The putrid smell makes Paula Jongerden sick to her stomach.
It comes from a natural gas well about 300 meters from his home near Delhi, Ontario, which bursts at least twice a week.
A road sign on Forestry Farm Road, where she lives in Norfolk County, is adorned with a skull warning of danger. An irresistible smell of rotten eggs sets in on days when there is no wind.
“It burns your eyes,” she said. “When this happens, I can’t open my windows. It’s worrying, of course, that I can’t freely use my own property because of this.
Everyone in the region knows that, she said.
“They ask, ‘Do you live near the stink? “
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Jongerden, a retired nurse, and her neighbors have grappled with the unpredictable nature of “burps,” which spew out methane and hydrogen sulfide – a poisonous gas in high concentrations – in the region since 2015.
Brian Craig, who lives nearby and teaches environmental science at the University of Waterloo, said the well near the Jongerden property was drilled in the 1950s. It was subsequently deemed unusable and was subsequently was plugged in 1968, causing other wells to erupt in the area. A relief well was therefore drilled nearby.
But in 2015, he said the province plugged relief in well, which he and other neighbors said created the current problem.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Natural Resources denies this, saying that “to date there is no evidence that a domino effect has occurred.”
Craig said years of efforts to fix the problem have been linked to bureaucracy.
He said the province has a program to remediate abandoned and orphaned wells, but it is not adequately funded to deal with the problem.
“We need a processing plant to remove the hydrogen sulfide,” he said. “It’s been six years and nothing has happened and $ 1.4 million has been spent.”
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The county is conducting a new study to find a solution, but until then, residents of the area continue to put up with the smell coming from the erupting well.
“It’s more of a concern to me what’s going on in the long term for human health,” Jongerden said. “Who knows what it does for people’s health.”
Jongerden and Craig aren’t the only ones in the province dealing with this problem. Thousands of abandoned oil and natural gas wells are scattered across southwestern Ontario – about 6,000 in Haldimand and Norfolk counties alone. Some of them erupt frequently, emitting methane and other substances.
Many date back to the 1800s and the original companies that drilled them are long gone, leaving their cleanup to the landowners.
Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp said she has been lobbying the province to tackle the growing problem for years. Municipalities do not have the money or the technical expertise to plug and clean up wells, she said.
“Our director general of public health was dealing with this problem before I got elected, I mean, it’s been going on for years,” Chopp said. “It’s beyond the point of being a little absurd.”
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Chopp said the province needs to step in and coordinate the cleanup.
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“You have so many different organizations (involved)… and no one wants to kind of take it on,” she said.
In 2020, the federal government announced a $ 1.72 billion program to cover and clean up orphaned oil wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
A group of upstream Ontario oil and gas companies have written to the federal and provincial governments to propose their inclusion in the program – at a cost of $ 270 million – to help address what it sees as a growing problem in Ontario.
According to documents obtained by Greenpeace Canada and provided to The Canadian Press, the Ontario Petroleum Institute said there are approximately 27,000 oil and gas wells in Ontario, mostly on private land.
“OPI estimates that 4,400 wells in Ontario pose a potential risk to landowners and public health and safety,” a federal briefing note said.
The group’s funding request estimates that it would cost around $ 60,000 per well to remedy the problem. The funding, he said, would create 500 jobs and support 40 businesses across Ontario.
To date, Ontario has not been added to the federal program.
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“OPI continues to seek opportunities for the industry to work with federal and provincial authorities to address the risks associated with Ontario’s orphan wells,” Regulatory Committee Chair E. Peter Rowe said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources said the province created its abandoned wells program in 2005 and has since spent $ 23 million and plugged about 380 high-risk wells.
“We continue to seek opportunities for collaboration with industry and the federal government to address potential public safety and environmental issues associated with orphan and dormant wells in Ontario,” Jolanta Kowalski said in a statement.
The federal government has declared inactive and orphaned wells to be under provincial jurisdiction.
“Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have established industry-funded orphan well associations,” the Ministry of Natural Resources said in a statement. “These provinces also account for the vast majority of orphaned and inactive wells in Canada.”
Maurice Dusseault, professor of geological engineering at the University of Waterloo, said abandoned wells in Ontario are among the oldest on the continent and many sealing technologies are now failing, suggesting the same effect in others. regions of the country over come.
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“It’s the legacy, the burden we carry,” he said of Ontario’s early oil industries. “We’re going to have to fix this problem.
This will require Ottawa and the province to work together to find a solution, he said.
A spokesperson for Greenpeace Canada said not only should the federal and provincial governments create an oil well clean-up program, but they should try to use historical records to trace them back to their owners. origin as far as possible.
“Whoever created the pollution should pay for it,” said Keith Stewart. “There is a huge moral hazard in allowing polluting companies to shirk these responsibilities so that the taxpayer can clean up. “
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