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Sour-gas plant poses serious safety risks, says Alberta Energy Regulator

Company cannot respond to emergencies, has reduced staff


(Canadian OH&S News) — The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has warned that the company that runs a sour-gas plant in Mazeppa, Alta. is incapable of responding to emergencies at the plant, due to an inactive leak-detection system and a shortage of staff.

Suzanne Belliveau, acting director of enforcement and surveillance with the energy-industry watchdog, sent an order to Lexin Resources Ltd., the Calgary company that runs the plant, on Aug. 9. The four-page order, available as a PDF through the AER website, revealed that Lexin had laid off most of the Mazeppa plant’s staff on June 30, with only six employees left to manage the plant and its connected pipelines and wells. On July 29, the company told AER that it could not respond to emergencies and would defer the responsibility to the Regulator.

“We’ve done some inspection work basically since February,” explained AER senior advisor Ryan Bartlett. “We’ve found deficiencies in their facilities, and so on August 9th, we ordered the company to immediately suspend the Mazeppa gas plant and any associated infrastructure.”

Lexin was also expected to submit new plans describing how it would monitor the plant and how it was going to respond to emergencies and safety-related complaints there by Aug. 15. While the company does have an emergency-response plan in place, “we’ve asked for some additional information, just to ensure that a response is possible if it happens to be an emergency,” said Bartlett.

Belliveau’s order noted that the supervisory-control and data-acquisition system intended to monitor releases of sour gas at the plant was not operational. She referred to sour gas as “known to have an adverse effect on the environment” and wrote that its release outside the facility “may cause an adverse effect.” Belliveau also stated that Lexin had failed to comply with one section of an order that AER had issued on June 15.

“All sour-gas facilities are required to have an emergency-response plan in place,” said Bartlett, “and so in this case, we’ve asked for additional information for how the company will respond to incidents and complaints.”

Lexin did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment.

Once Lexin has submitted its new incidence and monitoring plans and other information to AER, the company is expected to implement the plans, subject to the approval of the Regulator’s director. The company must also submit a weekly written report to AER detailing any actions taken regarding incident response and monitoring and the results, as well as post a weekly public report on its website.

“We want to ensure that if there is an energy-related incident, that the public and the environment are protected,” added Bartlett.

In holding the licence for the Mazeppa plant and its connected infrastructure, Lexin has numerous inherent responsibilities, such as safe operation, emergency response and addressing complaints from the public and local landowners, the AER order stated.

Lexin specializes in developing and producing crude oil, natural gas and natural-gas liquids for western Canada, according to information from its website. Most of its operations are located in Alberta.