News

Leaky gas wells MNR’s responsibility, council says

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Norfolk County

Norfolk County

SIMCOE - 

Norfolk council doesn’t believe it should have to spend money to get the province to do its job.

Last week, council rejected a staff proposal for hiring a consulting firm to create a desktop inventory of natural gas wells in Norfolk and their state of repair.

In a report, Norfolk staff says a document of this kind would help county managers persuade the Ministry of Natural Resources to be proactive and cap problem wells before they cause another public health emergency.

“I’m not going to ask our taxpayers to pay again for something they’ve already paid for,” said Port Rowan Coun. Noel Haydt at the Sept. 19 meeting. “MNR – this is your job. Do it right.”

At issue are aging gas wells in Norfolk that have fallen into disrepair and are leaking.

Some wells are giving off toxic fumes such as hydrogen sulphide. Haydt told council there’s a bad sulphide leak on Forestry Farm Road due east of Langton that made his eyes water as he drove through it last week.

Lee Robinson, Norfolk’s general manager of public works, is worried the county is in a position where it has to play “whack-a-mole” with problem wells.

Council heard that the county’s response to two leaking wells in Silver Hill this summer could cost local taxpayers as much as $80,000 in unbudgeted staff time and safety measures.

County CAO David Cribbs wants to make a detailed case for re-ordering spending at MNR to account for Norfolk’s problem wells. The situation is especially urgent because Norfolk is home to 17 per cent of the province’s natural gas wells.

Council however was unmoved. Couns. Jim Oliver, Mike Columbus, Roger Geysens, Doug Brunton and Haydt voted against documenting the county’s gas wells. In favour of the $50,000 proposal were Mayor Charlie Luke and Couns. Peter Black and John Wells.

“We’re pretty naive to think this is the end of it,” Luke said. “Reaction is fine after two bad wells. But we are responsible for our residents’ health. That’s our mandate – to protect our people. I wish there were some way to do this without spending money.”

Coun. Brunton was having none of it.

“Mayor Luke should write a letter to the province telling them this is their job,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to me that we would spend $50,000 on an issue that is not our responsibility.”

That is the direction council approved. Senior staff and the mayor will put together a letter asking MNR to assume its responsibilities and make well mitigation in Norfolk County a priority.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com