News

Norfolk staff wants proactive approach to deal with toxic gas

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Emissions of hydrogen sulphide gas led to an evacuation order in Silver Hill this summer. Simcoe Reformer file photo

Emissions of hydrogen sulphide gas led to an evacuation order in Silver Hill this summer. Simcoe Reformer file photo

SIMCOE - 

Norfolk County staff is concerned that the recent toxic gas emergency in Silver Hill might be an expensive warning of things to come.

After unusually high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide gas were detected on North Walsingham Road 10 on Aug. 18, other potential leaks in Norfolk have been brought to the county’s attention.

Norfolk staff is worried that the county could be headed for a situation where it is perpetually reacting to problem wells in the name of public safety. Staff wants to come up with a comprehensive report and a holistic strategy for addressing the problem once and for all.

“Staff is very concerned with the reactive approach that is being taken,” Lee Robinson, Norfolk’s general manager of public works, says in a report that will be tabled at Tuesday’s meeting of Norfolk council.

“We believe the county will continue to expend considerable funds every time we have to respond to a leaking natural gas well. There have been several wells plugged recently and we are now seeing an increasing number of reports of potentially leaking wells.

“It is not the responsibility of Norfolk County to address the current program. However, staff do believe the current program is inadequate. This could result in health risks to our residents and taxpayers.

“We believe this document will be invaluable in assisting the county in engaging others to help address the situation.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, staff will seek permission to hire the noise and air-quality monitoring company GHD to take stock of the 1,500 natural gas wells in Norfolk and assess them for capping purposes.

In her report, Robinson argues that having this information available in a single document will strengthen the county’s position when it approaches federal and provincial agencies for remediation.

Natural resource management is a federal and provincial jurisdiction. As such, Norfolk believes the cost of dealing with faulty gas wells is the responsibility of senior governments.

At a special meeting Aug. 29, Norfolk County set aside $50,000 so GHD could monitor hydrogen sulphide levels on North Walsingham Road 10.

Last week, the company Bradco Drilling, of Merlin, capped the last of two wells in the Silver Hill area that was leaking toxic gas. Thursday afternoon, the last evacuation orders in the Silver Hill area were lifted.

With the emergency over, GHD is no longer monitoring air quality on North Walsingham Road 10.

On Friday, Norfolk County asked residents who suspect the presence of toxic fumes in their neighbourhood to immediately call the province’s Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060.

“The appropriate agency will then swing into action and monitor air quality, if appropriate,” Clark Hoskin, Norfolk’s manager of tourism and economic development, said in an email.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com