Fracking fears play no part in British Columbia throne speech, oil and gas industry controls Alberta and BC governments

Fracking fears play no part in throne speech by John Gleeson, February 15, 2013, Coastal Reporter
B.C. is already in bed with the oil and gas industry and now the Liberal government wants us to make babies and grow old together. The most telling part of Tuesday’s throne speech — which banks on untold billions from liquefied natural gas taxes and royalties — was how cool the industry responded to the idea, especially the tax part. “I think it will cause industry to reflect on their business assumptions,” said Geoff Morrison on behalf of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, adding that companies will “likely have a discussion with government about that.” Ah yes, a discussion.

Alberta has been married for decades to the oil patch, but a few years back when the Ed Stelmach administration tried to impose modest royalty increases, the industry showed who was boss. It shut down the patch and killed the province’s economy, cozying up instead to friendlier regimes in B.C. and Saskatchewan. It also breathed life (money) into the Wildrose party, putting the ruling PCs on notice. The PCs dropped the royalty hike and got back in line, but Stelmach was politically a dead duck. Moral: don’t screw with the oil and gas boys.

Last month in Alberta, a landmark civil trial resumed. A 55-year-old scientist named Jessica Ernst is suing Encana, the Alberta government and its regulator for allegedly polluting the groundwater under her home in Rosebud. The whole world is watching this case because it targets the practice of hydraulic fracturing — fracking — which over the past decade has become the primary extraction method for much of the industry. Fracking injects massive amounts of water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground in order to break through rock formations and release gas trapped below. Ernst claims the methane gas migrates through the cracks and contaminates the aquifer on its way to the surface. The Alberta government says there has never been a documented case, but Ernst maintains there are “hundreds of other cases sealed by confidentiality agreements” that disprove that claim.

Methane gas contamination is only one of the fears from fracking. I heard Ernst speak about a year ago in a little community southwest of Red Deer called Eagle Valley. Fracking had come in a big way to Eagle Valley and the intensity of public anger and apprehension was palpable. One woman, Kim Mildenstein, a mother of three, had just been charged with uttering threats against an oil company (she was later sentenced to one year of probation). A major concern was the amount of heavy traffic on the roads, some carrying toxic materials. There was fear of environmental contamination from the undisclosed cancer-causing chemicals used in the process, both during the injection phase and in the wastewater. Another issue was the massive volume of fresh water being consumed.

Some of the biggest fracks in the world have been operating in northeastern B.C. Last fall, the Fort Nelson First Nation launched a petition campaign called “Don’t Give Away Our Fresh Water for Fracking” and collected 24,000 names in one month. The northeast is B.C.’s Alberta. It’s a terrific revenue generator because it’s out of sight and out of mind. As environmentalist George Smith said at the Feb. 2 Idle No More gathering in Sechelt, “Everybody knows what’s happening in the tar sands, but in northeastern British Columbia the amount of gas being taken out of the ground is second only to the tar sands — an enormous industrial project that’s causing incredible problems.” The industry, he said, is now looking at northwestern B.C. for “a huge operation that will rival what’s happening” in the northeast. And so it goes. The Liberal government is banking on all that lucre for your future. But at the end of the day, who do you think is going to be running this province? [Emphasis added]

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