How does one meet “half way” an energy regulator that covers up industry’s non-compliance and claims in court it owes Albertans harmed by fracing “no duty of care?”

Cooperation needed if going to ‘work together’ by Nielle Hawkwood, Lochend area resident near Cochrane, August 14, 2014, Cochrane Eagle

Dear editor:

Re: Editorial “Meet each other half way,” July 24.

I wish to respond to the suggestion that both sides of the fracking “debate” should work together.

The situation is one of competing interests. The oil and gas industry seeks to make maximum profit in the shortest possible time with the least possible expense. Those concerned about the industry’s activities wish to live in a healthy environment with fresh air, clean water and productive land.

In a situation where these competing goals exist, the arbiter is, of course, our elected government, which is given the responsibility to see to the best interests of Albertans.

It might interest your readers to know that Albertans concerned about fracking have made every effort to “work together” with government and industry. From the beginning, Albertans have gone through official channels and responded to all opportunities for collaboration.

As an example, in 2012, the Government of Alberta asked residents to provide advice on the regulation of unconventional drilling (fracking). The suggestions, which many residents sent, bear a close resemblance to the recommendations made by the European Union to their member countries, which might consider permitting this technology to be used on their soil.

Examples include:

– Thorough testing of air and groundwater quality in areas surrounding fracked wells before, during and after the technology is used, including complete transparency regarding chemicals involved in all processes;

– Provision of a performance bond by the companies involved, in case of untoward environmental effects;

– Continuous monitoring of fracking activities by government agencies throughout the process;

– Onus on industry to prove safety rather than on residents to prove harm;

– Stoppage of operations if earth tremors are reported.

In Alberta, these suggestions were not acted upon. Instead, ways were sought to “streamline” licensing of these wells; the right of residents to appeal decisions was taken away, and cutbacks were made to government departments involved in investigating claims of contamination, earthquakes and other harm. Inspection of fracked wells and gas flaring is not done unless residents make specific complaints. [Even when residents make specific complaints or provide the regulator with evidence of a company’s non compliance, inspections seldom happen]

In light of the lack of appropriate action, is it any wonder that Albertans have gone public with their ongoing concerns? [Emphasis added]

Meet each other half way Editorial by Cochrane Eagle, July 24, 2014

When there are two conflicting sides to a story, more often than not, the truth can be found somewhere in the middle.

Energy exploration – hydraulic fracturing (fracking), pipelines – is, and always has been, a hot topic in Canada, in particular in Alberta.

Horizontal fracking has been an issue covered by the Eagle for several years. In an effort to be balanced, the Eagle has published stories that address the concerns of residents who are against the practice, and has also articles from the perspective of those doing the drilling.

It would be naive for anyone to look at the debate over the effects of hydraulic fracturing and come to the conclusion that one side is telling the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help them God, and the other is lying about absolutely everything.

When it comes to hydraulic fracturing, there has been several issues brought to the surface by anti-fracking groups – excessive use of fresh water, what additives are being used in the frack fluid, possible contamination of ground water, earthquakes, illness hitting those who live in areas where fracking is conducted, illegal dumping of flowback frack fluid…the list goes on. All are valid concerns that should be addressed.

According to Alberta’s Environmental and Sustainable Resource Development website, there are around 174,000 wells in the province that have been drilling using hydraulic fracturing technology (over one million in the U.S.), and it states that there will be more fracking in the years to come.

On one side of the argument, you have those who feel there are a lot of ‘myths’ being spread about fracking in an effort to create fear and resistance to the practice. On the other, there are those who believe fracking is an under-regulated approach to oil and gas extraction, and is causing irreversible damage to people and the environment.

A study done in the U.S. by Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy found that in Pennsylvania (where fracking is prevalent), between 2010 and February 2012, 6.5 per cent of drilled wells experienced failures. In Alberta, industry reports say about five per cent fail, while another study said that there were leakage rates as high as 60 per cent.

Again, the truth likely rests somewhere in the middle.

In a perfect world, both sides of the fracking debate would work together and stop trying to push their agendas by using embellished and/or bully-like tactics.

When someone claims that everything wrong in their lives is because of fracking – much like what you see in the documentary Gasland (a ‘documentary’ directed by a man who was reportedly caught openly lying about the negative health effects of fracking) – it becomes difficult to accept all the claims as fact…it becomes counterproductive.

Likewise, it’s hard to believe everything oil and gas companies argue when there is clear evidence to the contrary (look at the blowout near Innisfail as an example). The fact that the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) – which is made up of several former energy sector employees, like its chair, Gerry Protti, who worked for Encana, was the founding president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and was a lobbyist for the Energy Policy Institute of Canada – conducts its own investigations into incidents like the one in Innisfail, does not shine a confident light on the process or the AER in general. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

There are proven cases of frac’ing contamination by Jessica Ernst, July 14, 2014,Rocky View Weekly

Re: “Documented cases of fracking contamination are not proven” June 23

There are proven cases documented and industry admits they don’t know what their frac’s do.

1987 Report to Congress: Kaiser frac’d about 4,000 feet deep “allowing migration of fracture fluid from the gas well to Mr. Parson’s water well. This fracture fluid, along with natural gas was present in Mr. Parson’s water rendering it unusable.”

1989 Industry: “hydraulic fracturing stimulation” for light oil, in several wells in Manitoba propagated into a water zone.

2001, 2004 Groundwater Database entries: Gas wells 02-06-04 perforations at 100.5 metres, 05-14-27-22-W4M intentionally fractured Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers.

2005 – Current: “Oil wells on the Campbell property have caused gas from 1,757 metres to enter their aquifer,” said Muehlenbachs

2005/06 Industry: “….industry still has much to learn about hydraulic fractures. Fractures from both horizontal and vertical wells can propagate vertically out of the intended zone, … potentially connecting up with other hydraulic fracturing stages or unwanted water or gas intervals.”

2006 Regulator: “Information provided by industry to date shows that there may not always be a complete understanding of fracture propagation at shallow depths and that programs are not always subject to rigorous engineering design.”

2008 Industry: “We Can Safely Say That We Know Everything There Is To Know About Hydraulically Created Fractures EXCEPT How Deeply They Penetrate; Their Vertical Extents; Their Symmetries About the Wellbore; Whether They Are Planar or Multi-stranded; Their Geometries At The Perimeter; Which Directions They Go; What Their Conductivities Are”

2008 what we don't know about hydraulic fracturing is lot's but they still make a lot of money

2010 Regulator: “Fracture propagation via large scale hydraulic fracturing operations has proven difficult to predict. Existing planes of weakness in target formations may result in fracture lengths that exceed initial design expectations.”

2012 Regulator: “High-Risk Enforcement Action against Crew Energy Ltd.” for a frac incident that contaminated groundwater. “The concentrations of chloride…remains elevated. Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) concentrations remained unchanged….”

Mr. Meikle’s letter: “Again when oil companies are going to hydraulically stimulate wells, they test all surrounding water wells for water quality and production rate.”

In my experience, companies refuse to do this, don’t test for all chemicals used on the few wells they do test and refuse complete chemical disclosure before drilling, preventing appropriate testing. And after a community’s water is contaminated and water tower explodes, Alberta regulators argue in court they owe ‘no duty of care’ to anyone harmed by industry’s contamination.

Mr. Meikle’s letter: “All chemicals used in fracking have to be reported to the AER.”

Not according to the regulator’s General Counsel: “the ERCB does not currently require licensees to provide detailed disclosure of the chemical composition of fracturing fluids.”

I asked what chemicals were injected in my community’s aquifers. Encana and the regulators refuse to cooperate.

Let’s hope more proof doesn’t involve Mr. Meikle’s water or loved ones. Fighting for accountability, justice and safe water, is an expensive, full-time job. ]

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