“Come for a coffee, we’ll have it inside,” Norfolk County resident Paula Jongerden says with a laugh. But she’s not joking. She lives about 300 metres from an old oil well that routinely belches foul-smelling odours that ensconce her home with the stench of rotten eggs. But it’s not just the smell. It’s what the smell signals: the presence of hydrogen sulphide, a gas that, in low concentrations, stinks. At higher concentrations, it’s deadly.
There are an estimated 27,000 oil and gas wells in southwestern Ontario. Most are inactive, a remnant of the time more than a century ago when the province was a major player in oil and gas production. Now, they are long-abandoned relics of a bygone era — and in some instances, hazards to human health and safety and the environment.