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Alberta's Poisonous Oil Wells

Miscarriages, disability and death

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Alberta's Poisonous Oil Wells

Albertan residents have been systematically gassed by the oil industry for year.

Albertan residents have been systematically gassed by the oil industry for years. The extent of the assault on human and environmental health by concentrations of sulphur dioxide as well as chronic levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) has been made public in the recent case of Wiebo vs Alberta Energy.

Dr Kaye Kilburn of Southern California’s School of Medicine and a world authority on chemically induced brain injuries, says H2S poisons the brain irreversibly, even at levels as low as one part per million (ppm).

"Dr Kilburn has studied scores of workers ‘knocked down’ by high doses of H2S, as well as residents exposed to daily low doses from sour gas refineries," says science writer Andrew Nikiforuk in a February 2000 Globe and Mail report. "His conclusion is that both groups have suffered...lasting neurological impairment, including deficits in balance, reaction time and such recurring ailments as insomnia."

Proven Hazard
A 1997 California study examined refinery workers and those living downwind of a desulphurization installation. All reported headaches, nausea, vomiting and personality changes.

Kilburn calls oil company flaring a "19th century practice that’s hideously out of date. As oil and gas companies extract fossil fuels from deep beneath the surface of the earth they expose the residents to benzene, toluene, hydrogen sulfide and irradiating radiation.

"When you vent raw gases, you find that silver and copper in peoples’ homes has tarnished," Kilburn says. "People can’t remember what they were doing. They’ve lost their balance."

Oil industry spokesmen deny these studies, but Kilburn suggests that people who live near oil wells and refineries should have their own health studies done. And they should monitor the air for low levels of H2S.

That’s what one Manitoba cattle rancher did. Patrick Campbell bought a $5,000 air pollution monitor when emissions from flaring oil wells caused him dizziness, body shakes and tremors as well as chest pains and neck cramps. Campbell now knows exactly what his family and his livestock have been exposed to: hydrogen sulphide levels as high as two ppm and sulphur dioxide as high as 12 per cent in the house and 49 per cent outside! A cloud of the gases knocked down his one-year-old grandson who lay unconscious in his front hall until Campbell found him and revived him. Campbell has lost between 40 and 60 animals. He himself now lives in a care facility and four of his neighbors have abandoned their homes.

H2S can also cause miscarriages. Jim Argo, a health researcher and former consultant to Health Canada, says low levels of H2S rob the fetus of oxygen. That data has been in the medical literature for 12 years. Finnish studies indicate that H2S in amounts of less than one per cent (less than detectable by smell) can cause miscarriages!

That is one of the chief accusations of Wiebo Ludwig at the Trickle Creek Farm in Alberta. Both his family members and his livestock have miscarried shortly after being exposed to pollution from flaring wells. The problem has been going on for years despite the Ludwig’s long-time protests.

Protection Money
The Alberta government, the oil industry and the RCMP are all protective of the industry. So are townspeople of Beaverlodge and Hyde, the two adjacent communities, all of whom are employed by the oil companies.

Allan Johnston is a 69-year-old former oil field technologist and environmentalist. He retired from the industry after years of research into the negative health and environmental effects of oil and gas development. He now says that the Beaverlodge community is so angry against his whistle-blowing that he cannot leave his home without being harassed by his neighbors. The windows in his home are boarded up because they have all been vandalized and he must have police escort when he ventures out, even just going to the post office!

Despite the enormous profits realized by investors, government and industry workers themselves, the cost in environmental, animal and human health is too high. There is another form of energy freely available. It’s called Clean Energy and it makes use of the energy potential all around us in the universe (see alive #210). But the world-wide oil cartel and the governments who feed from it have no interest in its development!

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