The provincial government is turning a blind eye to southwestern Manitoba oil-drilling companies dumping saltwater and oil in municipal ditches, a Cromer-area farmer says.
Carlyle Jorgensen, who farms near Cromer, told the Keystone Agricultural Producers meeting here last week the government is fearful of discouraging oil well development in the province.
“From December (2011) until now I have reported three spills myself to the Petroleum Branch,” Jorgensen told reporters Oct. 25 on the sidelines of the Keystone Agricultural Producers’ General Council meeting.
At least one spill earlier this year along a gravel road in the RM of Wallace, was intentional, Jorgensen said.
“The pictures (taken March 16) show no way was this an accident,” he said. “You can see where the valve was cracked and where it pooled up quite a bit and then where they drove along the edge of the ditch and you can see where the oil ran.”
Jorgensen alleges the driver of a tanker hauling 20 to 30 barrels of saltwater and oil deliberately dumped it in the ditch to avoid paying to dispose of it properly in a nearby disposal well.
Jorgensen said he reported the spill to the Manitoba government’s Petroleum Branch Feb. 29. The branch did nothing, he said, so two or three weeks later Jorgensen reported it to Wallace Reeve Don Neufeld.
Eventually a provincial environmental officer inspected the scene and samples confirmed a saltwater and oil spill, Jorgensen said. According to Jorgensen the officer said he’d report the incident but remedial action was up to the Petroleum Branch.
“The last time the inspector was out he said, ‘you’re right it was saltwater because the grass isn’t growing in the ditch,” Jorgensen said. “But he says, ‘you know, it looks like Mother Nature is taking care of it so we’ll just leave it like that.’”
Last December Jorgensen said he reported a smaller spill, which was likely accidental. The Petroleum Branch dispatched a vacuum truck to clean it up and planned to bill the suspected offending firm. But the company refused saying there was no proof it was responsible, he said.
“The Petroleum Branch was stuck with that bill so our tax dollars went to clean (the company’s) spill up,” he said.
According to Jorgensen, oil companies are also failing to clean up spills on agricultural land. Oil was spilled from a well on land he rents from his mother, he said.
“The company took a couple of buckets of black dirt and threw it on top and said it’s cleaned up,” Jorgensen said. “The Petroleum Branch signed off on it. Good enough. So here I am out there this fall subsoiling it trying to get it to produce and hoping the snow will carry the salts and oil down and I’ll get some land producing again.”
Jorgensen said he knows of land in the area contaminated with saltwater and oil in the 1950s that’s still infertile.
“There needs to be a separate department policing this because the Petroleum Branch is for oil… ,” he said. “The fear is the oil companies will go somewhere else.”
Jorgensen suggests the Petroleum Branch not issue new oil well licences until a spill is cleaned up. That would put more pressure on companies collectively to police themselves, he said.
Companies, not taxpayers, should pay for cleanups, he added.
“There should be a checkoff for the oil companies just like KAP has,” Jorgensen said. “Let’s put a dollar from every barrel into a fund and that fund goes to clean up the oil.”
A response from the Manitoba government wasn’t available by press time.