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The curious case of Emmanuel's well

Or, how one New Brunswick trailer park king became an oil and gas joker

by Miles Howe

The Trites family traded a trailer park for a shot at natural gas riches. It does not seem to have gone well. Pictured is an abandoned drill rig, left standing since mid 2009. [Photo via facebook]
The Trites family traded a trailer park for a shot at natural gas riches. It does not seem to have gone well. Pictured is an abandoned drill rig, left standing since mid 2009. [Photo via facebook]
Anonymous sources in the Lakeville trailer park note that the abandoned drill rig is a popular climbing apparatus for the areas children [Photo via facebook]
Anonymous sources in the Lakeville trailer park note that the abandoned drill rig is a popular climbing apparatus for the areas children [Photo via facebook]

Lakeville, New Brunswick -- Just west of the corner of Raworth Avenue and Duchess Street, nestled behind the trailer homes of Lakeville, New Brunswick, sits an enduring homage to one of the province's early, arguably over-eager, attempts at creating a natural gas industry. It is an abandoned drilling rig, left here, unused and largely unvisited except for the attention of graffiti-prone neo-nazis and arsonists, for at least the past five years. And like all wells drilled prior to the province's 2013 enacting of the Rules for Industry on the 'Responsible Environmental Management of Oil and Natural Gas Activities in New Brunswick', here it may well stay in perpetuity; an eyesore to some, a harbinger to others, certainly a liability to anyone who might ever suggest an interest in purchasing the property towards some kind of development.

Prior to 2013, there was no need for a prospective company seeking to drill for gas in New Brunswick to submit a 'pre-construction site assessment' to the provincial department of Environment. So while this particular drill rig in question is quite obviously abandoned and abused, there is no bureaucratic track record of what things were like on this piece of land, before the equipment appeared. The necessity of submitting a site assessment, by which the department of Environment receives a post-drilling remediation plan from whoever wants to drill, does not apply to pre-2013 wells. So in cases like this – and there will be more of them as the years progress, especially as the gas fields of Penobsquis dry up - the provincial department of Environment is off the proverbial hook in terms of enforcing someone – anyone – to clean up the mess.

When contacted, a spokesperson for New Brunswick's department of Environment confirms that it: “remains up to the landowner and the gas company to reach an agreement on the level of restoration.”

And here, in this world of private handshakes and private restoration agreements sans governmental oversight, is where the uber-capitalist motivation can thrive and spread. Because, let's be honest: Nobody really wants to clean up a mess like the one in Lakeville, New Brunswick. Without oversight and the potential of enforcement, there are loopholes galore that allow for clean-up responsibilities to be shirked and avoided. And if the government won't make them, if walking away is an option, then profit margins and bottom-lines indeed suggest 'just walk away'.

So here is the story of how Lakeville's trailer park king tried to strike it rich on natural gas, and instead seems to have just struck out. The story runs from rural New Brunswick to downtown Toronto, involves numbered companies, addresses of convenience, doubtful zoning and tax assessments, and one rusty mess that may never get properly cleaned up.

Our case:

Signage restricting access to the dirt road leading to the abandoned drill rig in Lakeville states that the equipment is the private property of 'Emmanuel Oil and Gas' and that trespassing is prohibited. Theoretically, the company's head office is located at 69 Biddington Avenue, a mere block and a half away from the drill site, in the heart of the trailer park. The phone number actively listed for Emmanuel Oil and Gas is not in service. There is no website, and their facebook page has never had an entry, save one from July 3rd, 2015, saying: “Is all about oil.”

As of 2014, the company continued to file annual returns in New Brunswick, but other than that there doesn't seem to be a way of actually finding Emmanuel Oil and Gas.

Emmanuel Oil and Gas, according to the Corporate Registry Database of New Brunswick, lists Roderick and Robert Trites, also both of Lakeville, New Brunswick, as its directors. It is the Trites' who, up until their ill-fated flirtation with the Oil and Gas Industry, also largely owned and ran the Lakeville trailer park circuit, through another slew of self-directed companies.

Emmanuel Oil and Gas also shares office space at 69 Biddington Avenue with a company registered as 'Lakeside Estates Ltd.' The provincial Corporate Registry lists Roderick and Robert Trites as the directors of Lakeside Estates Ltd. There's an active phone number for Lakeside Estates Ltd, but when I call asking for Emmanuel Oil and Gas, or any of the Trites family, I am given a different phone number which nobody answers. 

69 Biddington Avenue is also listed as the business office of RHT Enterprises Inc, which also actively lists Roderick and Robert Trites as sole directors. Numbered company 641367 N.B. Inc, incorporated in November, 2008, is also supposedly located at 69 Biddington Avenue, and also lists Roderick Trites as its sole director.

Using these company names, a perusal of the New Brunswick property index database indicates that until the mid-2000s, the Trites family almost exclusively owned, maintained, and ran the Lakeville trailer park - known under the 'Lakeside Estates' brand – and held significant undeveloped acreage surrounding the park, especially to the immediate West.

Gasoline Dreams:

Fairly little exists online regarding why, in 1992, RHT Enterprises Ltd (the Trites-directed predecessor of RHT Enterprises Inc) determined that they would take out a licence to search for natural gas on 33,886 hectares of land directly encompassing Lakeside Estates. The licence to explore appears to encompass the southern flank of the 'Richibucto Formation' and the northern flank of the 'Salisbury Formation', rock formations which have not been hotspots of borehole testing or natural gas finds in New Brunswick.

According to the New Brunswick borehole database, RHT Enterprises Ltd drilled two boreholes at GPS coordinates that nearly line up with the abandoned drill rig off Raworth Avenue. The first well, drilled in 1993, measured to a depth of 289 metres, while the second well, drilled in 1994, measured to a depth of 1160 metres. Both boreholes appear to have been drilled on land privately owned by the Trites family, meaning clean-up agreements would have been kept within the family, if at all. Neither borehole suggests a promising find, as the Trites' natural gas dreams seem to go dormant for the next decade or so. Much of the borehole drilling equipment also remains, rusted and abandoned, nearby the GPS coordinates of the drilling. 

Things begin to heat up again at Lakeside Estates in 2006, as demonstrated by a sudden liquidation of trailer park property for cash.

How Big Business Toronto Came to Lakeside Estates:

Interestingly, there are currently two active companies registered in New Brunswick that share the name 'Lakeside Estates'. The first, as we know, is located in Lakeville, at 69 Biddington Ave, and is known as Lakeside Estates Ltd. Aside from an amalgamation with RHT Enterprises Ltd, in 2006, the company has operated under that same name since 1972.

The second company, known simply as Lakeside Estates (without the Ltd), lists its active New Brunswick business address as 570 Queen Street, Suite 600, in Fredericton. This 'Lakeside Estates', registered in 2008, was registered by another company, known as KCH, Inc.

The address 570 Queen Street, Suite 600, in Fredericton, is also an extremely busy office space. A google search of the address lists a variety of companies that call this office space home, including the Fredericton branch of the law firm 'McInnes Cooper'.

When I phone McInnes Cooper, itself with a deep roster of oil and gas industry clientele (including SWN Resources Canada), the agent who answers the phone confirms that the law firm physically occupies the entire sixth floor at 570 Queen Street in Fredericton, and does not share it with anyone. There's no one actually working for Lakeside Estates at 570 Queen Street, Suite 600, in Fredericton.

McInnes Cooper does, however, appear to have an ongoing policy of handling the mail for companies who also claim to have business residences at 570 Queen Street, Suite 600, in Fredericton. This includes - but is certainly not limited to - Lakeside Estates.

Lakeside Estates also lists its mailing address (not to be confused with its business address) as 77 Bloor Street West, Suite 2000, in Toronto. This also happens to be the corporate address of the 'RealStar Group', an international consortium of companies whose specialities, according to their website, include acquiring, developing and operating “manufactured housing communities” across Canada. According to the website, RealStar also holds investments in the healthcare, hospitality and sports and entertainment industries. As with the case of the Queen Street address in Fredericton, the Bloor Street address in Toronto is also shared by numerous other property management and real estate-related companies, including 'KC Properties Ltd.' and 'KCH Inc.'

It was, in fact, 'KCH Inc.' with Steven Christie, a partner at McInnes Cooper's Fredericton office acting as their agent, who initially registered 'Lakeside Estates' (without the Ltd) with the New Brunswick Corporate Registry in 2008.

KCH Inc. – which for the sake of simplicity we can understand as being a shell company of the RealStar Group – was, however, active in the Lakeville area as of late 2007. On December 28, 2007, the deeds to multiple properties in the Lakeville trailer park and its environs were transferred from 'Lakeside Estates Ltd' (the Trites-run company) to KCH Inc. On the same day, KCH Inc. secured a debenture – a secured loan - from the Royal Bank of Canada against at least one sizeable parcel of undeveloped acreage it has just obtained from the Trites family operations. This parcel, which was later flipped from KCH Inc. to another RealStar Group-owned company, KC Properties Ltd, is valued, as of its latest tax assessment, at over $24 million. While zoned 'residential', it remains wholly undeveloped, but is directly adjacent to the Trites-owned property upon which the abandoned drilling rig sits.

While it is impossible to understand exactly what was transpiring in the Lakeville trailer park, circa late 2007 – early 2008, what appears to be happening is a transfer of ownership of large sections of the park from the Trites family to a Toronto-based property management conglomerate, the RealStar Group. In turn, the RealStar Group appears to have been more comfortable in owning and operating the trailer park 'behind the scenes', going so far as to register a company bearing the exact name as the 'trusted' Lakeside Estates brand. Currently, the RealStar Group continues to own, manage and operate the Lakeville properties, under the shell company 'KC Properties Ltd'.

Unless you happened to be monitoring the provincial property index database, or were paying special attention to email addresses affiliated with Lakeside Estates – which now end in 'realstar.ca' - you might never know that the Lakeside Estates trailer park in New Brunswick is now largely controlled from Toronto.

As for the Trites trailer park dynasty, why bother liquidating large parcels of their carefully built-up trailer park – both developed and undeveloped – which they had been acquiring since the early 1970s? What use might they have for what tax assessments suggest would be several million dollars in capital?

The answer likely lies in the gasoline dreams exemplified by the abandoned drilling rig off of Raworth Avenue, which to this days sits on a parcel of land owned by 641367 N.B. Inc, which, as we now know, lists Roderick Trites as its sole director.

But why drill in 2008 – 2009?

The drilling itself, according to the New Brunswick Department of Energy and Mines, took place between September 2008 and July 2009. A spokesperson for Energy and Mines notes: “The well sits on private property and the drilling equipment is property of Emmanuel Oil and Gas. Currently, Emmanuel does not have rights to explore for oil and gas in the province of New Brunswick...This well was not hydraulically fractured.”

As we can deduce from property sales leading up to 2008, the timing of the Trites-run drilling would appear to directly coincide to their trailer park dynasty coming unravelled for the sake of disposable capital.

But why sit dormant on their gasoline dreams for 14 years – since their ill-fated borehole drillings of the early '90s – only to drill once more in 2008?

Here, without the Trites to comment, we must delve further into the realm of conjecture.

The timing of the Trites' last hurrah into the fossil fuel industry – the one which cost them the trailer park - does seem to directly coincide with the provincial government's most recent push to offer up over a million hectares of the province up for exploration for shale gas. Remember, it was in late 2009 that the Shawn Graham Liberal government put out a request for tenders to explore for shale gas on over 1 million hectares in New Brunswick.

The acreage up for grabs in the 2009 request for proposals – which was ultimately successfully bid upon by Texas-based Southwestern Energy – overlapped with the Trites 1992 exploration lease.

Might someone from the provincial government have alerted the Trites family that their 1992 gas lease was about to get supplanted by a new request for proposals, thus kickstarting them into action in mid-2008, only to come up bust?

Of course, we cannot conclude one way or another.

It would, however, appear that something went direly wrong with the Trites' finances, if they could not even afford to remove their drilling equipment and properly store it. Drill rigs and drilling equipment are costly to purchase, but maintains some re-sale value or rental value provided they are not simply abandoned to the elements.

Was everything pinned to striking it rich on this one exploratory well, to the point that the Trites family could not even afford to remove their equipment afterwards when things did not turn out?

Again, we cannot conclude one way or another. But there the drill rig remains, with the provincial government having no authority to compel the Trites family to clean up their equipment.

We leave the final word to a resident of Lakeside Estates, who, fearful of reprisal from trailer park management, spoke on the condition of anonymity:

“[The drilling] just happened one day, no convo was held. They moved the rig at the drill spot in the middle of the night. It was done sneaky. When the drilling was going on we'd get woken up by a loud buzzer every morning like a loud blow horn noise.

“At the time, the park we'd hang out at was in a field close to the rig. We felt the ground shake a couple times. They also left the equipment there. A lot of kids climb the tower and equipment for fun, it's dangerous. They also let the children's park go. There was nothing left to it except broken swings and the antique mini oil rig that the Trites put up 20 years ago ...they only moved the monument this year because people started complaining that it looked like trash.”

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