Canadian Forces Base Suffield Juggling Oil Industry, Environment And Military Mission

Canadian Forces Base Suffield Juggling Oil Industry, Environment And Military Mission by Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press, June 24, 2012,
In Afghanistan, Lt.-Col. Doug Claggett’s mission was to protect the population from insurgents. Now as commander of one the country’s biggest training bases he’s still a guardian, but for a whole set of endangered species and tracts of wilderness. Claggett, who acted as chief of staff to the last Canadian task force in Kandahar, is in charge of Canadian Forces Base Suffield, Alta., which for over three decades has been at the centre of a quiet tug-of-war with the oil and gas industry. The army is finding itself increasingly on the front line of environmental defence. The issue has been percolating through the military, especially in light of a decision last year by the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board to approve 47 non-routine natural gas well applications by energy giant Cenovus. … Despite being given the green light by the provincial board, Cenovus has not drilled any wells, partly because of the rock-bottom price of natural gas and partly because of restrictions imposed by the military. “It’s still an important development for us, but we’re not moving quickly to try and develop them with gas prices where they are,” said Brett Harris, a spokesman for the energy company.

In certain areas, National Defence has capped the number of “surface disturbances” at 16 — something that has irked the industry because the definition of a disturbance remains fuzzy. “That’s still an issue we’re trying to work out with the base and the Department of National Defence,” said Harris. “From our point of view it’s an arbitrary designation.” The military acknowledges the limit is precautionary and it’s studying the impact. But there is sustained pressure on National Defence, which is ultimately responsible for the land, to keep the industry at bay, especially in light of an Encana sweet gas well blowout at the base in October 2008. That incident followed a 90-barrel oil spill the month before at a nearby abandoned Harvest Energy well. The industry applied in 2009 for permission to drill new wells in the National Wildlife Area of the base, something an environmental review panel found would interfere with the conservation mandate of the region. Claggett’s predecessor, Lt.-Col. Malcolm Bruce, told hearings that the plan — effectively doubling the number of wells on base property — would clash with training and place a strain on the environment. The military has focused on developing a sustainable management plan for the base — something Claggett said he hopes to have wrapped up within two years. “The better part of my career has been around taking care of federal land and basically the people’s land,” he said. “We have a duty and responsibility to take care of it on behalf of them.”

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