Arnold Janz Alberta soil scientist The Narwhal27

A tale at a Tim Hortons in Taber

In our latest newsletter, Prairies bureau chief Sharon J. Riley spills the beans on a story she first started digging into way back in the first year of The Narwhal’s existence

It all started at a Tim Hortons in Taber, Alta., in 2018.

I had just started working as a reporter for The Narwhal and I was meeting with a farmer to talk about orphan wells in southern Alberta. It was one offhand comment that got the ball rolling. Word was spreading, he said, that some government research had shown old oil and gas sites — even ones that had been officially certified as reclaimed — were in nowhere near as good shape as they should have been. He didn’t know any details.

I’ve spent years tracking down that research about how the cleanup of oil and gas sites might not actually be up to snuff. It kept coming back to the work of one government soil scientist: Arnold Janz at Alberta Environment and Parks.

I first requested an interview with Arnold back in 2018. The department’s response? “We are not able to get you in touch.”

Fast-forward a few years and Arnold had had enough. At 76, and finally retired, he wasn’t willing to fade into obscurity. Arnold wanted to tell his story.

Retired scientist Arnold Janz speaks out about government silencing
Retired Alberta government scientist Arnold Janz spent years gathering data and observations of the province’s oil and gas industry. He tried to make his managers aware of his concerns. “I would be constantly at them, email after email, saying ‘you’ve got to do something,’ ” he says. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

First off, he told me, he had known about my interview request all those years ago. His cubicle was just down the hall when my call came in. He was most certainly available that day. He wanted to talk. But he was not allowed to. 

And his managers, he said, told him that if he were to talk to journalists he should learn to “use the three most powerful words in the English language: ‘I don’t know.’ ”

This was, as he told me for this story we just published, part of a larger pattern of being stonewalled and sidelined for trying to share his findings — and his concerns — with Albertans. (Not to mention the funding for the research that led me to him in the first place had been reduced to zero.)

I went to Arnold’s house with photographer Amber Bracken in January. When we got there, we found him sitting at his kitchen table with a massive stack of diaries he’d been keeping for 30 years. 

Over coffee and butter tarts, we pored over those diaries and dug into his research. As Arnold went through them, he was able to piece together how things had taken a turn in his career. There was the time he was accused of “seeing ghosts” when he reported contamination. Or the time he was asked if he was “on a witch hunt” against industry when he discovered a methane gas leak at a certified well site.

The result is this in-depth feature about Arnold’s frustrations — and about the reality of reclamation in Alberta today. 

Arnold was nervous to speak publicly about this, but ultimately felt it was his duty to share his story. I’m so happy he did.

But Arnold wasn’t the only one sharing his frustrations with the oil and gas industry and governments with our Prairies team this week. 

My colleague Drew Anderson recently got wind of a family in Yorkton, Sask., and their years-long fight to have Imperial Oil clean up the contamination spilling from its land next to their family business — a business they’ve been forced to shutter as a result of the contamination.

Take care and don’t gaslight scientists,

Sharon J. Riley,
Prairies bureau chief

P.S. The deadline is ticking to apply to become The Narwhal’s audience fellow! If you’re an emerging journalist with a passion for social storytelling — and newsletters like this one! — be sure to check out our job posting here. Then, go ahead and submit an application by this Tuesday, March 29.

The Narwhal 🤝 1% for the Planet

Jeremy Koreski and 1% for the Planet logo

Did you know The Narwhal is a proud non-profit partner of 1% for the Planet, a global movement to increase support for solutions to environmental problems? If you run a business, that means pledging to donate one per cent of gross sales to non-profit organizations in the environment space (like, say, us!). Individuals can also join in by giving one per cent of their annual salaries.
To our delight, longtime ~friend of the show~ Jeremy Koreski has made generous donations to support The Narwhal as part of his 1% for the Planet pledge for the past two years. Jeremy is an incredible photographer whose work has appeared everywhere from Outside Magazine to ESPN to, yes, The Narwhal.
For Jeremy, the decision was simple. “My career has been based around documenting the outdoors and without these incredible places I’d have nothing to photograph,” he says.
Whether you’re already a 1% for the Planet participant or are thinking of joining, we hope you consider becoming a member of The Narwhal as part of your pledge.

This week in The Narwhal

The Canadian oil and gas companies that want to put the brakes on climate financial transparency

Suncor and other oil companies's logo shown in bubbles

By Carl Meyer

Without more transparency, regulators warn Canada’s economy will balloon into a ‘climate bubble’ that may suddenly burst, causing severe economic disruptions — not dissimilar to recent Russian divestment. But companies such as Suncor and TC Energy want to delay some new mandatory reporting rules, according to an investigation by The Narwhal. Read more.

A Saskatchewan family fights Imperial Oil over land rendered worthless by contamination

Snowbanks outside the Browns' family business that closed after contamination at a neighbouring Imperial Oil site

By Drew Anderson

The Browns walked into a bank for routine financing. They walked away with a shocking land assessment, no business and little hope of selling their property. Read more.

The report on Ontario’s natural resources the government didn’t want you to read

John Yakabuski, Ontario's former Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry

By Emma McIntosh

The Ford government held back a report on Ontario’s ecosystems until The Narwhal made a freedom of information request. Even as it details how human activity is hurting wetlands and waterways, it focuses on the wealth generated by natural resources. Read more.

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Bloomberg Green: How the World’s Richest People Are Driving Global Warming

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