Alberta MLA Ted Morton rejects call for moratorium on fracking

Morton rejects call for moratorium on fracking by John Gleeson, March 6, 2012, Mountainview Gazette

Energy Minister Ted Morton has rejected a call from the Alberta Surface Rights Group for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

“A moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Alberta is not being considered. The Alberta government … is confident the current regulatory requirements ensure safe hydraulic fracturing operations,” Morton wrote in a letter to ASRG president, Don Bester, on Feb. 16.

Bester’s group called for the moratorium after a well blowout on Jan. 13 about 25 kilometres west of Innisfail near Gleniffer Lake, reportedly caused when a multi-stage frac came into contact with a nearby oil well. … In his letter, Morton said the Energy Resources Conservation Board “investigates all incidents, such as the incident of inter-wellbore communication near Innisfail, and when necessary, updates the rules for oil and gas development to ensure Alberta’s regulations remain relevant and protective.”

Interviewed last week, Bester described Morton’s response as “a pass-over letter to me saying, ‘Go away, the ERCB has got it under control.’ So the question to me is how are they controlling it if blowouts are happening all the time?”

After reporting the Gleniffer Lake blowout, Bester said, his group learned for the first time about four other blowouts in the province, one of them dating back to 2008. In the case of the Gleniffer Lake incident, the public might not hear more details from the ERCB review for up to four years, he predicted. “That’s the way to make it go away.”

Also last week, Environment and Water Minister Diana McQueen told the Gazette that her department was conducting a review of hydraulic fracturing that would look at “water usage, disclosure of chemicals, all that sort of thing.” The review is expected to be completed at the end of the year, McQueen said.

Bester laughed when told of the review.

“That one is a good pre-election spiel. We’ve gotten the same answer every month before an election. It’s next year, but next year never came.”

Concerns about the impact of fracking on groundwater and human and animal health were expressed by many people who attended the recent Alberta Property Rights Task Force open houses, including one in Olds on Jan. 11. Although the task force’s final report did not directly address the many calls for a moratorium, McQueen said her department’s review would study those issues. Also relevant, she said, the government will review compensation guidelines applied by the Surface Rights Board and Land Compensation Board.

Bester, who attended the Olds open house, said he was “absolutely shocked” when he read the final report, which also did not act on calls to repeal the government’s four contentious land bills. “I was at the same task force meeting and I don’t know what they heard. It was just a landowner task-force farce – that’s how it should have been labelled,” he said.

Bester noted that his group is not alone in calling for a moratorium on fracking. The Quebec government and at least one U.S. state have taken the step and last month the Council of Canadians announced that 62 per cent of Canadians polled by Environics Research were in favour of a moratorium, pending federal reviews. The National Farmers Union has also called for a moratorium, and in a release last week called fracking “a danger to water, food, farmland.”

Bester said one of his major fears is the “high potential to hit a sour gas well. In this blowout near Innisfail they didn’t even know what was occurring. It’s quite evident that these companies don’t know where the hell they’re drilling to,” he said. “I think we will be making it an election issue. Rural voters are being stomped on.”

The ASRG has about 1,200 members and has been active for eight years.

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