlets outlining what to do if there’s a problem with the natural gas liquids, sulphur dioxide (S02) or hydrogen sulphide (H2S, or sour gas) at the battery site or in the pipelines leading to it. Reading the “potential health effects” in these pamphlets would make you think twice about living here.
Of course, we didn’t make a conscious decision to farm next to a sour gas pipeline. When my husband’s grandfather established this farm, any oil activity in the area was well to the south. When I moved here in 2002 there was barely any traffic at all in front of our house, let alone a gas collection site 1,600 m from the lawn. But bring on a few years of high-priced oil, combine it with a full survey of the Bakken oil formation, and things can change pretty quickly. For a few years, at peak prices, peak drilling and peak hauling, there was a steady stream of trucks hauling oil in front of our house. Now, the traffic is down to a dull roar and we’ve gotten used to using the battery site as a landmark when we give people directions to the farm.
It’s not all bad. This activity means local jobs, and it keeps a higher population in the area. Thanks to this we have lots of neighbours, good cellphone reception, restaurant options in Weyburn, and (recently) high-speed wireless internet. And we’re the first to admit that we can’t run this farm or live our lives without oil, whether it comes out of the ground here or somewhere else.
But it’s hard to pretend the view from the front step is as nice as it was before, and it causes concern when three men come by and hand you a pamphlet telling you which local hotel to evacuate to, if you have to drive away fast to escape a sour gas leak. However, when Ridgeback’s predecessor was deciding where to drill oil wells or where to put this battery site, nobody came by to see if it was alright with us.
I’m not impressed by B.C. politicians and protestors arguing that they don’t want oil running through in a pipeline in their pristine province. The pipeline full of sour gas on its way to this battery site is much closer to our house than an oil pipeline would be to most B.C. residents. Just like we need oil to run our tractors, they need energy to run their cars, busses, air conditioning and tourist boats. They might argue that their province is more beautiful, but I would refer them to the picture of the landscape behind our yard. If we’re all going to live in a country with a high standard of living, we’re all going to have to make some sacrifices.