Barrett blames MNR for Silver Hill emergency
The Timbers interior-decorating business in Silver Hill is up and running again now that the province has capped a toxic natural gas well nearby. Timbers co-owner Kim Grant displays a set of old lightning rods that were blackened in recent months from exposure to high concentrations of corrosive hydrogen sulphide gas. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER
The cost of capping one of two toxic gas wells in Silver Hill this summer came to $200,000.
Kathryn McGarry, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources, divulged the cost during a discussion of the public health emergency in the Legislature at Queen’s Park last week.
McGarry was responding to questions from Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett.
Barrett was seeking compensation for Ian and Kim Grant of North Walsingham Concession Road 10.
The Grants were one of six households evacuated by the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit after an area west of Silver Hill tested positive for high levels of hydrogen sulphide gas.
The offending well was located behind a barn on the Grants’ property. The evacuation disrupted the interior-decorating business the Grants operate from the building. The health unit ordered the evacuation Aug. 18 and finally lifted it Sept. 14.
During Question Period Oct. 25, Barrett also sought compensation for Norfolk County. Norfolk devoted a large amount of staff time and resources to the situation – one which involved natural resources for which the province is responsible.
In rejecting all claims, McGarry said municipalities are responsible for the cost and discharge of emergency measures. As for capping defective gas wells, McGarry said this too is the responsibility of private property owners.
McGarry added, however, that the province reserves the right to intervene by means of its Abandoned Works Program “for high-priority wells.”
“I want to highlight that my ministry expedited the tendering process significantly, and the cost associated was $200,000,” McGarry told the Legislature.
“Mr. Speaker, we can all agree that’s a lot of money. So let’s be clear here – without this program, Ian and Kim Grant – the private landowners – would have normally been responsible for those costs.”
Ian and Kim Grant knew Barrett would raise the matter and were in the Legislature for his exchange with McGarry.
Thursday, Kim Grant said McGarry didn’t mention that old natural gas wells in the Silver Hill area have been acting up ever since the MNR capped a natural gas vent along Big Creek two years ago.
This vent served as a pressure-release mechanism for the Silver Hill gas field. Since it was plugged, the water table in the area has taken on sulphuric characteristics while several abandoned gas wells in the vicinity have begun spewing toxic effluvia.
Barrett referenced the MNR capping effort during his presentation to the Legislature.
“In March 2015, the Grants were notified that a Ministry of Natural Resources gas relief well along Big Creek had been capped,” Barrett said. “The Grants were advised that this relief well was releasing toxic water with high levels of hydrogen sulphide into Big Creek and had to be capped.
“As a result of an action by the MNR – in my view – the Grants, along with five other families – were ordered by the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit to vacate their primary residences due to fluctuating, unpredictable concentrations of hydrogen sulphide.”
Hydrogen sulphide is a corrosive, flammable gas often associated with natural gas production. Concentrations in excess of five parts per million are considered toxic. Prior to this summer’s capping exercise, readings in the area of the Grant property have been as high as 17 parts per million.
Thursday, Kim Grant said her family is most concerned about the possibility of persistent health effects emerging from their prolonged exposure to hydrogen sulphide. The family is being monitored medically for symptoms related to hydrogen sulphide poisoning.
“Ten years from now we could come down with side effects from this,” Kim Grant said. “But right now we seem fine.”
“They shouldn’t be allowed to walk all over people and treat them like this. There is a bigger issue here.”