By Shari Narine
Sweetgrass Contributing Editor
FORT McKAY FIRST NATION
September 21, 2016.
A 257-page report is being lauded by First Nation leadership, the province and industry as an example of how partnership can result in changes.
On Wednesday morning, a report on longstanding air quality and odour issues was released in Fort McKay. The report was generated by complaints brought forward by Fort McKay First Nation leadership and residents, which numbered 172 complaints between January 2010 and December 2014. The review brought various provincial government departments, industry and the band council to the table over 18 months.
Chief Jim Boucher said the 17 recommendations contained within is only the first step in ensuring safe air quality and that residents had to remain patient while waiting for changes to be implemented. Odours and air quality have been identified since 1966, shortly after industry began operating in the region, as a health concern, he said.
Dr. Karen Grimsrud, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said hydrocarbon emissions were cause for concern.
“It’s the cumulative effects we need to look at rather than just the spikes that may require evacuation … but when you have accumulation of poor air quality, we want to better understand what the human health implications are,” she said.
Terry Abel, executive vice president with Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said industry took an active role in this report and would do what was necessary moving forward.
“Our industry and our members are 100 per cent committed to supporting all of the implementation associated with those recommendations. As an industry we are 100 per cent committed as a priority to protecting the health of our public and our good neighbours as well as our employees and that will be reflected in how we participate moving forward,” he said.
Abel stressed a number of recommendations that industry would set as priorities including providing funding to make changes necessary to monitoring systems to ensure they were adequate to meet emergency response needs; improving operations and developing best practises to deal with air quality and odour emissions; and developing a “deeper understanding” as to what the emission sources were.
While the report does not contain recommendations on reducing the emissions, Boucher was confident that would follow as the partners continued to work together.
“I believe that this exercise that we are about to undertake will identify what the sources of odours is, the type of odours and then we will determine thresholds and standards with respect to what is acceptable in this community … and then we will take action to ensure these problems are dealt with in an appropriate way,” said Boucher.
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said her government would make resources available even though funding has not been budgeted to implement the recommendations.
“Certainly there’s nothing more important than the health and safety of Albertans and that needs to be the driving factor here,” she said.
The report calls for the establishment of a Fort McKay odour and air quality task force to help implement the recommendations.
“The trust of community will be gained through demonstrated actions that can be monitored, regulated and ultimately experienced by the community members,” said Boucher.
He added that discussions are ongoing with the government and industry about water quality concerns.