Alberta’s Energy Resource Conservation Board (ERCB) will set a bad precedent if it decides to approve the drilling of sour oil wells approximately 3.7 kilometres from the Tomahawk School of 140 students and 20 teachers southwest of Edmonton. The wells are expected to have concentration levels of 160,000 parts per million of hydrogen sulphide. The gas is lethal at 750 parts per million.
The Parkland School Division is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent on education, defending the health, safety, and possible lives of its students at the Tomahawk School. The school division thinks sour wells should not be allowed within seven kilometres of any school, but that request to Energy Minister Mel Knight and Education Minister Dave Hancock was denied.
The lawyer for the energy company Highpine, Gavin Fitch, boiled the company and government’s arguments down to a simple statement, “Mr. Chairman, I believe the science is clear: the risk associated with the drilling and completion of these wells is acceptable.”
If the ERCB approves this application to drill within 3.7 kilometres of Kindergarten-to-Grade 9 school, what does this say about the core values of our society? To whom is this risk acceptable? The community says this is not an acceptable risk. The school division, teachers, and parents say this is not an acceptable risk.
Oil companies and oil patch workers measure the risks they are willing to take. Both have a right to accept the risk that they deem is acceptable. But if we are to have a just society, communities, families, and individuals must be able to exercise the same rights as oil companies, to control the risks they are exposed to.
What message will our government convey to our children if they approve these wells? How do we teach our children the value of human life and respect for decency and morality when by its decisions our government advocates the pursuit of the almighty dollar above our children’s safety? These wells licenses must be denied on the fundamental principle that our children’s safety is not negotiable.
School administrators, teachers, community leaders, and parents all share in the responsibility to keep our children safe. If they all can agree that this risk is unacceptable, and our children are witness to this fact, how can we justify the granting of a drilling license for the financial benefit of one company? The granting of a drilling license to Highpine in this matter is a message to our children that their safety and lives do not matter; that they do not matter; that their parents, teachers, and communities do not matter.
The Minister of Energy Mel Knight and Education Minister Dave Hancock, need to be reminded; you can’t teach respect without first giving respect. Respect the safety and lives of our children and the respect you give them today, they will willingly give away later in life.