Failing Gas Company May Have Put Calgary at Risk of Deadly Sour Gas Leak
As Alberta’s Lexin Resources, a small producer of natural gas, ran out of money through late 2015, all of 2016, and into the second month of 2017, its safety lapses may have put thousands of Calgarians at risk from a leak of intensely deadly hydrogen sulphide—a component of the “sour” gas the company collected and processed at a plant south of the city.
“Worst-case scenario would look like this,” Allan MacRae, a retired engineer familiar with the plant, told CBC News: “You have a major [pipeline] blowout with sour gas with a southeasterly or easterly wind, and it carries over a number of southeast and east Calgary subdivisions. Nothing from earthworms up would survive.” MacRae paints the scenario in a report in which CBC News lays out the extent of alarm among Lexin’s own employees for the safety of the facilities they were operating: some 1,300 natural gas wells and the 30-year-old Mazeppa Processing Plant.
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“Because of financial difficulties, the company wasn’t maintaining the plant as well as it could and didn’t have access to many of its sour gas wells because it hadn’t made lease payments to landowners,” CBC reports. An employee who reached out to MacRae, a friend, was particularly concerned that “the company wasn’t doing enough to maintain the pipelines that carried sour gas to the plant.”
In July 2016, about six weeks after MacRae wrote about those concerns to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), “Lexin wrote to the AER saying that because it had laid off nearly all its staff, it could no longer respond to an emergency at the plant or its related infrastructure. Days later, the regulator ordered the plant to be shut down.”
On February 14, the AER ordered Lexin to suspend its operations. The action left the company’s thousands well sites, pipelines, and other facilities in limbo.
The company is appealing the regulator’s receivership order and “largely blames the regulator for its problems,” CBC notes. It quotes Lexin director Michael Smith, from a memo it says he sent to its newsroom, insisting the company remains “convinced that no pipeline was operated in unsafe condition. The monitoring systems were in place and backed up by increased frequency operator inspections.” Smith wrote that any pipelines identified as being at risk “were depressurized and purged to be put in a safe state.”