Published in Devon Dispatch on Jan. 23, 2014
Rick Bilozer, from Edmonton, is suing Imperial Oil for contaminating his family farm, located between Devon and Calmar, off Highway 60.
A lawsuit was filed last week with the Court of Queen’s Bench in which Bilozer seeks unspecified damages from Imperial Oil for setting fire to his land, spilling oil, and burying contaminated materials.
Bilozer’s late mother, Natala began remediation agreements with Imperial in 1993, which required the company to return the damaged land back to its natural state.
Two decades later, Imperial hasn’t fulfilled its obligation and Bilozer is continuing the battle with the company.
Joe Bilozer, Rick’s father, leased the land in November 1952 to Imperial Oil, who set up wells on four leased sites.
According to the statement of claim, Imperial negligently set fire to a pile of brush in 1970, which spread to off-lease portions of the land. It set the peat in the soil on fire, which burned underground for about ten years.
This resulted in poor drainage in the off-lease area north of one of the wellsites. The ground caved in and today, it remains a swamp where seeding is no longer possible.
Joe wanted the land returned to its natural state, but numerous oil spills, including one in 1982 contaminated the land, creating excessive levels of petroleum hydrocarbons and salinity in the soil.
As part of their remediation agreements, the company received permission to fix the low lying area caused by the fire.
However in 2003, the company filled the pit area with contaminated materials such as concrete and used pump jack pads. The contamination continues to spread to groundwater and adjacent soil, including excessive levels of benzene, ethyl benzene, chloride, sodium, sulphates and hydrocarbons, a court document says.
“It’s looking like it [the damage] is pretty serious but that’s based on the information that I have at this time,” said David Wolsey, from the Edmonton law firm Snyder and Associates, representing Bilozer.
“I’m going to need more information to understand exactly the amount that we’re looking at, but I can tell you that it’s likely to be quite high,” Wolsey said.
After Natala passed away, Bilozer continued discussions with the company on their intentions to comply with the remediation agreements.
The court document states Imperial has “accepted responsibility for the contamination of the land,” but progress has been “slow and effective.”
Imperial has yet to restore the land of the 100-year family farm back to its original state.
Allegations in the statement of claim document haven’t been proved in court.
Alberta Environment sent several letters to Imperial asking them to reclaim the damaged land, under the Environment Protection and Enhancement Act, but the company hasn’t done so.
“We are aware that the matter has been filed in the Court of Queen’s Bench,” said Pius Rolheiser, spokesperson for Imperial Oil.
“As the matter is before the court, we will be responding in the court.”