As part of the Government’s effort to understand the potential hazards posed by oil and gas activity, Intrinsik has been contracted to undertake an assessment of the risks to human health as we daily encounter the drilling, flaring, transporting, and storage of these massive underground resources.
Essentially, the January 16 session was Intrinsik’s attempt to display the company as experienced, professionally staffed in the relevant areas, and capable of providing a credible report on March 31, 2014.
The team includes experts in toxicology and health risks, meteorology and air quality, human health, community medicine, legal, engineering and geomatics, and hydrology. A steering committee that includes representation from the OGC and Northern Health will monitor Intrinsik’s work.
The study will focus on the geographic areas corresponding to School Districts 81, 60, and 59.
The focus of the study will include areas of long-time local concern such as emissions from oil and gas activities, acute and chronic exposure to H2S and SO4, effects of oil and gas activity on locally-grown food, lung-related issues, and health-related impacts of well blowouts, pipeline ruptures, fracking, chemical spills, operational emissions, and flaring.
The team also will attempt to identify and assess the likelihood and significance of exposure to chemicals. This will include identifying chemicals of potential concern, identifying exposure pathways, and identifying people potentially at risk. The team stressed that all chemicals are toxic. The answers they seek will tell us the effects of how much and how long.
Air quality management is a major challenge. Given the three-dimensional nature of our atmosphere, the meteorologist must attempt to understand all emission sources, the local characteristics of meteorology, and the topography of the area in order to determine atmospheric loading of industrial emissions and recommend maximums. Still the question will remain: How can we know if health is being compromised?
The hydrology professional will be studying emissions affecting surface and subsurface water. These emissions include water used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), releases from operating sites, and historical releases. While the study of water appears to be simpler than the study of the air, there are still enormous unknowns: We can’t see what is happening underground and can only make inferences based on the evidence that surfaces.
The objective of the study is to determine to what degree the protection of human health in relation to oil and gas activity is captured within the existing provincial regulatory framework with a view to identifying potential improvements.
I asked about the degree of freedom Intrinsik would have in reporting out the results of the study. The report will not undergo a peer review. That being said, Intrinsik insists that the company has complete freedom to report and recommend as it determines best and that Intrinsik will not be subject to government interference in the content of its report.
How the government responds to the content of the report is a separate issue that only the government can decide.
Merlin Nichols, Mayor