FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Oct. 30, 2017
QUEEN’S PARK – Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett was told home owners displaced due to a gas leak won’t be receiving compensation for property damage and any long-term health effects from the province.
On Wednesday, Barrett asked Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Kathryn McGarry about the situation of Ian and Kim Grant, who have been struggling with hydrogen sulphide leaking from an abandoned gas well. It caused their evacuation, along with five other families, in late August.
The Grants, who run a home-based business, are looking for compensation to cover business losses, damage to equipment and displacement from their home. Barrett first brought up the matter during Question Period that day, but was not satisfied with the answer he received.
As a result, Barrett was given the opportunity to raise further questions of the minister during the evening session.
“Will Norfolk County be compensated for their municipal time and resources to deal with this,” he said. “Will the Grants, Ian and Kim, be compensated by the province for loss of business, damage to their property and equipment? And I raise the issue of any long-term health impact on this couple. Again, we ask what the MNRF is doing to ensure this situation doesn’t keep occurring as it has for so long over the number of years.”
McGarry answered that emergency management is the responsibility of the municipality and there was a program for landowners to pay for the cost of well capping.
“I understand the Grants had requested compensation for their situation, particularly cost-recovery for the business in the area, but unfortunately, Speaker, my ministry is not able to pay for municipal costs or the economic losses,” the Minister said.
For more information, contact MPP Toby Barrett at 519-428-0446 or [email protected]
Mr. Toby Barrett: Thank you, Speaker. I appreciate this extra time to expand on some questions that I previously raised with respect to compensation for natural gas well damage down in Norfolk County.
It was back in September 2015 that I met with Ian and Kim Grant from my constituency. They run a home decor business out of their residence in the Silver Hill area. In March 2015, the Grants were notified that a Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry natural gas relief well along Big Creek had been capped. The Grants were advised that this relief well was releasing toxic water with high levels of hydrogen sulphide into Big Creek and had to be capped.
I’m told that this well had been capped back in the 1960s, with other developments that caused them to reopen the well at some time in the past. I feel that MNRF believed that further issues could potentially occur.
My office contacted the minister’s office and contacted the petroleum operations office. MNRF was aware of the situation and assured my office and assured the Grants that they would be monitoring pressure buildup. In June of this year, the well located on the Grants’ property—this is another well—plus another well in the area began to spew heavy amounts of hydrogen sulphide into the air, and sulphur water spilled onto their property and into Big Creek.
As a result of an action by the MNRF, in my view, the Grants, along with five other families in the area, were ordered by the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit to vacate their primary residences on August 18, 2017, due to the fluctuating, unpredictable concentrations of hydrogen sulphide. As well, another 16 families in the area were put on alert. There was an order from Dr. Malcolm Lock, our acting medical officer of health, and I’ll quote from the order: “The medical officer of health for Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit has determined that the fluctuating and unpredictable concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas … which are escaping from an abandoned gas well, have been measured in the ambient air to reach levels above what is considered safe for human health.”
As of today, both wells have been capped but, again, only after the county stepped in and the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit stepped in and called on the government to do something.
Norfolk County Mayor Charlie Luke wrote an urgent letter on August 31 to the Premier and to the minister, and I quote, “The MNRF is not fulfilling its statutory obligations to the residents of Norfolk county. The MNRF is not sharing data in any forthright manner and taking a narrow legalistic approach with respect to both expenditures and public safety in relation to well number T008725. Section 7.0.1 of the Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Act provides an MNRF inspector with the authority to order a well to be capped where it poses a hazard to the public or environment. Inexplicably, this has not occurred, notwithstanding the fact six residences have been ordered evacuated by the medical officer of health.”
That’s the end of that letter, August 31.
It’s certainly been covered by local media. Norfolk Today had an article titled, “Gas Leak Causes Nightmare of a Situation for Local Family.” That was September 23. In the Simcoe Reformer, August 28, I quote, “Evacuation Of Homes Could Prove Lengthy.” The people who were evacuated didn’t return for something like 133 days. I’ll have to check the number on that. That’s quite a long time, obviously. The Spectator covered this.
Again, to summarize my questions earlier: Will Norfolk county be compensated for their municipal time and resources to deal with this? Will the Grants, Ian and Kim, be compensated by the province for loss of business, damage to their property and equipment? And I raise the issue of any long-term health impact on this couple. Again, we ask what the MNRF is doing to ensure this situation doesn’t keep occurring as it has for so long over the number of years.
We know there’s a precedent for compensation in situations like this, and again, if it’s required, we request that compensation be forthcoming.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry has five minutes.
Hon. Kathryn McGarry: Thank you, Speaker. It’s my pleasure to rise this evening and discuss the member from Haldimand–Norfolk’s concern that he raised earlier today. I would like to reiterate that public health and safety is extremely important to our government. Any time a family is evacuated from their home or impacted by situations that are beyond their control, it can be extremely distressing, and I certainly understand that.
This is one of the reasons why my ministry has taken steps to solve these problems related to the management of petroleum gas wells in our province. In the coming months, my ministry will be reaching out to municipalities to discuss planning and emergency management scenarios related to petroleum hazards and risks. The education and outreach work will help clarify roles and responsibilities, and it will also allow the municipalities, whose main responsibility it is, to plan ahead by better understanding these risks.
However, that was still not enough for my ministry. More research does need to be done before we take a course of action, which is why we have also assembled a multi-ministry technical team to help us better understand the geology and subsurface gases in southwestern Ontario.
Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, municipalities are responsible for emergency management within their geographic areas. The Ontario government is responsible for emergency management on crown land and unorganized municipalities.
There have been incidents involving leaking or old petroleum wells, improperly abandoned wells or contaminated water wells in southwestern Ontario, located in the Norfolk, Leamington, Port Burwell and Big Creek areas. If a leak occurs, the local municipality can choose to initiate an emergency, the local health unit can issue evacuation orders, and our ministry can provide technical advice to support the municipality and the health unit. In all petroleum-related situations, my ministry works with the municipality and the local health unit by providing technical advice and support.
So I’d like to reiterate, once again, that it’s the local municipal government that has the primary responsibility for incident and emergency management. However, in certain circumstances my ministry can assist landowners, through our Abandoned Works Program, for high-priority wells. This is something I want to elaborate more on.
The Abandoned Works Program is meant to assist landowners with costs associated with legacy wells on their property that they were not commercially responsible for. MNRF treats each request on a case-by-case basis, and in limited cases assists the landowner with the costs of plugging a leaking well. These decisions are made based on the risks to public safety and degree of environmental contamination. However, let me be clear: The landowner is ultimately responsible for wells on their private property.
In the situation referenced earlier, my ministry came in under the Abandoned Works Program and capped the well in question. I’m happy to explain the steps.
In 2015, three visits by my ministry indicated that H2S readings varied between 0 and 17 parts per million, depending on weather conditions and measurement distances.
On July 18, 2016, I sent Mr. Grant and the member’s office a letter and a report from Matrix.
In July 2017, Mr. Grant informed the MOECC of a change in the status of his well.
An inspector was sent to reassess the site on July 26, 2017, and as a result of that visit, the Grants were notified the next day that MNRF would immediately start the process to plug the well under the Abandoned Works Program.
Under this program, the first step in the process of plugging the well includes tendering the project with qualified vendors and the creation of a contract between the landowner and the contractor.
I want to highlight the fact that my ministry expedited the tendering process significantly in this situation, and the cost associated was $200,000. Speaker, we can all agree that’s a lot of money, so let’s be clear here: Without this program, Ian and Kim Grant, the private landowners, would have normally been responsible for those costs.
I understand the Grants had requested compensation for their situation, particularly cost-recovery for the business in the area, but unfortunately, Speaker, my ministry is not able to pay for municipal costs or the economic losses. However, we did step forward, we saved the landowner over $200,000, and we have capped the well, so that their health and safety will be assured from there forward.