Chasing a Ghost – Measuring for Odours in the Oil Patch

Odours are everywhere.  Some are good and some are down right irritating.  Some people have very sensitive noses and are able to detect very small odours.  Some people are more sensitive to certain odours.  This one I can personally vouch for.  My wife during one of our pregnancies could not stand the smell of eggs.  Any morning I cooked eggs, she would leave the room.

Analytical chemistry has come a long way in the past 30 years.  With very specialized methods, we are able to detect attogram quantities (10 -18 grams) of compounds.  Commercial laboratories also have very good detection limits in the picogram level.  The problem is that our noses can detect even lower concentrations than this, which means you might smell something, but not be able to measure it.

Baytex Energy has heavy oil operations in Northern Alberta.  The type of production is called CHOPS which stands for Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand.  The heavy oil production pumps oil to the surface into storage tanks that was heated to 80C to decrease the oil’s viscosity and make the oil flow more freely.  Oil is kept in the tanks until tanker trucks come to the site and transfer the oil from the tanks to the trucks.  The oil in the tanks can sit in the tanks for many hours before being taken away.  Some of these tanks were left open to the atmosphere, where the thief hatch is opened.  This is termed open venting and where the problem for the client begins.  It should be noted that there were no regulations (at the time) that do not allow open venting in Alberta.

Residents near the production facilities were complaining that odours from the Baytex oil production were causing health effects.  Baytex hired Chemistry Matters Inc to investigate the odour complaints near these facilities.  This project encompassed all aspects on CM services which included…

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