Laurie Blakeman questions Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen on Groundwater and Hydraulic Fracturing, McQueen responds “That’s a silly question” when asked about baseline water testing before fracing

Alberta Legislature, MLA Laurie Blakeman questions Environment Minister Diana McQueen on Groundwater and Hydraulic Fracturing in Alberta Hansard, November 29, 2012

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The Speaker: The hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre, followed by Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.

Groundwater and Hydraulic Fracturing

Ms Blakeman: Thanks very much, Mr. Speaker. The government has failed to follow the science and do the work to be able to prove or disprove whether fracking has affected water and particularly failed to do a baseline study of water until after coalbed methane production and fracking had been done for some time, so we have no information from before when this activity started. To the minister of the environment: how does the minister plan to overcome this lack of scientific fact?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mrs. McQueen: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I said the other day in the House here with regard to similar kinds of questions, what we have been doing and what we will continue to do as a department and as a government is to make sure that, first and foremost, the groundwater mapping is done in this province. We’ve done a significant amount of that. We’ve put $16 million towards groundwater mapping, and we will continue on top of that to make sure that baseline testing is done.

The Speaker: The hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre, without preamble.

Ms Blakeman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. To the same minister: does the minister recognize that this lack of science is affecting the industry? They would like to be able to prove that fracking that’s done with proper standards and well-casings is safe, but without proof they can’t do it.

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mrs. McQueen: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Indeed, we are working not only with the industry but also with the ERCB and the Ministry of Energy to make sure that we are doing baseline testing, that we are looking at hydraulic fracturing. We are
looking, in fact, at how much water will be used, and we are doing consultation in the new year on this particular subject because water is the most important resource for Albertans. We know that. This government knows that, and that is why we are doing the work that we are committed to doing.

The Speaker: The hon. member.

Ms Blakeman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Does this minister understand that baseline testing has to be done before you start the activity?

Mrs. McQueen: Well, absolutely, Mr. Speaker. That’s a silly question. We know that, and that’s why we’re doing all of the groundwater mapping first and foremost, and then we are doing…the base water testing, and we are doing studies, and we’re working with Albertans to go and have a discussion in the new year about hydraulic fracturing as it pertains to water use. Yes, we know that. There have been very few wells drilled in this province with hydraulic fracturing, and that’s why we’re taking the time with industry, with the regulator, ERCB, with the Department of Energy, and with Albertans to make sure that we get this right as we develop this resource.

The Speaker: Hon. member, let’s be careful with terms like “that’s a silly question,” please. I’m sure that that was in the heat of the moment. No question, in a member’s opinion who is giving the question, is silly. I’ll just remind you of that. [Emphasis added]

[Reality check:

EnCana’s intentional perfs and fracs Above the Base of Groundwater Protection at Rosebud, Alberta – before April 2006, many more wells continue to be intentionally perforated and frac’d Above the Base of Groundwater Protection within the map area and beyond. Slide from:  Is hydraulic fracturing safe and sustainable? Presentation by Jessica Ernst on May 3, 2011 in New York at the United Nations 19th Commission on Sustainable Development. Click to get PDF, zoom in for legal land descriptions.  Black are deeper energy wells.

Alberta Horseshoe Canyon coalbed methane wells by 2006 (each square = Township x Range = 6 x 6 miles). Conventional and other unconventional wells are not included on this map, nor are all CBM wells (the blue points to some of the contamination cases discussed in this brief.). Adopted from Trident Exploration Corp: The Horseshoe Canyon Coals of Central Alberta – A Dry CBM Play

One of Trident’s Keys to production: “High rate N2 fracture of each seam”

Scientist wants EnCana to be held accountable September 25, 2007Drumheller Valley Times
Considering that EnCana perforated and fractured our drinking water aquifers, without conducting any appropriate data collection first, telling us, or fulfilling the regulatory requirements in place at the time (including applying for a permit from Alberta Environment before diverting water from the CBM well), I am pleased to see our council stand up to the rogue company.

I am disappointed that you did not publish Mr. Bill Barnett’s August 7, 2007 letter regarding EnCana’s refusal to conduct vital tests on his water – even though he offered to pay for them himself. Mr. Barnett is not the only citizen EnCana has refused this – I know of others.

Alberta Environment found methane, toluene and kerosene in the hamlet water. Kerosene is a red flag indicator of petroleum industry contamination. The community’s concrete water tower lid exploded off in January 2005 seriously injuring a worker, months after EnCana fractured the aquifers and diverted fresh water from its CBM. A propane torch was blamed. What if EnCana’s shallow fracturing caused methane to release? What if kerosene caused the explosion? The new water tower cost nearly $700,000. The $150,000 that EnCana promised the Rosebud Theatre (a few months after the first water well went bad) seems a cheap solution. EnCana gave millions to a school in the United States after the company was heavily fined in Colorado for failing to protect a creek and groundwater from methane migration caused by the company’s CBM. Indeed, EnCana publicly announced in the government’s water meeting in Strathmore last June that the company fractured over 40 wells in our county above the base of groundwater protection – without appropriate data collection first. EnCana declared publicly that it does not have to cooperate in the regulator’s investigation at Rosebud.

Why is EnCana not willing to test our water beyond the minimum standards? by Bill Barnett, in Red Deer AdvocateDrumheller Valley Times andStrathmore Standard, August 7, 2007

Alberta’s 171,000 Oil and Gas Wells Frac’d Before Knowing the Risks Alberta allowed about 171,000 oil and gas wells to be hydraulically fractured without appropriate baseline testing or frac regulations (refer below to the February 2013 Map by Energy Statistics Office). Only on May 22, 2013, did the energy regulator finally release a frac Directive. (It does not mandate baseline water well testing or completion of community health risk assessments.)

Map presented by the ERCB March 14, 2013 at “The Fracking Truth” Expert Panel in Calgary

“There’s been over 171,000 wells that have been hydraulically fractured in Alberta since the practice began in the 1950’s,” ERCB’s Bob Curran said.

2005: Investigators say an accumulation of gases appears to have caused the explosion that destroyed the Rosebud water tower and sent a Wheatland County employee to hospital ]

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