Alberta shuns US shale gas fears; Minister Renner says our rules prevent water contamination

Alberta shuns US shale gas fears; Minister Renner says our rules prevent water contamination by Darcy Henton, May 14, 2011, Calgary Herald

Albertans should not be alarmed by a new study that links shale gas drilling to groundwater contamination in the United States because regulations governing coal bed methane drilling in Alberta are different, says Environment Minister Rob Renner. Renner told the Herald that tough Energy Resources Conservation Board guidelines and Alberta’s geology reduce the likelihood of methane entering the province’s groundwater like it has around shale gas wells in the Northeastern U.S.

Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden also was not worried. “I know there has been methane naturally occurring in a lot of water wells,” Hayden said, noting methane has been common in wells around Big Valley in his east-central Alberta constituency “for the last 100 years” without any hydraulic fracturing of rock formations.

Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina found contamination in 85 per cent of the water samples they took from 68 private wells in five counties in Pennsylvania and New York. They found water wells within a kilometre of wells where a process called hydraulic fracturing was employed to release shale gas had methane gas levels 17 times higher than those further away. The study was published Monday in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But co-author Avner Vengosh told Reuters the findings should spark more monitoring and research. “There is no really comprehensive oversight of what is going on. There is not enough scientific research.”

Methane gas is explosive and can also suffocate people, but the study says little is known about the longterm effects of its consumption. …

But Conservative MLA Doug Griffiths, who is running for the party leadership, said more study might be needed. “I think the most precious resource we have is water, so we have to make damn sure we protect our water resources as best as possible,” he said. “I would think it would warrant Alberta doing an investigation to make sure our quality of water is top-notch and not impacted by fracking.”

Jessica Ernst, a Rosebud resident who is suing the province and Encana over contamination of her well, called Renner’s comment “ridiculous.” She said some companies ignore the rules and regulators are not regulating the industry adequately.

Ernst told a United Nations committee recently that despite numerous reports of suspected water contamination, regulators failed to follow their own investigation and enforcement processes. “Instead, regulators responded to my legitimate complaints and concerns in a hostile and confrontational manner that was characterized by bad faith,” she said in a presentation to the UN’s commission on sustainable development in New York on May 3.

But Renner said he believes Alberta has some of the best regulations governing hydraulic fracturing. “The ERCB is world-class,” he said.

ERCB spokesman Bob Curran said hydraulic fracturing has been used in Alberta since the 1950s, and 167,000 wells have been fractured since the technology was introduced. “There has never been a documented case of fracturing activities contaminating groundwater in Alberta,” he said. “The ERCB protects groundwater with strict regulations to prevent gas migrating into groundwater sources.” [Emphasis added]

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