Activist ‘banished’ by the EUB

Activist ‘banished’ by the EUB, A consultant’s run-in with the Alberta agency over an e-mail provides some lessons in why landowners’ suspicions are as deep as oil wells by the Edmonton Journal, July 29, 2007.
Jessica Ernst isn’t sure why she was banished by the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, but she’s still seething. The 50-year-old environmental consultant, named one of Alberta’s top newsmakers in 2006, says she was blacklisted after complaining vociferously about oilpatch noise and water contamination. The EUB says she threatened its staff. Ernst, who was applauded by the Calgary Herald for the hue and cry she raised over coal-bed methane drilling and its potential impact on well water, got into trouble with the board when she referenced oilpatch saboteur Wiebo Ludwig in an e-mail. “Someone said to me the other day: ‘You know, I am beginning to think the only way is the Wiebo way,’ ” she wrote in closing a November 2005 e-mail to about 250 people on a coal-bed methane watch list. Somehow, the EUB got wind of the e-mail.

The reference to Wiebo Ludwig, who was convicted in April 2000 of blowing up an oil well and sentenced to 28 months in prison, prompted an EUB manager to accuse her of attempting to incite people to violence, and Ernst was cut off from communication. “What I cannot and will not accept is your threat, veiled as something someone said to you, as a means to incite people to resort to the Wiebo way,” Jim Reid, a manager in the EUB’s compliance and operations branch, warned Ernst in a Nov. 24, 2005, letter. “Criminal threats will not be tolerated and we are deciding on ho- best to work with the office of the Attorney General of Alberta and the RCMP to register our concern and to ensure the protection of the public, including our staff.” The letter was copied to the RCMP in Drumheller who police the tiny community of Rosebud where Ernst resides.

Ernst’s next letter to the board was returned unopened. “They didn’t have evidence,” Ernst fumes. “They didn’t have a hearing. They just ruled that I was a threat. “The EUB is mandated to protect my safety from things like water contamination and violation of my legal right to quiet enjoyment of my property. When presented with evidence of non-compliance, they called me the criminal.”

Banishment denied
EUB spokesman Bob Curran said Ernst was never “banished.” “What we had was someone who made threats so we had to find a way to allow that person to bring those concerns to us without putting our staff in a potentially dangerous situation,” he said. Ernst doesn’t buy it. “From the many unanswered concerns and questions about risks to public health and safety, it is obvious that I remain banished,” she told The Journal. “Also there is evidence indicating petroleum industry pollution in my water well. Where is the EUB?”

Many landowners complain they have been let down by the process and have lost faith in the board to protect them and their land. Paula Hopwood, a 38-year-old mother of three who lives near Drayton Valley, is still seething from her dealings with the board when she tried to prevent a gas well from being drilled upwind from her farmhouse. She was concerned a well close to the house could kill her severely asthmatic six-year-old son. She tried to have the well drilled downwind so the prevailing winds would carry the odour away. When she met with board employees and the company to try to resolve the issue, she claims the EUB official advised her that he “had asthma as a kid and asthma doesn’t kill children.” At that point she threw him out of her house.

She thought she would get better treatment at a hearing, but she stormed out in tears when company officials questioned her motives and suggested she shouldn’t be living in the oilpatch with an asthmatic child. Hopwood said it would have cost the company $10,000 to drill the well from the location she suggested. The board compromised and allowed the company to drill upwind, but farther away. That decision killed all faith Hopwood had in the board. She said she no longer trusts it to look out for the health and safety of Albertans. “Anyone who has had to deal with them realizes the EUB does not protect you,” she said. “The people who are hearing your case are judge and jury and they are being paid by the company you are going up against.” (The majority of the board’s annual budget is funded through an industry levy.) “The EUB seems to be the wingman for the oil companies.” [Emphasis added]

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