Community Voice 

The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.

—Sir Winston Churchill


The Campbells 

Shawn and I moved to a beautiful ranch in central Alberta 16 years ago. We thought it was about reducing our workload and finding an easier lifestyle. But God had other plans for us. He blessed us with a love for this community, then it appears, said, 'I've got a task for you in this new place' and so our adventure began.
We had excellent water for 8 years and then in 2005 the production from our house well dropped so much that it could not replenish itself. We had to abandon the well for fear that it might not make it through winter. Since we had another high volume well that was plentiful for the livestock, we decided to pipe that into our house. Within a couple days, it became apparent that there was something in the water. A lab test revealed methane, ethane, propane, butane and isobutane.  The contents alone tells you that it is not naturally occuring or biogenic (from bacteria) because bacteria cannot produce propane, butane and higher order hydrocarbons.
But we were to learn that in this journey to understand water.
Oil companies sent water testers to sample our water.  In 2007 we were part of a press release from the Alberta Legislature, speaking about our water contamination and asking for 'safe water' to be supplied to us.  We didn't get any but the media coverage seemed to prompt Alberta Environment to come and do their own testing.  They hired ARC (Alberta Research Council) to write an official report which we received in January 2008.
Four other impacted water well owners, three in the Rosebud area and one near Wetaskwin, received similar reports closing their water cases stating that their gas problem was biogenic (Energy producers in Alberta are fracturing for biogenic gas in the Horseshoe Canyon).  Dr. Blyth, who wrote the reports, found there were indicators of deep source gas (thermogenic) in our water, so our case was left open.
The analysis of ethane gas in the other cases also indicated a thermogenic source but this was overlooked, perhaps due to their unnaturally high concentrations of methane.
Because the impact in our water was from deep gas, the investigation was turned over to the ERCB (Energy Resources Conservation Board: energy regulator), to try to identify where the gas was coming from.  At this time we still believed that this was for our benefit. In the one mile surrounding our water well, there are over 50 energy wells, owned by four or five companies, and about half that many water wells, so one could accept that this could be a monumental task.
To date only nine energy wells and six domestic water wells have been investigated, and only within 1km. of our water well.
There could be years of work ahead at this rate.
In the fall of 2009 an energy well that had sat abandoned for the last few years was capped and closed under the direction of the ERCB.  They told us that this gas well had been leaking but was not the source of the gas in our water well.  It didn't change our situation but hopefully someone benefited.  In 2007 Dr. Muehlenbachs, geochemist and isotope expert from U of A (who analyzed the gas in our water many times) shocked a lot of people by revealing that his research indicated that one in every 20 wells in Alberta is leaking.  If you think there might be gas leaking in your area, don't accept the old cliche that this has never happened.
In 2010, the ERCB commissioned a couple of unique studies in our area, including a Remote Sensing Lineament study. This type of investigation looks at the natural flow of groundwater in an area.  They found that the major flow toward our water well is from the northwest.  This coupled with previous findings that gas from an Encana water well about a mile away in that direction, had the same ethane isotope as the gas in our well sparked our curiosity.
The ERCB has not yet included the energy wells from this area into their investigation.
Further research into drilling logs revealed that at least two CBM (coal bed methane) wells were drilled by Encana in 2005 and there was severe loss of circulation at 120 m (within water bearing zones) and these wells were fracked repeatedly, as shallow as 300 m.  Earlier, in 1988, Pan Canadian drilled a water well to 900 feet, and a few months later sealed it at 450 feet due to gas.  Water at 900 feet, gas at 900 feet; water was removed and used for enhanced oil recovery (to force oil to the surface using water) from 450 feet, then in 2005 loss of circulation occurs at 400 feet.
Could these events have had an impact on our water?
The ERCB hired a company to take soil samples in our area after we pointed out an area of dying trees close to our water well.  The company took samples both on energy sites and in farmland away from well sites.  They found that many of the energy sites were contaminated with gases including all those in our water, and additionally hexanes, toluene and benzene just to name a few.  The surrounding land had only a small amount of biogenic methane that could have been formed from natural decomposition of decaying matter in the soil.  What is more important though, is that another expert commented that the depth at which the company sampled was too shallow, likely collecting only biogenic methane, and not representative of subsurface gases.  He explained that unless the sample is taken below the clay layer that acts like a barrier to the gas, the samples would not give a true picture of gas present.
When we queried the ERCB about this, they assured us it was sufficient.  Sufficient for whom?
By the end of 2010, the ERCB finally agreed with the Research Council that the gas in our water was truly thermogenic coming from energy production, but they could not identify from which specific energy site.  The ERCB did testing-using some techniques that appeared questionable, and claimed that the carbon monoxide and sour gas levels were below 1 ppm.
After 8 years and 14 reports later, and living with the danger of explosion or being gassed, the ERCB asked to test our water for the next two to five years.  Both Alberta Environment and the ERCB have repeatedly put the responsibility for removing the gases from our water onto us, telling us that to prevent the danger of explosion that we should vent the gas.
We sure didn't put this toxic mix of gases into our water and according to the ERCB's own regulations, it's illegal to vent sour gas, that's why it's often flared.
In 2011, when a company started constructing a new well pad near us, we objected since the plan was to drill down 1645 m and then horizontally 3190 m.  This information sent up red flags for us for two reasons: 1) because the gas in our water has been identified to be coming from about 1650 m (Viking or Mannville zones), and 2) the mile long horizontal.  Was this indicating that the well was going to be fractured for shale gas?  The ERCB would not answer my question.  Then the company filed a change of formation name from Fahler to Upper Mannville saying it was transcribed wrong from the original (that's some poor typing!).
The ERCB denied us standing.  They said that just because our water was contaminated was not reason enough to allow our objection to stand and the company's mitigation of more surface casing would prevent more gas from contaminating our water.
In 2012, three horizontal wells were drilled near us. One less than a quarter mile away has had a constant flare burning since. In 2013, a different company was granted a license by the ERCB to drill six horizontals from one well pad. One leg, when completed, will be only meters away from our water well. It's obvious that our water could be further affected, and with permission from the regulator investigating our case. 
We find that rural people are very interested in the subject of water contamination because they depend on groundwater, but if you are on town water, you may not know that your water could be affected also.
Presently town water is treated with ammonia and chlorine.  They call it chloramination.  So you have nothing to worry about.  Sorry that was meant to be funny but really it's not.  The reason I bring this to your attention is because we were told by Alberta Environment to shock chlorinate our well (adding chlorine to kill bacteria) and we did - three times in two years!!
Then we found in information published by Health Canada, adding chlorine to methane gas creates trihalomethanes and chloroform which are known to be toxic.
Summer of 2011, the energy company wanting to drill the new horizontal wells tested our water once again (that's about 16 times in five years). They found that our water was 25% gas, the methane content at over 500,000 ppm and increased levels of other gases, including sour gas at 88.5 ppm. Alberta Health's regulation for safe exposure level is 10 ppm.
This deadly gas was coming into our home, we were showering with it for the past 5 years.  We realized we were endangering our health and couldn't wait for the government's 'promised safe water' any longer.
We had to find an alternate source.
After waiting two months to see what the ERCB would do with this terrifying data, we contacted them again and they asked to come test the water again, saying they will contact Alberta Health after the next test.  
The sampling company had written in their report how awful our water smelled that day.  'The hydrogen sulphide found in the Campbell's water well must be naturally occurring from bacteria,' wrote the ERCB.  They would like the public to believe that, but they know that our water was tested for bacteria that day.  There was zero sulfate reducing bacteria that can produce sour gas, and minimal other bacteria.  As required in ERCB directive 035, we purged our well to make sure the sampling came from the aquifer, not just standing water in the well bore. 
Their sampling results indicate the sour gas is coming from the aquifer, not our wellbore.
How did sour gas get into our water?  One way is that formations can be soured by energy companies using untreated water in enhanced oil recovery.  This took place in our area for many years.
The sour smell in our water is so bad that in 2009, Dr. Blyth with ARC, an ERCB expert, and a water tester were joking with us about how our water could be used to kill gophers, painless, they wouldn't know what hit them. Guess what!  That ERCB expert now claims that he doesn't remember smelling any sour gas in our water.  We've learned that some of the side effects of sour gas exposure are impaired eyesight, loss of smell and loss of brain cells
There are many families like us in Alberta and across the continent.  Josh Fox travelled across the USA asking if oil and gas activity had impacted people.  The result was his excellent film, Gasland, which was nominated for an Academy award.  In the movie, look at the people like us, ordinary people living with contaminated water.  Look for the actions by the regulators, and the responses from energy companies.  
In our experience, it's the same in Alberta.
A little side story to tell you about Gasland.  When we knew it was going to be released to the public, we were in southern Alberta and went to a movie store to try to buy a copy.  The attendant said they were all sold out.  I said, 'all sold out,, but didn't it just come out today?'  He showed me a big stack under the counter that had all been bought by one person.  My guess is someone didn't want the public to see this movie.  Next, we tried Edmonton (central Alberta).  There, we had to ask for the movie because the copies were kept in the back ... not on the shelf where all the other movies are.  We are grateful for people like Josh who continue to work hard to reveal the truth.
As much as energy companies would like people to believe that everything is fine,  people are being harmed and poisoned by impacts from these operations, but we believe that it's not just the people.  It's the WATER, the resource we all need to live.
It's our job to tell people the truth.
Many thanks to the amazing friends we have made through this struggle with water contamination.
We have been blessed to meet many knowledgeable people and learn about water and it's vital role in our lives.
When no one seems to understand, we will listen.
 You may contact us.
Shawn and Ronalie Campbell 
Alberta, Canada




In The News: Campbells Go Public with the Contamination

Alberta Accused Of Ignoring Water Well Contamination By Oil And Gas Drilling 

By The Canadian Press, May 1, 2007

Shawn Campbell says the Alberta government has refused to test the toxic cocktail of petro-gases that he says have poisoned his drinking water. 

... Campbell and wife Ronalie said they have 30 producing oil or gas wells on their 250 cow-calf operation. 

They discovered more than a year ago that their water well contained explosive gases like methane, ethane, propane, butane and pentane. 

He said they have fought the province unsuccessfully to have full comprehensive testing of their water. Environment Minister Rob Renner said he is not aware of any instances where the province has refused to test wells. ... more.


Gas In Water

By Lana Michelin, May 2, 2007, Red Deer Advocate

When the “bubbling” in their tap water was identified as gas, a Ponoka-area couple said they quickly learned that the Alberta government wasn’t about to take their side against oil companies. 

“Yes, (the provincial government) has all the power to do something about it, but they don’t act on it. They’re afraid,” said Ronalie Campbell ... 

“Oil companies bring so much money in, they don’t want to step on their toes,” added her husband Shawn Campbell. 

The Campbells said they wanted to warn other Albertans about the dangers of groundwater contamination and the lack of accountability in this province. 

“I have lost total faith in our government, our regulators and our industry,” said Shawn ...  
The rancher with more than 30 oil or gas wells on his land said he’s always supported the right of industry to operate in Alberta.

“We had what others dream of,” said Shawn — until their sputtering, bubbling tap water was tested by an independent laboratory in 2005 and found to contain gas. 
Among the hydrocarbons found in the “foul” smelling water were methane, ethane, propane, butane and pentane.

... The Campbells then contacted the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board. “They didn’t respond to us,” said Ronalie, except to refer them to Alberta Environment. 

The Campbells turned their water test results over to the department and waited for the government to demand oil companies turn over samples of their gas production, to be matched to the gas in their well. 

But as far as the couple knows, this never happened.

Ronalie said a government official told her the companies were asked to voluntarily turn over samples. She doesn’t know if any did, since the government’s response since then has been to tell the Campbells that they have no contamination problem. ... more.


Water Grief Brings Cowboy To Tears

By Jason Fekete, with files from Renata D’Aliesio, May 2, 2007, Calgary Herald

Hero of the Storm - Photo: David R. StoeckleinPonoka-area farmer Shawn Campbell, 57, tried to choke back tears under the brim of his cowboy hat at a news conference, when he argued rural Albertans’ worries over their contaminated and potentially toxic groundwater are largely falling on deaf ears. 

… Industry production has contaminated their water with several explosive gases, he insisted, such as methane, ethane and propane.

But the government is treating them like a bunch of “dumb farmers,” he said, and is failing to protect the best interests of citizens.

… But Environment Minister Rob Renner said Tuesday there’s been methane in groundwater for years and that only recently have Albertans become more aware of the issue. “We do everything that we possibly can to maintain the integrity of our groundwater,” Renner told reporters at the legislature.

 “If there is any clear evidence that we need to take further action, we’re prepared to do so.”

But Renner said the province’s analysis of sample wells shows most of the contamination issues are the result of poor well maintenance by landowners.

Alec Blyth, a hydrogeologist with the Alberta Research Council who’s part of the scientific panel reviewing Alberta’s water testing rules…believes improvements to the province’s testing system are required.

One gap he’s cited is the need to collect better data on the natural gas from coal bed methane wells. “We’ve got a fingerprint of the gas, but there is nothing to compare it to,” he said recently. “I think that leads to problems.” ... more.


Complaints Prompts Well Tests

By Mary MacArthur, May 10, 2007, The Western Producer

Alberta Environment officials have taken samples from wells after Shawn and Ronalie Campbell complained at a recent news conference the government has done little to help find out how gas contaminated their water well. 

Andrew Horton, an Alberta Environment spokesperson, said the government hopes tests of gas and water wells last week near the Ponoka-area farm will isolate the cause of the contaminated drinking water. 

“We’re taking this very seriously,” said Horton. “Hopefully we will get this resolved soon.” 

Ronalie Campbell said four companies have already sampled water from their well since it became contaminated 18 months ago and have identified methane, ethane, propane, butane and pentane in their drinking water. The explosive gases have been identified as coming from deep production gas zones. 

... “We were never included in the loop,” she said. “We’re victims in this situation and we’re the last ones to get any information.” 

Ronalie said they hope the latest tests will lead the government to provide safe drinking water for their home and their cattle. 

“We want to know if they plan on taking any positive action to provide us with safe drinking water,” said Ronalie.

Horton said between Jan. 1, 2004, and April 10, 2007, the environment department received 177 complaints of ground water problems. ... more.


ERCB Advises Residents Fix The Problem, Recommends Do-It-Yourself Sour Gas / Methane Venting 

... a report confirmed the well is suffering 'thermogenic impact' from deep source gases that are being tapped into by energy companies in the area.

By Lana Michelin - Red Deer Advocate, December 26, 2011

Ponoka-area cattle farmers say their water well is getting increasingly more contaminated with 'extremely explosive and deadly' hydrocarbons and sour gas - and Alberta's energy regulator isn't acting quickly enough to protect them.

Shawn and Ronalie Campbell are concerned that their water well is now 10 times as polluted as when it was tested several years ago.

The couple haven’t been using the contaminated well on their property for drinking, but only stopped showering and laundering clothes in the water this fall when the latest test results became known.

Explosive methane and other associated hydrocarbon gases in the Campbells’ water well were shown to have increased to 500,000 parts per million in testing done last July.

Ronalie said recently that this compares to 87,900 ppm in 2009, 67,900 ppm in 2007, and 7,840 ppm in 2006.

Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) was recently found to be at 88.5 ppm in July, compared to 9.9 ppm in 2006.  

The current rate is more than eight times higher than the safe level, which is below 10 ppm, said Ronalie, who believes the depth of the contamination indicates it was caused by oil and gas activity in the area.  

But the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) sees no evidence of this.

'Fingerprint' testing conducted on nine oil and gas wells operating in the vicinity showed no exact match with the hydrocarbons found in the Campbell’s well, said ERCB spokesperson Darin Barter, who added, 'There’s no direct link.' 

Ronalie disagrees, saying a report confirmed the well is suffering 'thermogenic impact' from deep source gases that are being tapped into by energy companies in the area.

... "I don’t care what energy well it is, at this point. We know it’s from an energy source, so they should say, ‘All of you have to clean this up,’ ” added Ronalie, who’s disappointed by the ERCB’s position.

She’s particularly upset that the ERCB is advising them to fix the problem, instead of industry doing it.

One suggestion from the energy regulator is that the Campbells should build a venting shed to heat the well water, allowing noxious gases to evaporate into the atmosphere. But Ronalie isn’t even sure it would be legal to vent such concentrated poisonous gases.

'What if somebody got knocked out walking by?'

She noted the sour gas would be particularly dangerous if inhaled. And methane is explosive, said Ronalie, adding a venting shed blew up in Northern Alberta.

... This is a case of the regulator protecting industry instead of the public, she said.

... He disagrees that the ERCB isn’t doing enough for the Campbells, saying that ongoing testing was offered of their contaminated water well.

But Ronalie said the well has been studied long enough and action is needed. ... more.


‘Fact or fiction’ – What’s The Fracking Truth?

“In our opinion as landowners, what we’re seeing is more fracs, more fiction”

David Morris, a community representative from Quicksilver said he was thankful to be invited to an open dialogue and expressed his concern that the public perception of fracking is skewed. Photo - Mark Crown/Camrose CanadianBy Mark Crown, November 8, 2012, The Camrose Canadian

... David Morris, a community representative from Quicksilver said he was thankful to be invited to an open dialogue and expressed his concern that the public perception of fracking is skewed.

"Often in our world fear trumps facts time and time again," Morris said, adding "we are entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts."

Morris argued that the public often applies different standards to the oil and gas industry than it does to other industries and used a tube of toothpaste as a prop to make his point.

"These are things that have a lot of similar additives and I wonder if you opened your cabinet under your sink and do all of the MSDS studies and ask 'what kind of things are we having?" he said.

... Morris concluded by asking attendees to consider that they may be in a mental rut, which he suggested they attempt to move out of.

Shawn and Ronalie Campbell shared a vastly different experience with attendees.  

The couple has had oil and gas operations on their ranch a long time and started to ask questions when they noticed unusual occurrences on their land. Multiple tests showed unsafe sulphur levels and thermogenic gases…in the Campbell’s water and Ronalie said the issues of fracking go far beyond peoples unfounded fears.

“Industry claims that hydraulic fracturing is safe and regulated by the government. Well, I think there is definitely some questions about the safety, otherwise people wouldn’t be asking for moratoriums on it,” she said. “This isn’t isn’t just people with fears saying it’s not safe, there have been many peer reviewed studies that have been done.”

Ronalie continued by stating that further to her point, she believes it is the oil and gas industry who is promoting fictitious arguments.  

“In our opinion as landowners, what we’re seeing is more fracs, more fiction,” she said. “We’ve seen more presentations, more ad’s saying that this is all environmentally friendly and will not cause any harm to people, but when we look at the trees, lakes and rivers what would they say if they could talk?” ... more.



Got Questions?

Fact or Fiction: By Shawn and Ronalie Campbell (2012)



'Water,' 'Water' Everywhere And Residents Disappear

SEEPS - Send Environment & Equipment Please. Sinking

By Ronalie Campbell, March 16, 2013
In October 2011 our first odd seep showed up.
There was water coming up through the ground, running in a half inch stream in a couple of places next to our cattle trough. One would have thought that an underground line could have burst, but there are no underground lines here, just a plastic pipe connected to a submersible pump which pumps directly from a wellbore into a rubber tire.
We didn't think it was much of a problem until we noticed the cattle would not come anywhere near it, and to get to the trough they took a wide berth on high ground. It was muddy so we put down a board to walk on, to have a closer view of the source. The ground wiggled like jelly for meters around. It wasn't just muddy, it was completely saturated and had become a bog. This, where cattle used to walk, and we drove trucks and tractors.
Where was this coming from? We started to look for sources.
This particular piece of land has a couple of springs on it, so we went to have a look there. The springs were flowing about twice the volume of normal. Wow, this is a huge change in water! Streams and rivers will increase markedly after rains, but a spring is an underground source of water, so what was causing the underground increase?
The summer had been slightly rainy (actual results for the year were normal, about 17 inches) with most falling in July and early August. There had been no rain since then.
We walked further west and observed seepage down a cutline that years earlier had been opened to install a salt water pipeline from an energy injection well on the top of a hill down to an energy well located next to a small lake (more like a slough). Word is that people used to swim and canoe on the lake in the past, but now it's so full of algae that the water appears green and yellow at the best of times.
Connecting that there might be a leak in that pipeline, we contacted the energy company.
They hired a hydrogeological company to come have a look. We spent an hour or so with them while they looked and took pictures and water samples. Nov. 4Th 2011 we received a copy of the report they compiled. 
Interestingly the water samples indicated elevated salt levels and metals, but the final conclusion was that this was due to high rainfall in the area that summer.
Finding this hard to believe, we started to look for the real truth in this report.
Water, especially natural groundwater, does not increase in pH markedly in one year, maybe a tenth or two but not almost 10 points. We read in the report that water could not possibly come from the injection well 100 feet above us down to our water well because “it would take 65 years to travel 210 meters” according to the report. We wrote back, “Are you kidding? that's so much horse pucky!”
The company did not reply, so the report conclusion remained that it was caused by rainfall. 
By December large water spots were showing up on the snow covered pasture east of the original spot. The water flow collected and ran down a ditch creating a stream about an inch deep That's a lot of water considering it was freezing out! This water continued to run all winter!
An investigation to the west, next to the spring, indicated an even worse problem. Water seeping to surface under evergreen trees that are usually “high and dry,” a place where cattle seek cover from the winter snow because the overhead canopy of boughs keeps the ground almost bare of snow.
Further west of the cutline there was amassing an ice flow covering about 30 acres. The cattle who had been moved to get away from the boggy ground to the east were picking their way (walking on frozen ground) to go drink this “seep water.”
Knowing that it likely contained elevated salt levels and who knows what, we closed off the area forcing them to drink again only from the well water. In hindsight, we realize this likely made no difference as the salt level had increased in the well water as well, because it draws from a very shallow depth, but at least the danger of slipping and falling on the ice was eliminated. We conceded that there was nothing we could do over winter.
As spring thaw came to the area, we again were shocked at what we saw.
Areas (about 50 acres in size) now were covered with over a foot of solid ice, but the ice was all colours of the rainbow. It was like walking around on some moonscape movie scene. Reds and greens with mixtures of speckles of different colours throughout the ice. Small evergreens along the flow of the spring were turning yellow.
A pond that collects water from the spring was full of dead floating minnows. This has never happened before! The water flows through the pond, and is never stagnant, yet the fish could not survive. We suspected it was the elevated salts and other contaminants.
On a foggy April morning in 2012, we were out checking cattle for new calves, when we noticed a wireline truck on the injection well site. We pulled in to see what was being done, as we'd been told that that well had been closed in for two years. (Part of the report claiming the injection well could not have been the problem). The workers were nervous that we showed up (the dreaded landowners!!) but we just talked and observed what they were doing. They were plugging the well!!
Now imagine spending money to close in a well that's been closed in for two years!! (Lies usually catch up with the truth.) We stayed to see that the valves were actually closed and locked by the workmen. Now we knew that the injection well had been operational when they declared it wasn't.
Within days the open flow of water subsided, but the ground that did firm up was laden with white deposits and hard as a rock. This same work crew went around to two more injection wells on another piece of our land. The one must have also been shut in because a water seep on the neighbour’s started to subside as well. Another seep, much smaller on our land also subsided, though the ground was too soft to walk on most of the summer. Environment did visit this seep and said it also was caused by high rainfall. The cattle would not go near it, yet previously it provided shade in the summer and a bedding spot in winter under the protection of trees.
Since the fall of 2011 we have not been able to get near the bog areas with equipment. We usually hayed the west field, where ice had covered most of it all winter. The cattle would not go near any of these major seep areas for fear of bogging in and being unable to escape the muddy mire. We didn't blame them. We couldn't walk anywhere near just at our human weight.
Areas were left uncut in most of the fields due to oozing water to the surface.
The summer of 2012 was rainy (good in general, although timing of the rains resulted in reduced crop yields, but lots of grass as it loves a cool wet environment). By fall things again had dried out and harvest went off without any weather interruptions.
Lo and behold, a different field starts to seep (run) water out of a slight knoll. This begins in late October. Again even though the ground is frozen everywhere else, water flows at such a rate, as to flow about 4 inches deep through a culvert. Deciding it was pointless to contact our environment regulators (based on their previous conclusion that rainfall caused the seeps), we just observed what transpired.
A nearby resident drilled a new water well October 30. We were curious since it appeared by our “flowing water problem” that attaining water should certainly not be a problem. We were right! No doubt they were not expecting the outcome they got.
The water driller hit a “water bearing source” as noted on the drilling record. By year end the place was vacant, totally surrounded by water.