Alberta Government 2006 Legislature promise of permanent, safe alternate water to citizens with methane contaminated water in hydraulically fractured (aka stimulated) coalbed methane areas

Alberta Government, questioned on lack of baseline water well testing before hydraulic fracturing of shallow coalbed methane (CBM), promised that the EUB responsible “on every application” to protect groundwater Alberta Hansard 26th Legislature, 2nd Session February 27, 2006 Alberta Hansard 37, Monday, February 27, 2006 1:30 p.m.

2:20 Coal-bed Methane Drilling

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This government has actively encouraged coal-bed methane drilling, assuring Albertans that it’s safe. Thousands of coal-bed methane wells have been drilled in the past few years. The farmers and municipalities in proximity to these wells are experiencing dramatic change in their drinking water. High levels of methane, caustic skin burns, loss of safe drinking water have been reported, and they’re serious health and safety issues with no consistent process for investigation and management. To the Minister of Energy: how is it that CBM drilling is full speed
ahead when we’re still awaiting recommendations from the advisory committee and protective legislation is not in place?

Mr. Melchin: Mr. Speaker, last fall there was a draft report, as you may be aware, from the Multi-stakeholder Advisory Committee on coal-bed methane, and that went through public feedback at that stage. That final report has now been prepared. We have just been
in receipt of it. We are hopeful to have that report out in the not-too distant future. That said, I must re-emphasize, though, that the Energy and Utilities Board does still act on all of those issues that you’ve raised, very fact-, science-based information, to ensure that our water is protected. One of the recommendations coming out will be to ensure that we continue to gather and have the research on the protection of those aquifers so that we can continue to let all Albertans be reassured that their water will be protected as the coalbed methane drilling continues.

The Speaker: The hon. member.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. That is precisely the question. You’re continuing drilling before the regulations are in place. Why has there, for example, not been a regulation that all water in an area should be tested before the drilling?

Mr. Melchin: Mr. Speaker, there are regulations in place. This is another report, the Multi-stakeholder Advisory Committee, to help improve the regulatory framework that we have, a very good and one of the best, reputable standards throughout the world. The Energy and Utilities Board does act upon ensuring that when these issues come forward in any application, those things such as that water quality are preserved on every application, not just those going forward but those that have happened in the past.

The Speaker: The hon. member.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. To the Minister of Environment: do you support coal-bed methane development without adequate legislative protection of groundwater?

Mr. Boutilier: Mr. Speaker, unequivocally I do not. In fact, as I was just sharing with the Minister of Energy, some industries have come forward, looking under the Water Act, legislation that was passed in this Assembly. The answer to them at this point, until the report is complete, has been n-o. That’s two letters. No.

Alberta Government 2006 promise of permanent, safe alternate water to citizens with methane contaminated water in frac’d (aka stimulated using hydraulic fracturing) coalbed methane areas Alberta Hansard 26th Legislature, 2nd Session (February 28, 2006), Afternoon

1:40 Coal-bed Methane Drilling

Dr. Taft: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Alberta’s Water Act clearly states that it’s the duty of the government to “manage . . . water resources to sustain our environment and to ensure a healthy environment and high quality of life.” However, due to the rapid expansion of coal-bed methane operations in Alberta our water quality is quite literally coming under fire. If you doubt this, just ask Dale and Brenda Zimmerman, Jessica Ernst, and Fiona Lauridsen, three Albertans who used to have safe water to drink but after coalbed methane activities near their property now have water so contaminated that even their livestock refuses to drink it. My questions are to the Minister of Energy. Does the minister deny that our drinking water is threatened by shallow fracturing operations?

Mr. Melchin: Mr. Speaker, in this province we’ve been drilling for natural gas for – I don’t know – decades. It’s been certainly 50-plus years where we’ve had a substantive amount of activity in the regulation of oil and gas activity. It’s true that there is methane in lots of seams throughout this province, sometimes in our wells and so forth, but they’re not all related to the drilling activity. What is true, though, is that we have a very thorough, excellent regulatory regime, of which the Energy and Utilities Board heads up the regulatory function, to which those things can be adjudicated. Very important in all these issues, despite any assertions, is that they be fact based. It is very much in the interest of the development of this industry that we get to and ensure the safety of the water supply. So, yes, we do support the safe development of all of the oil and gas activity in this province, and they’re doing an excellent job.

The Speaker: The hon. leader.

Dr. Taft: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. To the same minister: given that published industry reports have said that it takes just one part per million of methane to make water at risk of explosion, can the minister deny that Dale Zimmerman’s water’s methane content of 75,800 parts per million poses an immediate risk to his family, his home, and his livestock?

Mr. Melchin: Mr. Speaker, I’ve not had the opportunity myself to ever receive such information, so I don’t know how to respond to just an assertion. It is very important that we do take these things very seriously. We’d be happy to receive that information. We’d be more than happy to ensure that the Energy and Utilities Board, who are the experts in these matters, who can ensure that the appropriate regulation and the appropriate enforcement happens if any problem occurs – so I’d be happy to receive that.

The Speaker: The hon. leader.

Dr. Taft: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Given that this minister’s department has received submissions and information for months on this issue, will this minister spend a week drinking and bathing in the water from the wells in question? Put your money where your mouth is.

The Speaker: This is really not Stampede Wrestling. [The Speaker allowed the energy minister to avoid the question]

Third Official Opposition main question. The hon. Member for Calgary-Mountain View.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The coal-bed methane industry is rapidly developing across Alberta, yet while this increased production is occurring, this government has failed to adequately legislate regulations around CBM drilling and fracturing that protect water wells, that test water wells before they’re fractured.

Because of this lack of accountability from government and industry some Albertans, including those in the Assembly today, are living with contaminated water that contains methane levels so high that they can now ignite their tap water. My questions are to the Minister of Environment. Given that the minister stated yesterday in the House that he does not support CBM activities without adequate water protection and regulations, will he decisively respond to concerns of the Zimmermans, Ms Ernst, Ms Lauridsen, and all other Albertans affected by CBM operations right now?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Boutilier: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the hon. member for the question because it is a very serious and a very important issue, that all Albertans enjoy safe drinking water. I think what is also equally important is that since we were first notified in October by some of the families that you’ve mentioned, we’ve been working very closely with them as Alberta Environment in terms of looking at alternative water options for them. We’re committed to doing that, as we’ve indicated to them. Also, it’s important as we go forward to develop a baseline of information in terms of what the impact is from drilling and also what the impact is from the natural flow of methane that, of course, takes place based on how this world has been created. So my commitment in terms of working with the families when it was first brought to our attention: we’re doing that. I’m actually looking forward to recommendations very quickly in the future that will be going to the EUB relative to the issue of how we go forward regarding automatic baseline testing for what the hon. member has brought up.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Minister, some of these individuals have been calling since October and are not getting return calls from your department. Can you explain that and why they are paying for their own bulk transport of water?

Mr. Boutilier: Mr. Speaker, let me reiterate to the hon. member and to the families that are here today: it is a very serious issue. As Alberta Environment I will use every fibre of energy in my body to assist this family relative to safe drinking water now and into the future. I’m not aware of any returned phone call, but I can assure you that we are working with them and we will continue to work with them because this is a very important issue to this family and to many other families that have been impacted, be it by the natural flow or because of what is being asserted relative to what is taking place in the water supply.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Minister, this is an urgent public health and safety issue. Will you support a moratorium/cessation of all shallow fracturing of coal now? [Emphasis added]

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