When we think of setbacks, the first thing that comes to mind is a failure or reversal of fortune (e.g., “We suffered a serious setback that will delay the project for months.”). But in the energy industry, setbacks help to protect those who live or work near an energy development.
A setback is the absolute minimum distance between an oil or gas well, pipeline, or other infrastructure, and a home, rural housing development, urban centre, or public facility. The distances vary according to the type of development and whether the well, facility, or pipeline contains sour gas, or hydrogen sulphide (H2S).
Setbacks prevent populated areas from developing too close to energy facilities and energy facilities from getting too close to people by providing a buffer.
Industry’s Speed Limit
These buffers can be compared to a 30-kilometre-per-hour speed limit near a playground.
While this speed limit doesn’t guarantee safety, statistics show that it’s much safer to have one than none at all; the average driver can stop quickly at this speed if a child suddenly runs into the street. The child’s safety isn’t guaranteed, but the odds are strongly in his or her favour.
Setbacks are especially important when dealing with poisonous sour gas. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) categorizes facilities into hazard levels based on release rates for wells, release volumes for pipelines, and H2S content.
Predetermined setback distances exist for each level of sour gas facility. Once the right hazard level for a specific facility is established, AER staff examine the types of developments in the vicinity and how people typically use the general area. For example, AER staff check to see if there are houses, schools, or hospitals close by. If necessary, a setback distance may be increased when these types of developments are involved.
There’s a lot to know about setbacks, so click here to learn more