Fracking discussions still moving forward

Fracking discussions still moving forward by Derek Clouthier, October 19, 2011, Cochrane Eagle
Just the word itself has ignited a passionate debate in Cochrane and around the world on whether this particular form of oil and gas exploration is a desirable method of extraction. It has also resulted in the formation of a group of concerned local residents called POWERS (Protecting Our Water and Ecological Resources Society). On Oct. 13 at the Cochrane RancheHouse, POWERS held a meeting to discuss what they feel is a rapidly developing problem in the region, and amongst the 40 who attended, several new faces were in the crowd, including 31-year-rancher, Nielle Hawkwood. “We’ve always been thrilled that we have our little piece of paradise out here,” she said following the meeting. “We’ve always prized our land and our water and our ability to produce really good crops and food and I really feel that that’s threatened by this particular form of fracking that’s going on right now.” Hawkwood received a note from POWERS informing her and her husband about the conference the organization was holding on Sept. 10 and found herself drawn to the cause. “The thing that drew me to the group was initially my husband and I had just happened to see a documentary on television about some of these technologies that have been used in the States and the disastrous consequences that they’ve had from earthquakes to pollution of water and air and land so that people could no longer continue farming…that frightened us. We didn’t realize that that was what was happening in our own neighbourhood.

After attending the conference, Hawkwood was convinced. “(It) really convinced me that this was something that needed to be addressed.” At the most recent POWERS meeting a familiar trepidation seemed to echo from those who attended. “People are very concerned about their water,” said Hawkwood. “The water quality. Even though we might want to have our water tested, we don’t even know what the hydraulic fluids are that are being used (for) fracking.” With many newcomers to the Oct. 13 event, the POWERS board of directors presented information to the attendees, a group Patty Pickup, a member and organizer for the society, described as energized. “Forty very high energy, very concerned people. We were so impressed with the energy in the room. We were extremely pleased with the turnout.”

Pickup also reverberated the sentiment Hawkwood felt from the gathering. “They are extremely worried that the ingredients in the fracking fluid are kept confidential. The ERCB (Energy Resources Conservation Board) and other regulators throughout North America do not require that the oil companies tell us what’s in their frack fluid. People are becoming very, very sick with cancers…children are getting sick. It’s difficult to prove that it’s something in the frack fluid. How hideous that the government has put us in this position that the onus is on the person who is ill to prove that it was something in the frack fluid, but you can never know what’s in the frack fluid. “We can’t really get a good test on our water until we know what we’re testing for,” added Hawkwood. “That information is considered proprietary by the companies.”

Hawkwood went on to say that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) had sent someone to the POWERS meeting on Oct. 13 to discover what exactly the group was discussing; an observation Pickup repeated and expanded upon. “One of our greatest concerns is communication,” Pickup said, making reference to a list of 42 questions on the society’s website that they have asked several oil and gas companies to reply to. “We contacted the oil companies in our area in March, and to date no one has answered one. They have not had the courtesy of even contacting us.” Of those who were present at the last POWERS meeting some were from outside the Cochrane area, including Red Deer and Elnora. Hawkwood said she met many who ‘would gladly give back any of the money that was paid to them if they could have their farms back.’ “(Though) this is a deeper level of fracking,” Hawkwood said, “we feel it’s really dangerous.” “From what we know,” added Pickup “there has been no study on the cumulative effects of these oil wells being placed so close together.” Struggling to contain her emotions, Pickup described the area near Big Hill Springs Provincial Park as just the beginning of what’s coming. “It is ugly.”

Highway 567 and 34 is what Pickup calls ‘frack ally.’ “They’re putting up rigs beside houses; they’re putting in a six multi-well pad. We are so saturated it’s absolutely frightening. “With the federal government now saying that they are going to study hydraulic fracturing…they know what’s happening throughout the rest of the world. Put a moratorium on it now.”

The immediate goal for POWERS is to have a moratorium placed on fracking in the area and for an independent agency to test whether the practice and the chemicals used are safe. “We’re concerned about our children’s inheritance,” Pickup said. “We’re as concerned about the guys who are working on the rigs, the executive who lives out there in Bearspaw and his children…this is not about them and us, it’s about all of us.” [Emphasis added]

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