'No Duty of Care'

'She’s not on a crusade. She’s a mom concerned about her children’s safety' 

Are Captive Regulators Failing Young Mothers Trying to Protect Their Children?

An Eagle Valley woman charged last week with two counts of uttering threats was the same woman pictured on the cover of last week’s Gazette, wearing a pink T-shirt with the words “FRACK OFF CANCER.”

... Last Thursday, Sundre RCMP charged Kim Mildenstein, 39, with two counts of uttering threats after investigating an Energy and Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) complaint about a faxed Objection To An Energy Resources Project form it received March 15.

The document writer raised an unresolved concern with NAL Energy regarding a fracking and flaring project at 13-30-33-04-W5 in Mountain View County, a few miles north east of Sundre in the Eagle Valley area.

... In November, the Gazette ran a story on Mildenstein’s efforts to spur the county and oil and gas companies to take prompt action to remedy ongoing traffic concerns in Eagle Valley.

Mildenstein presented a list of requests and a litany of concerns when she met with county officials and ERCB representatives at the offices of the Sundre Petroleum Operators Group in Sundre on Oct. 31. She said residents had been put at risk by excessive speeds, dangerous driving and the inordinate volume of traffic resulting from high oil and gas activity in the area.

“One truck per minute per hour – that’s what our neighbour calculated,” Mildenstein said. “That was for four months straight, day and night. You can imagine how hard it was to sleep with the jake brakes going into the valley.”

Mildenstein said she filed at least 10 objections through the ERCB website after school buses returned to the roads last fall, and traffic had decreased since then. Her presentation also called for the ERCB to follow its directives on flaring and incineration and for companies to require drivers to post phone numbers on their vehicles and show respect to area residents.

Many of her points were identical or similar to those raised by residents in early September at a public meeting in Eagle Hill.

... ERCB spokesperson Bob Curan said the ERCB rarely receives correspondence it perceives to be threatening.

The document writer raised concerns over water contamination from fracking.

The document says: “Mountain View County does not approve the use of potable water by NAL Energy for frack operations. Eagle Valley does not permit you to frack this location until BTX water testing (Baseline) has been conducted prior to your frack and flare job. All cattle water wells, house tap water needs to be BTX sampled 1st. Without baseline water testing the neighbours surrounding this site you will be sued. Concern is Water Aquifer Contamination - you are liable for any water contamination,” the letter reads. If you frack I will blow up your well and shoot bullets at your crew NAL. You are at RISK. You are placing employees at risk.”

The document writer then wrote: “Request FRACK FLUID LIST faxed to my home. (STOP CANCER)” and it was signed by one of two people listed as the contacts on the form. ... read entire article.


Mom Desperate to Protect Kids from Fracking Effects Will be Sentenced October 22

... 'It must be communicated to the Alberta public that there are legal ways to express concerns'

... Prior to March 15 Mildenstein had made numerous complaints to the ERCB, and had sent letters to the premier, the prime minister and others expressing her concerns

 By Dan Singleton, Sep 18, 2012, Mountain View Gazette

... Kimberly Mildenstein, 40, has pleaded guilty to a charge of uttering a threat. Her sentencing got underway before Judge George Gaschner in Didsbury provincial court on Monday.

On March 15, Mildenstein sent a faxed handwritten letter to the Energy Resources Conservation Board in which she stated: “If you frack I will blow up your well and shoot bullets at your crew NAL (an oil company with operations in the area). You are at risk.”

Included on the fax was the accused’s name and contact number.

... The accused turned herself in to police a short time later after being contacted by Sundre RCMP.

A search of her home found no bombs or bomb-making materials.

... Mildenstein’s defence laywer, S. Allan Low, called on Judge Gaschner to impose a conditional sentence, which if granted would spare the accused a criminal record.

Mildenstein sent the faxed letter after becoming frustrated with oilfield traffic and noise around her property, he said.

Specifically, she believed the heavy truck traffic in the area was putting her children in peril, and that noise from drilling near her home was causing her children to be frightened, particularly when the noise woke them at night, he said.

Prior to March 15 Mildenstein had made numerous complaints to the ERCB, and had sent letters to the premier, the prime minister and others expressing her concerns, he said.

Low called the threatening letters “not something that was thought out”, noting that Mildenstein made no attempt to hide her identity as the writer of the letter.

... Mountain View County councillor Paddy Munro was in attendance at last week’s court session. He said he was there to support Mildenstein.

Judge Gaschner adjourned sentencing to October 22, saying, “The issue I have to deal with is a difficult one.” ... more.


Fracking Company Refuses To Speak With Impacted Landowners; Protest Ensues

Eileen spoke of how worried she had been about the possibility of an explosion, and how the company has done little to explain what happened or to guarantee her family's security.

Bridgeport, WV - March 29, 2012, ENews Park Forest

On the morning of Wednesday, March 26, over 30 anti-fracking activists from across West Virginia and Appalachia picketed the Bridgeport office of EQT Energy. The group of activists were supporting two landowners, Eileen and Jim Burke, who came from Doddridge County to try and meet with officials about concerns they had about about EQT's shale gas operations near their property.

... Eileen said that after setting up an appointment with a company representative, they found the doors locked. The company representative, Tim Groves, told the Burkes that he wasn't allowed to speak with them. Police were called and the Burkes were escorted outside, where activists held a giant banner that read “Stop Fracking: Clean Water is a Human Right”. The protestors chanted and held signs for passing traffic for the following thirty minutes.

Eileen Burke said that she had not come to cause trouble, but wanted to talk to EQT about her concerns for the safety of her family: “I worked as a schoolteacher and we made so many sacrifices to get here. I don't see myself as just an environmentalist–but especially as a mother who wants her kids to inherit the beautiful land and precious water that's now being ruined by gas and greed. Is making sure your children inherit clean water too much to ask?” The Burkes are concerned that they do not know which chemicals were used in the fracking process, and they recounted an experience where an EQT truck had caught on fire in front of their house in the middle of the night. Eileen spoke of how worried she had been about the possibility of an explosion, and how the company has done little to explain what happened or to guarantee her family's security. ... read entire article.



EnCana Community Relations

"... The above points lead me to believe that EnCana wants to control the Rosebud community.

In my professional opinion control doesn’t work in healing community relations or help in preparing sound environmental and socio-economic protection for the many cumulative negative impacts caused in our county by EnCana. 

 ... EnCana has caused quite enough stress, worry, upset and anger in Rosebud as it is. Enough is enough." ... more.









It's Like We're Losing Our Love

There is no doubt in my mind, that abuse on a massive scale is occurring within Bradford County and other places where the shale gas industry is operating.

Until the perpetrators of such abuse are reformed or brought to justice, there will be no end to this cycle.

By Dr. Simona L. Perry, November 18, 2011, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute

The rapid change in land development patterns, the social pressures to act as the gas industry wants and the serial failures of companies, governments and elected officials to address local concerns ...  and threats, have led to a series of changes and events that have forced people to question what they thought they knew about how their communities function, how their governments operate, what the future will be like and who their neighbors are and will be, and as the following samples from landowner focus groups, interviews and community observations corroborate, by the winter of 2009 and 2010 a feeling of loss or fear of loss had begun to consume and alter the everyday lives of the Bradford County landowners in this study.

By the summer of 2010, the broader social changes I was witnessing and the psychological and sociocultural impacts I was documenting, were parallel in many ways to the individual traumas experienced by survivors of abusive relationships and to the collective trauma described in communities impacted by environmental and human caused disasters.
... By the summer of 2011, this past summer, the early signs of individual and collective trauma were beginning to become more evident in Bradford County, threatening the well being of entire communities of landowners and residents.
... This rapidly changing landscape and how it is impacting the relationships people have with their lands, their families, and neighbours, has been one of the richest areas of discussion during focus groups and interviews.
As more and more stories and evidence of contaminated ponds and water wells and the appearance of water buffalos on more and more homes grew in the county towards the middle of 2010 and into 2011, many people I spoke with in the groups and interviews, regardless of their opinions about whether the gas industry was a good or a bad thing, expressed a feeling that the industry's presence in the county had already begun to irreversibly change the connections they had with their family histories, childhood memories, their lands, their neighbours, the past, as well as the present and the future. 
As one landowner pointed out "that's why we're feeling this death feeling, because change is coming, it's like you want to hold onto it and you know it's not going to be there."
And after a very emotional 3 hour focus group, one participant noted the dread she felt in the pit of her stomach in slowly realizing, as they talked about what was most important to them, their land, their water, their farm, their children's health, all of this could so easily be destroyed forever, and made the comment, "it feels like we're losing our love, the things we love the most may be taken away, that's what we're all saying with this."
One current case from Bradford County that illustrates how individuals can be psychologically impacted by the gas industry and how those impacts can ripple through an entire community and set the stage for larger social and political conflicts.
This case involves township elected officials spreading rumours about residents, violating state meeting laws, publicly supporting the gas company regarding one of their very own community leaders, and the formation of deep fractures in the township, with one side blaming the gas industry and township supervisors for threatening the community and ignoring landowner rights, and the other blaming a landowner for threatening the gas industry and standing in the way of progress and township business.
The landowner at the center of this conflict is a man in his late sixties, early seventies, he has held positions on the school board, is involved in the church, and his family has owned businesses and farmed in the township for five generations. He has signed leases and agreements with gas companies, and when I first met him in 2010, he was supportive of the industry's presence in the county.
In the spring of 2011, two separate chemical spills related to gas infrastructure occurred on his property. They were dismissed by the gas company as quote, "never happened", and DEP, while they were involved initially, did not follow through on doing soil testing to verify the extent of the spill or the constituents involved, but what angered him even more, he told me, was that he was accused of sabotaging the equipment by the gas companies.
When I met with him the late summer of 2011, he told me that the gas industry in Bradford County can be summed up in three D's - deception, desecration and denial - it was the denial part, he explained, that had caused him to vent his disappointment and dismay by painting this prayer sign, and he put this up in a lease space in the town square.
During an evening of despair and severe stress in June, he had sought relief by sitting next to this sign.
Five state police cars were called to the scene, he was handcuffed, taken to the county mental hospital for evaluation and five days of inpatient care, and with no prior history of mental illness, was diagnosed and sent home with medications for bipolar disorder. In consulting with a clinical psychologist and the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumer Advocate, we were advised that such a diagnosis sounds impossible in such a short time frame with no prior history, and that his unusual behaviour patterns to his arrest and prior to his arrest, they determined or they thought was not a psychotic episode - he gave himself over willingly - but rather a severe stress reaction.
Nevertheless, the damage was done to this man's reputation and credibility.
Following this, he was mailed a bill for township roadwork, by the township, on the grounds that he threatened the workers when they were using his land as a staging area, thus preventing them from doing the work.
In a township meeting after these events, at which gas company representatives were present, a visibly shaken Bradford County native and retired veterinarian came forward to defend the man.
He said, "we don't need to cow-tow to this big business and let it run us out of the community that we've worked so long and hard to keep, and I just feel that there's been drastic injustice here for him to be charged for this road work. I think as a community we need to work together, we don't need to lower our standards for these big businesses that want to come in and dominate things on us, I think they can do this business, they just need to do it right, and we need to work together as a community to make sure they do it right."
In observing community and landowner meetings where the gas industry, elected officials and different experts were also present, and during the majority of ethnographic focus groups and interviews I have conducted so far in the county with close to one hundred residents, it is striking to compare how cycles of abuse are evident throughout my field notes and in these interviews.
In the early days of my field notes I wrote; the tension surrounding the gas developments is talked about and felt palpably, everywhere you go.
These feelings of tension, coupled with lack of communication and confusing information, and the fear on the part of local residents in general, were evident. Then, following environmental changes or specific events related to the gas industry, there has been anger, blaming and arguing by both local residents and the gas industry, which has been followed by verbal and emotional abuse, threats and intimidation by the gas industry and vocal supporters of the industry.
After it is revealed by the department of environmental protection or others that these changes or events have a possible connection to the gas industry, there are always apologies, there are excuses, blaming, denial and the downplaying of the impacts of the events, and it's by the industry and other supporters and contractors, including local newspapers and experts hired by the industry.
This is then sometimes followed by contributions of money by the gas industry, to hospitals, libraries, schools, emergency management services, or more frequently by an out-of-court settlement that includes a nondisclosure agreement or gag order, thus the event is forgotten, until that is, the next local resident starts having unexplained gastrointestinal problems, another water well comes up contaminated, a school bus is hit by a water truck, or there is an accident at a well pad or compressor station.
There is no doubt in my mind, that abuse on a massive scale is occurring within Bradford County and other places where the shale gas industry is operating.
Until the perpetrators of such abuse are reformed or brought to justice, there will be no end to this cycle. ... watch entire presentation.


Fracking Grievances Aired at Eagle Hill, Mountain View County

... One speaker from west of Eagle Hill described how on a Monday night, after a weekend fracking operation, “I went to have a bath, turned the water on and it went bang: all the water turned black. And you say it doesn’t come to the surface?”

When Willard (ERCB) replied that there was a number to call at Alberta Environment, some audience members laughed.

By John Gleeson, Sep 13, 2011, Mountain View Gazette
The Energy Resources Conservation Board is currently reviewing all its regulations in light of new extraction technology and will make an important announcement soon on the disclosure of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, an ERCB official told about 100 Mountain View and Red Deer county residents at Eagle Hill last Wednesday.
Despite those and other assurances, however, residents peppered the ERCB panel with pointed questions and many related grievances about the impact of fracking operations in the Eagle Hill and James River Bridge areas.
Road and traffic issues, sustained noise and flaring, water contamination, lack of respect for residents, and the ineffectiveness of the ERCB to regulate the activity were common concerns raised during the meeting.
Kevin Hinchcliffe describes the frustration he experienced dealing with an oil company and the ERCB. Photo - Noel West/Mountain View Gazette“I worry about safety – the safety of my family,” Chris Hume of James River Bridge said, citing “tremendous” amounts of traffic, reckless driving, noise and odour issues.
“There’s noise all the time. I’m fed up,” Hume said.
While the county seems to be on the side of residents, “it seems the ERCB is advocating for the companies,” he added.
“There needs to be some accountability here and there doesn’t seem to be any under this government. What’s the next thing – a class-action lawsuit? … The status quo is no good,” he said and the crowd applauded.
Sharon Roth of Eagle Hill asked officials what they meant by road management, since trucks use excessive speed and apply airbrakes at night. “The traffic is horrendous and there seems to be no control on that.”
Bob Willard, senior advisor in the ERCB’s operations division, said those issues would fall under road use agreements with the municipality.
Mountain View County reeve Paddy Munro, addressing the crowd, concurred with Roth’s comments.
“We’ve seen lots of problems in that area,” Munro said. “Roads destroyed. Dust control destroyed. It’s very hard to deal with the oil companies. They’re acting like bullies – they run slipshod over the people’s rights and that’s why we’re here tonight.”
... One speaker from west of Eagle Hill described how on a Monday night, after a weekend fracking operation, “I went to have a bath, turned the water on and it went bang: all the water turned black. And you say it doesn’t come to the surface?” he asked Willard.
When Willard replied that there was a number to call at Alberta Environment, some audience members laughed.
Kevin Hinchcliffe of Eagle Hill said he filed an objection to a pipeline on a neighbour’s property and the company refused to meet with him and simply went ahead and built the pipeline.
“How can you regulate them if you can’t bring them to the table?” Hinchcliffe asked, adding that his request to the ERCB for a review was denied.
Water was a major issue for many speakers.
... “The water is more important to me than anything else,” said one farmer, and following Willard’s assurance that lower-value farmland is used whenever possible, he described how his neighbours have allowed oil companies “to drill in the sloughs – lease after lease after lease – and there is no responsibility for preserving the farmland for future generations.”
Responding to concerns about “slick water” – with a 20 per cent methane blend – contaminating surface water, Willard said the ERCB “supports full disclosure” of chemicals used in the process, and added there would be an announcement later this month on the issue.
... Reg Watson commended both the county and the ERCB for holding the meeting, calling it “a great way to get the information out.”
“The only thing missing here tonight is the companies,” Watson added.
Munro said oil and gas companies in the region were sent written invitations “and I’m not aware of any of them being here,” he said.
In fact, Shell Canada was present at the meeting and Midland Energy had also been there earlier, said Tracey McCrimmon, executive director of the Sundre Petroleum Operators Group, who moderated the event.
Munro said another public information session will be held at the county building in November. Meanwhile, the county is working on a document similar to the Strathcona Protocol, which sets out clear guidelines to minimize the impact of oil and gas activity.
“Don’t bet this county’s not going to deal with it,” Munro said. “We’re going to deal with it.” ... more.



Alberta’s Energy Regulator Heading Towards Searchable Online Database Disclosing Contents Of Fracking Fluid – Eventually.

Currently in Alberta, information on fracking fluid contents is available to the public if they call the ERCB ... Companies do have to report the chemicals being used to the ERCB who will share the information.

Victoria Paterson, Mar 06, 2012, Mountain View Gazette    

Alberta’s energy regulator is heading towards a searchable online database disclosing the contents of fracking fluid – eventually.

Cal Hill, the executive manager of the regulatory development branch of the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), confirmed the intention to have a website during a technical briefing for media on Feb. 17. ERCB spokesperson Bob Curran said the website is a ways off from being up and running.

“All he said was we’re moving towards that,” Curran said in an interview last Wednesday.

The website could go live near the end of the year but that is not a firm deadline, Curran said.

“It’s in its early stages,” Curran said. “They don’t know how it’s going to be structured.”

Curran said it has not been determined what information will be included on the website – such as the amounts of chemicals in the mixtures, how any potential concerns about proprietary information will be addressed or if only new wells will have their information go online.

It’s possible Alberta could partner with other fracturing fluid disclosure sites to deliver the database, Curran said. FracFocus.ca is a new site where B.C. enforces public fracking fluid chemical disclosure. It was launched at the beginning of January.

According to the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines, since Jan. 1 there have been over 1,000 searches completed on FracFocus.ca.

Currently in Alberta, information on fracking fluid contents is available to the public if they call the ERCB, officials have said. Companies do have to report the chemicals being used to the ERCB who will share the information.

“We really have had almost virtually no requests,” Curran said.

... Curran said there have been no documented cases of hydraulic fracturing wells affecting groundwater. He said there have been cases of fracking fluid reaching the surface and contacting the ground.

An ERCB summary shows that the fluids expelled during the Jan. 13 well blowout near Glennifer Lake, about 25 kilometres west of Innisfail, contained fracturing fluid consisting of fracturing oil, sand and nitrogen. ... more.


Looking For Frack Fluid Ingredients? No Problem ... Just Tell Them The Bobs Sent You

He pointed out that fracking fluid disclosure must be made to the ERCB and the public can ask for the information.

By Victoria Paterson, Feb 07, 2012, Mountain View Gazette  

... Bob McManus, a spokesperson for Energy Alberta, noted some of CAPP’s new nationwide practices are “already in place in Alberta” or at least encouraged.

He pointed out that fracking fluid disclosure must be made to the ERCB and the public can ask for the information.

“If someone wanted to know they can ask the ERCB,” he said.

Bob Curran, a spokesperson from the ERCB, agreed that while there isn’t a publicly accessible database, people could request the information from the ERCB and it would be provided.

“We’ve never really had any requests for that information,” Curran said. ... more.


Canadian Provinces Follow US States in Hydraulic Fracing Guidelines, Rules

ERCB has collected information on frac fluid ingredients from companies for decades ... Although currently not posted on a web site, the information is available to the public upon request.

By Paula Dittrick, Senior Staff Writer, 03/05/2012, Oil and Gas Journal

Canadian provinces, like some US states, are forming hydraulic fracturing guidelines and regulations in an ongoing attempt to avoid controversy regarding groundwater and surface water safety. Industry suggests contamination likely stems from poor wellbore construction and surface spills than fracing.

British Columbia implemented mandatory public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, similar to what some US states already have done. Other Canadian provinces are expected to follow.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) recently announced Canada-wide operating practices for its members regarding shale and tight gas hydraulic fracturing. CAPP supports public disclosure of frac fluid ingredients.

Effective Jan. 1, British Columbia's mandatory disclosure rule requires companies to publicly disclose frac fluid ingredients via a web site called FracFocus.ca. The online registry resembles a US version called FracFocus.

"British Columbia is committed to the development of a more open and transparent natural gas sector and the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing practices," BC Premier Christy Clark said.

By law, companies must upload a list of frac fluid ingredients to the registry within 30 days of finishing completion operations, reports the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission. The law provides some protection for trade secrets, similar to disclosure rules enacted by some US states. 

 ... The Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) already has various directives in place that cover industry operating practices as outlined by CAPP, said ERCB spokesman Bob Curran.

ERCB has collected information on frac fluid ingredients from companies for decades, he said. Although currently not posted on a web site, the information is available to the public upon request. ... more.


Do The Bobs Know About This? 

'... the ERCB does not currently require licensees to provide detailed disclosure of the chemical composition of fracturing fluids.'

With respect to fracturing operations specifically, Appendix 3 of Directive 059 requires licensees to disclose the type, quantity and size of propping agents, the type and volume of carrier fluids, additives, the type and quantity of plugging agents, feed rates, pressures, fracture extent, orientation measures, and service company job reports.

However, the ERCB does not currently require licensees to provide detailed disclosure of the chemical composition of fracturing fluids. ... more.


Alberta Plays Catch-Up on Frack Front

Hill admitted that he knew of no toxic fluids "that are prohibited" in the province.

By Andrew Nikiforuk, 23 Feb 2012, TheTyee.ca

Alberta's energy regulating agency yesterday held a technical briefing for media on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing. The picture that emerged was of a province playing catch-up with continental events that have other governments' regulators and researchers on high alert.

Cal Hill, executive manager of the Regulatory Development Branch of the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) said his agency is now actively investigating four (the ERCB later corrected that figure to five) well blow-outs caused by horizontal multi-stage hydraulic fracking.

The controversial technology blasts volumes of water, sand and toxic chemicals at high pressure into previously uneconomic oil and gas formations. (A horizontal well can go down to depths of 650 and 3,500 meters and then curve to extend up to two kilometres underground.)

The brute force technology has been banned or suspended in Quebec, France, South Africa, North Rhine-Westphalia, Bulgaria, parts of Australia and in a number of U.S. states pending more detailed investigations.

In Alberta, a Talisman horizontal frack job blew fluid into a nearby well in 2009 and that was followed by more explosive incidents in 2010 and 2011 as well as 18 inter-well blow-outs in British Columbia's shale gas fields.

Hill admitted that his agency, charged with developing oil and gas in a manner that is fair and in the public interest, didn't think that experience of B.C.'s shale gas fields or that province's public safety advisory on fracturing would apply to Alberta's shale oil deposits.

But subsequent events proved the agency wrong.

Risks to groundwater cited

The Alberta regulator did not announce an investigation until a January 2011 fracturing incident made global headlines. That remarkable event sent oil and fluid spurting out of an existing well 1.2 km away from the oil shale well being fractured near Innisfail, Alberta.

Since 2008, companies have drilled more than 3,300 so-called horizontal multi-staged fracked wells largely in oil shale formations. In the last 50 years, more than 167,000 oil and gas wells have been vertically fractured open with explosives, diesel fuel and other chemicals including propane and nitrogen.

Hill said the horizontal multi-staged fracking technology posed two high risks to groundwater. The first involved fluid going up a badly sealed wellbore and then leaking into an aquifer. The improper handling of waste fluids on the surface could also contaminate groundwater.

He omitted any mention of two prominent U.S. studies in Wyoming and Pennsylvania that have strongly associated hydraulic fracturing with extensive methane contamination of groundwater and water wells.

When asked to explain the omission, Hill said that U.S. EPA Pavillion study was still under review and that Pennsylvania Duke University study suggested that bad well bore casing may be the issue.

Methane is buoyant and looking for a way up to the surface, explained Hill "There is an expectation you are going to find some signal in groundwater," he added. "How did it get there and how did the oil and gas activity exacerbate that problem. That's a complicated problem that we'd welcome more answers to."

Now that Wyoming, Louisiana, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota require full disclosure on the chemical contents of fracking fluids, the ERCB will follow suit in a couple of months.

"We are working for full fluid disclosure," said Hill.

No conclusions on earthquakes

A 2011 US Congress report disclosed that fracking fluids can include coffee grinds, salt, ceramic balls, walnut hulls, lead, petroleum distillates, methanol, (a dirty air pollutant) benzene, toluene, xylene and millions of gallons of diesel. Many are proven cancer-makers.

Moreover, Hill admitted that he knew of no toxic fluids "that are prohibited" in the province. Many jurisdictions, for example, banned diesel fuel as a fracking fluid years ago to protect groundwater ... more. 


Fracturing Natural Gas Wells Requires Hundreds Of Tons Of Chemical Liquids

That well ...  used 969,024 pounds — 484.5 tons — of chemical additives. 

By Bob Downing, Beacon Journal staff writer, February 12, 2012

There are two sides to the debate over the use of chemical additives to complete the process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The oil and gas industry says only small amounts of such chemicals are used and they are safe.

Critics say the additives used in drilling for natural gas are toxic and threaten drinking water.

One fact is emerging in Ohio as drilling becomes more extensive in the shale deposits deep underground: Fracking requires hundreds of tons of liquid chemical additives for each well.

A Beacon Journal review of data recently posted on a drilling industry-supported website shows the fracturing of one vertical-horizontal well in Carroll County required nearly 1 million pounds of liquid chemical additives.

That well, southeast of Canton near Carrollton, used 969,024 pounds — 484.5 tons — of chemical additives. It also required 10.5 million gallons of water and 5,066 tons of sand.

Water and sand make up the major ingredients going into wells to fracture the rock and free more natural gas. But the remaining tiny percentage of fracking material is not negligible given the sheer volumes involved.

“Many of the chemicals are benign, but not all of them,” said Jeff Daniels, a professor of geology at Ohio State University.

The chemical additives are used as iron-control agents, corrosion inhibitors, clay stabilizers, breakers, gelling agents, friction reducers, bactericides, scale inhibitors, pH adjusting agents, cross-linking agents, solvents and surfactants.

“There’s no doubt that there are some nasty chemicals going into Ohio wells, and no one disputes that,” said Dr. Jeffrey C. Dick, chairman of the geology department at Youngstown State University.

Ohioans are getting their first glimpse at what toxic chemicals are being used to frack wells via a national website, www. fracfocus.org.

... Drilling opponents are shocked and concerned by the tonnage totals.

“Wow. I’m absolutely dumbfounded. … That number is far bigger than I ever expected,” said Teresa Mills of Columbus, a representative of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice and of No Frack Ohio, a coalition of 70 Ohio grass-roots groups. “We never thought the numbers would be that big. ... That’s extremely troubling.”

Dr. Donald Palmer, a geology professor at Kent State University, said he was not surprised by the total.

“It takes an incredible amount of chemicals,” he said.

It will take hundreds of truckloads of chemicals and water to frack each well, he said. “It’s a big, big operation.”

The FracFocus site also gives the first look at how much fresh water is needed to frack individual Ohio wells. The average Chesapeake well in Carroll County required 5.8 million gallons of water.

... The website does not reveal volumes or concentrations. Instead, the site measures the chemicals as a percentage of the mass of the fracking liquids. That makes the toxic constituents look very tiny — down to five decimal places of 1 percent, in some cases. But those totals can be turned into pounds and tons.

The No. 1 toxic ingredient going into the Mangun well was 304 tons of hydrochloric acid. It is used to clean out cement and drilling mud before the fracturing fluid is injected. That well also got 41.7 tons of surfactants, materials to reduce the surface tension of fracking fluid and allow the liquid to flow more smoothly.

Water and sand account for 98.8 percent of the mass of the fracking liquid at the Mangun well. That meant the well got roughly 38,035 tons of water and 5,066 tons of sand.

Some of the chemicals are mixed with even more water. Eliminating that additional water reduces the total chemical load to the well to 203.5 tons.

... The industry says chemical additives are necessary and safe.

What goes into the natural gas wells in the hydraulic fracturing process is 99.5 percent water and sand, says Energy in Depth, a national pro-drilling group.

The additives — that last half of 1 percent — are typically the same chemicals found under kitchen sinks or in garages, and some are used in food and cosmetics, the group said.

The chemicals are needed to protect the well, spokesman Matthew Sheppard of Chesapeake Energy said, and the additives are largely used up in the well and don’t pose a major toxic threat.

Critics of fracking paint a far different picture. Many fracturing chemicals are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife, and several are known to cause cancer. Very small quantities of some fracking chemicals could pollute millions of gallons of groundwater.

In a 2010 study, nearly 950 chemicals were associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing, many of which have not been tested for their effect on human health.

According to the eco-group Environmental Working Group, the biggest concern centers on the petroleum distillates in the fracking liquid. Such distillates are likely to contain benzene, a known human carcinogen.

Volatile organic compounds, including 1,2- dichloroethane, can cause problems in water or by escaping into the air.

Other toxic substances include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, methanol, formaldehyde, ethylene gylcol, glycol ethers and sodium hydroxide.

A federal health expert on Jan. 9 at a conference in Alexandria, Va., called for a moratorium on fracking because medical experts don’t know enough about the potential risks from fracking liquids, said Dr. Vikas Kapil of the National Center for Environmental Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The industry disputed those comments. ... more.


Fracking Hazards Obscured In Failure To Disclose Wells

'FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure'

By Benjamin Haas, Jim Polson, Phil Kuntz and Ben Elgin - Aug 14, 2012

Seeking to quell environmental concerns about the chemicals it shoots underground to extract oil and natural gas, Apache Corp. (APA) told shareholders in April that it disclosed information about “all the company’s U.S. hydraulic fracturing jobs” on a website last year.

Actually, Apache’s transparency was shot through with cracks. In Texas and Oklahoma, the company reported chemicals it used on only about half its fracked wells via FracFocus.org, a voluntary website that oil and gas companies helped design amid calls for mandatory disclosure. 

Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure,” said U.S. Representative Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat. 

.. Of 22 companies with at least 150 wells in the eight states from April 2011 through December 2011, 11 didn’t disclose a third or more of them on FracFocus, the data show.

“The data is so incomplete, it doesn’t help,” said Shane Davis, research manager for the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Sierra Club, which supports stronger state and federal regulation of fracking. Davis said he has studied more than 1,000 drilling-related spills in Colorado.

For members of the public, the website can be frustrating. Wendy Leonard wanted to know about wells in her area after she saw one being drilled near her children’s school in Erie, Colorado. She asked state regulators, who referred her to FracFocus, she said.

“And then I’d go home and wouldn’t find anything,” she said. Leonard and her family ended up moving to a town an hour away because of health concerns related to fracking, she said.

... Gaps remain on the website even when wells are disclosed. Companies skip naming certain chemicals when they decide that revealing them would give away what they consider trade secrets. Many of the wells that are listed on FracFocus have at least one or two chemicals marked confidential. Others have far more.

Nine undisclosed chemicals were pumped into Marathon Oil Corp. (MRO)’s Cherry Bilsky well in Gonzales County, Texas, between San Antonio and Houston, according to the website. The company also withheld the amounts of eight other chemicals used in the well. The purpose of one product, identified only as “EXP- F1008-10,” is listed as “experimental.”


... “There are mistakes; some of the data is incomplete,” said Kisberg, of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. “We see FracFocus as a PR effort to placate people.”


EQT staffers made some errors in manually transferring data into the FracFocus system, said Natalie Cox, the company’s director of communications. After Bloomberg News asked about the incomplete disclosures, EQT fixed the errors, Cox said. The company is committed to fully disclosing its fracking fluids, she said.

States that require companies to disclose on FracFocus are adopting the website’s limitations. In North Dakota, where fracking has turned the state into the biggest U.S. oil- producing state after Texas, regulators mandate disclosure on the website within 60 days of a well’s completion.

“We require whatever FracFocus requires,” said Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Mineral Resources’ Oil and Gas Division. “Whatever their rules are, those are our rules in terms of reporting.”

The website isn’t searchable by chemical, or by date. State regulators who wish to check whether companies are making their required disclosures face a time-consuming task. The website doesn’t make its underlying database available to the public.

... It remains unclear whether the database will ever be downloadable for the general public. Nickolaus said that’s “not a specific goal of the system.”

Not releasing the database was a prerequisite that companies insisted on before they’d participate, he said. ... more.


Former Alberta Premier Stelmach Advises Ukraine On Shale Gas: Report

Stelmach is not alone in promoting either the shale gas industry or championing Canada's poor energy regulations abroad.

George Eynon, a member of Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board, for example, made presentations on shale gas regulation in Warsaw Poland in 2010 and Paris 2011. Yet the ERCB has been heavily criticized for its management of shallow and deep hydraulic fracking and deregulation of well density in Alberta.

By Geoff Dembicki January 30, 2012, The Tyee

Former Alberta premier Ed Stelmach has been giving tips to the Ukrainian government on how to sell controversial shale gas development to a skeptical public, according to a story in the English-language Kyiv Post.

Stelmach, whose Ukranian grandfather emigrated to Canada in 1898, was in the country's capital, Kiev, last week to attend an energy conference hosted by the Massachusetts-based Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

The former premier reportedly declared that Ukraine could help end its dependence on Russian natural gas by tapping into its own vast shale gas reserves, just one of which is estimated at 170 billion cubic meters.

"I am positive that we’re going to see significant investment in exploration," he told Ukranian media.

Development has apparently been stymied to date by low foreign investment, complex regulations and environmental concerns.

Stelmach reportedly has advised the Ukrainian government to follow the Alberta model of public relations, whereby scientists and other third parties are enlisted to explain the extraction process to a potentially wary public.

Shale gas extraction, particularly "fracking" technology, has been under intense scrutiny across North America.

The Tyee's Andrew Nikiforuk reported last week on a landowner's group in Alberta which is calling for a provincial moratorium on the process, arguing it contaminates groundwater and leaks poisonous hydrogen sulphide.

Stelmach apparently told the Kiev conference that shale gas development in Alberta relies on some of the world's most modern technology.

Stelmach is not alone in promoting either the shale gas industry or championing Canada's poor energy regulations abroad.

George Eynon, a member of Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board, for example, made presentations on shale gas regulation in Warsaw Poland in 2010 and Paris 2011. Yet the ERCB has been heavily criticized for its management of shallow and deep hydraulic fracking and deregulation of well density in Alberta.

Members of the Canadian Embassy in Poland have also promoted shale gas development. In addition Alex Ferguson, former commissioner of the BC's Oil and Gas Commission also offered advice on unconventional shale gas production to European audiences. Yet the BC industry has caused earthquakes and water controversies in northern BC. (Ferguson is now a senior advisor to Apache Canada).

Talisman and EnCana, two major shale gas developers, have extensive unconventional gas interests in Europe.

Despite the lobbying and presentations, no jurisdiction in Canada has comprehensive regulations on unconventional shale gas that clearly protects groundwater. Noted one 2011 Toronto legal briefing on shale gas:

"The rush to stake a claim in the shale gas development across Canada by some of the biggest players in the natural gas industry has left federal and provincial regulators playing catch-up and produced a patchwork of regulations and policies to govern the industry."

With files from Andrew Nikiforuk.

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate issues for The Tyee.


Talisman’s Shale Gas Ambassadors

... In terms of the chemical substances used in fracking he said that all of them would be declared in Europe, unlike in the US or Canada. ... more.



I don't think the answer is simply to compel the fracking industry to reveal what it is using. I don't think it's sufficient to simply tell people what they're being poisoned with; I think we just need to stop poisoning people.

Dr. Sandra Steingraber






September 10, 2011, Cochrane Alberta - From Award-Winning Journalist and Author Andrew Nikiforuk's Presentation on Hydraulic Fracturing. Here he talks about Alberta's Oil and Gas Regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB). 



What Lies Beneath

Almost 100,000 spent oil and gas wells litter Alberta. Who will pay the clean-up cost? 

"... You phone the ERCB and they say, 'that's not our jurisdiction, phone the SRB,' ... And you phone the SRB and they say, 'that's not our jurisdiction, phone Alberta Environment,' and Alberta Environment says, 'that's not our jurisdiction, phone the ERCB'"

By Doug Horner, March 1, 2011, Albertaviews

Tony Bruder and Ron Schmidt get on either side of the six-foot boards as I crouch down to get a better look. The two Pincher Creek-area neighbours shuffle the weather-beaten wood aside, revealing a square, concrete tub embedded in the prairie grass.  We're peering into the tail end of Alberta's conventional oil and gas industry: an abandoned oil well. As the industry plowed forward over the last 80 years, it left more than 100,000 such wells in its wake.

'A little bit of water comes off the site,' says Bruder, gesturing to the base of a nearby fence, the Rocky Mountains looming beyond. 'The cows won't drink the water. They'll walk to the other corner of the field to drink. There's something in it they're not liking, there's contamination. I have no doubt in my mind.'

I move in for a closer inspection, and an acrid, engine-oil smell wafts out of the hole. I can make out a gauge flecked with grit and fastened to a steel cylinder heavily knuckled with bolts. Only the first foot of the valve stem is visible, the rest is obscured in murky water.

"... You phone the ERCB and they say, 'that's not our jurisdiction, phone the SRB,'" says Bruder. "And you phone the SRB and they say, 'that's not our jurisdiction, phone Alberta Environment,' and Alberta Environment says, 'that's not our jurisdiction, phone the ERCB'." Bruder's handlebar moustache bristles along with his contempt. "And you just keep going around in a circle.'  

... The not-so-merry-go-round Bruder describes is Alberta's oil and gas regulatory system.

... The ERCB supervises the life cycle of wells such as Pinch from birth until death, or from “spud date” right through to abandonment (which means sealing the well in a permanent and secure condition). Ideally, well sites in Alberta are not forgotten after abandonment. Officially they have an afterlife, which begins when Alberta Environment (AENV) steps in to oversee their journey through remediation and reclamation (unless the well is on Crown land, which is the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development’s jurisdiction).

“Reclamation” entails restoring the land to its original state. If the site is contaminated, the reclamation process requires “remediation,” or, simply, the cleaning up of pollution. The process can take several years and cost millions of dollars, depending on the area’s ecology, its proclivity for revegetation and the amount of pollution. Once a company has reclaimed, they apply to AENV for a reclamation certificate—proof to citizens and the landowner that the land is back to the way it was.

As of January, the ERCB estimated the total cost to reclaim all existing wells, facilities and pipelines in Alberta at approximately $21-billion. In theory, the oil and gas industry adheres to the adage that the company that makes the mess has to clean it up. In the absence of strict regulatory timelines, however, companies are allowed to procrastinate; some of that $21-billion liability includes sites that have been ignored for over 25 years.

Pinch was downhole abandoned in August 1995, and yet the wellhead still marinates in its watery, concrete abode. Tony Bruder doesn’t know when it will be remediated. Alberta’s regulatory system may have all the pivotal moments of a well’s life cycle covered, but it doesn’t set deadlines by which those transitions must take place.

Pinch is not alone. According to AENV, at the end of 2009 over 45,000 wells have been abandoned in Alberta but not certified as reclaimed. Pinch is one of almost 13,000 wells that have been abandoned without reclamation for longer than 10 years. On average, over the past decade, AENV has issued reclamation certificates for fewer than half of the wells that are abandoned each year. In short, the gap between the number of wells sealed and the number actually cleaned up is steadily widening. Meanwhile, roughly 60,000 wells are just plain shut off or “inactive,” neither producing nor permanently sealed.

While helping Bruder in his standoff with Pennine, Barry Robinson became increasingly concerned about the dearth of legislated timelines for abandonment and reclamation. “The longer wells sit, the fuzzier the records get,” he says. “And the longer wells sit, the more likely that if there’s underground contamination—and quite often there is—it moves off site.”

Contamination generally consists of hydrocarbon or saltwater spills. Most oil spills don’t migrate very far and are easy to remediate because they biodegrade or can be treated chemically. Lighter, carcinogenic hydrocarbons such as benzene, however, can filter into groundwater. Saltwater spills are particularly dangerous because they can grow exponentially. Extremely salty water, up to 100 times more saline than seawater, emerges from deposits along with oil or gas. Chlorides from saltwater don’t bond with soil, and so, if spilled, move freely through sediments along with runoff and groundwater. A buildup of chlorides can ruin an entire aquifer, making it undrinkable for humans, as well as useless for irrigation and livestock. Sodium molecules bond tightly to soil particles and cause clay dispersion (or “soil dehydration”); the only way to reclaim such soil is to replace the entire affected area. The longer contamination from a well site is left, the more damage it does.

... If an oil company goes bankrupt and the ERCB cannot trace responsibility for its sites to another operator, the wells are designated “orphaned” and become wards of the Orphan Well Association (OWA). This industry-run, non-profit organization manages the abandonment and reclamation of all oil and gas infrastructure that slips through the cracks. The cleanup is paid for by an annual levy raised by charging each operator according to their proportion of the total industry liability.

Collected by the ERCB on behalf of the OWA, the levy can be seen as a proactive industry initiative that protects the citizens of Alberta. But it can also be seen as a bargain: the levy raises $12-million in an average year, which, when divided across all of Alberta’s oil and gas infrastructure, works out to less than $50 per site (recall that Alberta’s estimated total liability from the conventional oil and gas industry is $21-billion). And while it’s true that industry took responsibility for their failed competitors, in doing so they also got to take the regulatory reins: companies remain free to abandon and reclaim wells when they want.

... As we replace the boards over Pinch, I wonder aloud when its valve stem will next see the light of day. Bruder is not optimistic. He senses another showdown brewing. “When it comes time, and there hasn’t been any activity on this site, I expect us having to go back to court,” he says.

Beneath the boards is a hole initially drilled to a depth of 3736 m below the earth’s surface, deepened in 1964 to almost 5 km and then converted into a disposal well. Pinch has had over a million cubic metres of salt water injected through its well casing. The oil and gas industry is certainly ingenious when it comes to extracting resources, but—perhaps not surprisingly—it hasn’t devoted quite the same energy to remediating pollution or restoring the land. Regulators must balance private enterprise’s profit motive with clear rules that protect the public interest. Without a referee willing to blow the whistle, Alberta’s oil and gas industry has been given the room to choose when and where it cleans up.

There are now 100,000 unreclaimed well sites in Alberta, one quarter of all the wells ever drilled in the province. This number doesn’t include the pipelines, batteries and facilities that accompany each well. And even if the LLRP is working, which Robinson argues it isn’t, there’s no motivation for companies—other than their own goodwill—to clean up older sites that were drilled when there was little understanding of environmental impacts. Some of the industry’s “old dogs” continue to limp on today. If they’re contaminated, that pollution is spreading. ... more.


Oil Disputes Happen Every Day in Rural Alberta

'This should have been a huge factor in the way we do business, ...  But the industry just goes with the flow. I think we are back to where we were 10 years ago and business as usual.'

Source: Rogers Media, 02-01-01

On the morning of Oct. 3, 1998, Patrick Kent, the vice-president of KB Resources, rose early in his Calgary bungalow, as oil patchers are used to do. It was Saturday, and he had a job to complete near Bowden, an hour's drive north of the city.

He poured a glass of orange juice and told his wife, Linda, that he would call around four in the afternoon to let her know if he would be home in time for dinner. Linda and her four young children never heard from the 42-year-old man again. No one exits this world quite as suddenly as a murdered father and spouse.

Disputes between landowners and the $ 28-bn oil and gas industry happen every day in rural Alberta. Thousands are solved amicably; but in some cases, tempers fray, lawyers are called and even guns are drawn. But until 56-year-old farmer and welder Eifion Wyn (Wayne) Roberts fired five shots into Kent outside his home in front of eight witnesses, the oil patch had somehow managed to avoid murder for more than 40 years.

The shooting ended a three-year long feud between the two men that largely concerned contaminated soil at a suspended well on Roberts's land. Although Kent's death shocked and unsettled the entire oil and gas industry, including government types, it didn't clean up the well site.

That issue is now the subject of a $ 6-mm lawsuit. To this day, no one really knows what the source of the contamination is or how far it has travelled. It's just one of many bitter ironies that troubles this sad tale.

Just about everyone in the oil patch publicly agrees that Kent's death was totally senseless ("It's a real tragedy," goes the refrain). But most oilmen privately concede that the incident dramatizes just how tenuous relations can get with landowners as the industry's footprint in rural Alberta grows bigger.

... Jack Evans, the land man Kent hired, doesn't think the oil industry paid enough attention to the shooting at all. "This should have been a huge factor in the way we do business," he says. "But the industry just goes with the flow. I think we are back to where we were 10 years ago and business as usual."... more.


Chevron Guilty of Oil Contamination in Amazon: Historic Corporate Accountability Victory or Business as Usual for Big Oil?

Charles A. James, Chevron's vice president and general counsel, told law students at UC Berkeley that Chevron would fight "until hell freezes over, and then skate on the ice."

By Rebecca Tarbotton, February 15, 2011  

"We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this--companies that have made big investments around the world." - Chevron Lobbyist, anonymously quoted by Newsweek in 2008

Big Oil is a dirty business. But is the dirt--the spills, the leaks, the pollution, the illnesses, the lawsuits--just part of an oil company's bottom line?  

Yesterday, an Ecuadorean judge found Chevron guilty--to the tune of more than $8 billion--of massive oil drilling contamination in the Amazon rainforest. The judgment ranks second in environmental damage cases behind the $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility.  

The case is historic; not only because of the dollar amount but also it is the first time Indigenous peoples from the rainforest have sued an American oil company in the country where the crime was committed...and won. It is an incredible story of a small rainforest community's 18-year fight against a major multinational oil corporation.   

This case could also set a precedent for corporate accountability, transforming the way Big Oil operates around the globe.

"The case really sends a message that companies operating in the undeveloped world cannot rely on a compliant government or lax environmental rules as a way of permanently insulating themselves from liability," said Robert Percival, a law professor and director of the environmental law program at the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore. 

Not, however, if Chevron has anything to say about it. Chevron, the second largest U.S. oil company, has vowed to fight the multi-billion dollar judgment. In fact, the oil giant has repeatedly refused to pay for a clean up even if ordered to by the court. In one chilling statement, Charles A. James, Chevron's vice president and general counsel, told law students at UC Berkeley that Chevron would fight "until hell freezes over, and then skate on the ice." ... more.  


Federal Clean-up Won’t Get It All, Need Another $40 Billion To Remove Contamination ... And The Fracking Blitz Is Just Getting Started

Alberta accounts for 41 per cent of the country’s polluters, with 3,311 reporting facilities in 2010. Eighty per cent of those Alberta facilities are oil and gas producers.

By Suzy Thompson, October 11, 2012, Fast Forward Weekly

On October 3, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced the federal government was launching the second phase of its 15-year plan to clean up nearly 22,000 contaminated sites across the country.

Kent admitted at a press conference in Ottawa that, “past practices have had harmful effects on the environment,” and that the government is committed to restoring contaminated areas for the safety of the environment and public.

With that announcement, the government pledged $1 billion over the next three years to clean up 1,100 high-priority sites and assess another 1,650.

… Environment Canada says this includes “toxic waste sites, abandoned mines, contaminated military installations, leaking fuel storage depots.”

The federal government’s definition of a contaminated site is “one at which substances occur at concentrations above background (normally occurring) levels and pose or are likely to pose an immediate or long-term hazard to human health or the environment.”

... The National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) gathers information from every facility releasing contaminants, such as paper mills, waste treatment plants, hospitals, military bases and oil and gas facilities.

Source - Fast Forward WeeklyAccording to the NPRI’s data, Alberta accounts for 41 per cent of the country’s polluters, with 3,311 reporting facilities in 2010. Eighty per cent of those Alberta facilities are oil and gas producers. However, none are on federal land, and therefore not encompassed by the FCSAP program.

… In 2007, a report commissioned by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment found the total remediation costs of soil and water contaminated by petroleum hydrocarbons (PHCs) alone to be almost $41 billion.

The report found that due to the scale and cost of contamination, “the estimated magnitude of remediation work associated with PHC contaminated sites is projected to exceed the current annual capacity of the remediation industry by more than 57 times…. The largest PHC contaminated site liabilities are in the provinces with large upstream oil and gas industries; those provinces also have relatively small remediation industries.”

It concludes that since the cost of restoring polluted land would often be higher than the value of the land itself, “there is no net monetizable benefit to the economy as a whole associated with the remediation of a contaminated site.”

The 2010 soil quality guidelines report, also commissioned by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, found that despite knowing many PHCs and related chemicals cause cancer, and that there are hundreds of different types of these compounds, little toxicological information exists for most of them. Because of this dearth of knowledge, the environmental and health risks of only nine types of PAHs were examined for the soil quality review.

... “The system lacks standard closure reporting as well as clear and measurable expectations for what departments with custodial responsibilities for contaminated sites are to accomplish,” writes the auditor general’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, Scott Vaughan. “There is no consolidated Government of Canada report showing progress in terms of total sites remediated, which sites remain contaminated, what it will cost to remediate them, and what the potential consequences are of not taking action”

... In researching this story, Fast Forward Weekly was passed from one federal department to another as government representatives claimed someone else was responsible for the program. ... more.


New Oil and Gas Well Regulations Could Affect Landowners - “Cleverly Written Document” Fails To Address Increased Impact

'These changes are purely driven by getting the oil and gas out of the ground as quickly as possible,” Douglas says. “And that is such an out-of-date idea. This could mean a huge number of more wells.'

By Lindsey Wallis, October 13, 2011, Fast Forward Weekly

Last week, Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) announced changes to the well-spacing framework, which environmentalists say is a “cleverly written document” that makes the changes sound more innocuous than they are and essentially greenlights more wells.

The changes include the removal of subsurface well-density controls for coalbed methane and shale gas, and the increase of baseline well densities from one well to two wells per pool per standard drilling spacing unit. According to ERCB spokesperson Bob Curran this will not affect the rights of landowners, but Nigel Douglas, conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association, says that is disingenuous.

“That’s fine to say that it won’t affect landowner rights, since as a landowner you have virtually no rights anyway,” Douglas says. “Landowners can negotiate about where it will go but they have no rights as to whether a well or pipeline will be put on their land. This could effectively double the number of wells being drilled.”

... Edmonton lawyer Jennifer Klimek says landowners are at a disadvantage if they resist new wells. “The success at opposing them is not very high,” she says. “And even if there is a hearing (forced by landowner opposition), there will end up being more surface disturbance. The reality is that if you increase the downhole spacing you have to have more surface disturbance.”

According to Klimek, the province doesn’t know what the impact of that disturbance will be. “They don’t look at cumulative effects,” she says. “There should have been more thought put into it, they haven’t consulted with anyone who knows anything about it.”

Douglas is concerned about the fate of Alberta’s public lands, where sage grouse are already virtually extinct and many other species are in trouble. “On public lands the government department will be acting on Albertans’ behalf (to decide if new wells should be drilled),” he says. “It doesn’t bode well for wild lands.”

According to Douglas, there is no mention of conservation in the changes and no evidence that their effect on other land uses was taken into account. “These changes are purely driven by getting the oil and gas out of the ground as quickly as possible,” Douglas says. “And that is such an out-of-date idea. This could mean a huge number of more wells.”

Curran says that the changes were built on a purely geological assessment, looking at the best way to maximize oil and gas recovery, and surface impacts will be assessed separately. “There can be more wells drilled into the formations identified,” Curran says. “But that doesn’t necessarily translate into more surface wells. There is the possibility that it would lead to more surface impact, but there is no suggestion that it will.” ... more.


Hydraulic Fracturing and Well Bore Integrity

Why are there so many gaps in reporting on the compliance processes and enforcement results on all well bore regulations, directives, and requirements? How can the public be assured that industry is complying with the ERCB requirements when there is a lack of comprehensive auditing and reporting by the government regulator? Is the ERCB leaving industry to self-regulate on these wellbore requirements?

... there are enough blowouts, surface casing vent flows, spills, pipeline failures, that are reported which are the result of non-compliance that the ERCB needs to do a much better job auditing and reporting on well bore integrity and compliance statistics before the public will believe that hydraulic fracturing can be conducted safely. ... more.


Fire Water

Ernst, however, couldn't report the matter to the EUB because it had just instructed its staff "to avoid any further contact" with her

By Andrew Nikiforuk,  August 14, 2006, Canadian Business 

Photo - Colin SmithJessica Ernst is a combative Alberta businesswoman with an unusual problem: she can set her tap water on fire.

No kidding. After filling up a plastic pop bottle, the owner of Ernst Environmental Services, a well-respected oilpatch consulting company, can light a match and create a blue or yellow flame, complete with a rocket-like roar. Ever since she made the explosive discovery last November, the environmental-impact scientist has been asking a lot of questions about aggressive shallow-gas developments in booming Alberta.

Ernst now finds herself at the centre of a major resource controversy, as well as something of a folk hero. "She has been a lightning rod for rural Albertans, as well as a source of credible information," says Liberal environment critic, David Swann. Ernst has not only forced major groundwater investigations, but also prompted Alberta's leading oil-and-gas regulator, the Energy and Utilities Board (EUB), to temporarily suspend contact with her for alleged security reasons. The board's legal counsel, Rick McKee, now endearingly refers to her as a "pain in the butt."

The shy 49-year-old oilpatch consultant says that the ongoing controversy has been a very unwelcome experience. "I'd rather be running my business in peace," explains Ernst, who frequently works with major oil and gas firms and First Nations on northern wildlife issues. "But I had no choice. The regulators just didn't do their due diligence."

Her tale began in 2003 with the rapid development of coal-bed methane (CBM) in the Horseshoe Canyon formation, in central Alberta. CBM is an unconventional resource (the oilsands of natural gas) that requires more drilling and pipelines to develop than does old-fashioned natural gas. "It is a low-volume, high-capital-cost resource that tells you something about the maturity of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin," says Calgary-based Scotia Capital oil-and-gas analyst Peter Doig. "We are getting to the bottom of the natural-gas barrel."

Unlike conventional gas, CBM often sits in shallow coal seams, where much of the province's groundwater is located. (In fact, nearly 650,000 Albertans get their drinking water from aquifers.) As a "tight" or unco-operative gas, CBM also requires extensive hydraulic fracturing ("fracing") to get it flowing. Fracing uses massive volumes of fluids or gases to open up the formation to release more gas. Extensive CBM developments have sparked numerous groundwater controversies in the United States, where the resource now accounts for 9% of that nation's gas supply.

Alberta's industry claimed that the Canadian experience would be much different — and that the drilling of 50,000 CBM wells in the Horseshoe Canyon, over a 20-year period, would be well regulated. A groundwater workshop organized by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment came to different conclusions. In 2002, as CBM companies arrived in Ernst's backyard, researchers at the conference issued a prescient warning to industry, government and landowners alike. Given that the resource lies near aquifers or requires the removal of water in order to be produced, their report concluded that CBM development shouldn't take place "without adequate baseline groundwater knowledge."

Ernst actually asked for that baseline data, but it was never provided. As a consequence, her water nightmare began, in 2003, when EnCana Corp. started an extensive CBM drilling program around the hamlet of Rosebud, just an hour's drive northeast of Calgary. First her water taps started to whirr and hiss. "I thought I was having plumbing problems," Ernst recalls. But then, she got distracted by another impact of CBM drilling. When the roaring noise of a nearby compressor station, operated by EnCana, began to disturb her, Ernst spent several months trying to get the company and the EUB to muffle it. (CBM gas has little pressure and needs to be vacuumed up with a network of compressor stations.)

Meanwhile, Ernst says, she thinks her water quality steadily declined. By the spring of 2005, even her two dogs refused to drink it. Whenever she bathed, she says, she got a bad skin burn "that felt like frostbite." She adds that she found strange materials in her water filters. After observing thick white smoke coming off the water one day, Ernst decided to fill up a plastic bottle and conduct an experiment. She waited five minutes and then put a match to it. "It blew like a rocket and melted the plastic container," she recalls. "I was in shock."

Private lab tests ordered and paid for by Ernst later revealed 44,800 parts per million of methane or 29.4 milligrams per litre. The United States Geological Survey considers anything above 28 milligrams per litre a dangerous public-health concern.

Source - The Great Getaway: Secrets of a Frac Cover-Up, Presentation By Jessica ErnstErnst, however, couldn't report the matter to the EUB because it had just instructed its staff "to avoid any further contact" with her, on Nov. 24, 2005. The banishment arose from Ernst's efforts to secure reliable sound tests on the noisy compressor stations. After documenting two noise studies Ernst alleges were faulty (she says the microphones weren't properly placed, while the EUB contends the studies were done by a "reputable and independent" firm and that it offered to redo them at a time of her choosing with mics wherever she wanted), she fired off an e-mail to landowners, warning them that the regulator was planning to weaken its noise controls. The letter ended with a one-liner: "Someone said to me the other day: 'You know, I am beginning to think the only way is the Wiebo Way.'" Wiebo Ludwig, an evangelical cleric, began a $10-million vandalism campaign against the oil and gas industry, in the late 1990s, after sour gas allegedly poisoned members of his family.

Ernst, who doesn't own a gun and is dutifully employed by the oilpatch, was dumbfounded by the EUB's action and to this day calls it "intimidation." Davis Sheremata, an EUB spokesman, explains that "the decision to temporarily suspend contact with Ms. Ernst was unprecedented within the EUB and was done in response to a threat that was made involving our staff. Threats against our staff won't be tolerated." Ernst immediately dashed off a letter asking how a comment about Ludwig in a publicly circulated e-mail could be deemed "a criminal threat" to anyone. But it was returned unopened.

Ernst, however, wasn't the only resident of Alberta's booming CBM fields experiencing problems. A neighbour, Fiona Lauridsen, noted fizzing bubbles in well water, among other surprises. "The whole family suffered severe skin irritation in the shower on Christmas Eve," she says. Lab tests revealed levels of methane as high as 66 milligrams per litre. "It was an astonishing level," says Lauridsen.

In late January, even the EUB quietly acknowledged problems with shallow CBM drilling and fracing. The regulator's Directive 027 banned any further fracing at less than 200 metres in depth without fully assessing all potential impacts first, to protect nearby water wells. It added 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."

In late February, Ernst, Lauridsen and Dale Zimmerman, a farmer in Wetaskiwin, Alta., went public with their burning water at the provincial legislature, because, as Ernst put it, "I wasn't getting any calls from the regulator." The revelations sparked immediate action from Premier Ralph Klein and Environment Minister Guy Boutilier. "Whatever is necessary to be done will be done," said Klein. The issue also made big headlines in rural Alberta. At one public meeting about CBM in the farming community of Trochu, a two-hour drive northeast of Calgary, Ernst received a standing ovation from 600 concerned farmers after giving a presentation on natural-gas contamination in water.

In March, representatives of Alberta Environment finally showed up at Ernst's residence to do some testing. Within weeks of that work, the government replaced her well water with truck deliveries. She asked for the government's written protocol for gas sampling in water but says it took her four months to get it.

At the same time, both industry and government emphasized that methane naturally occurred in the province's groundwater. Alberta Environment noted that 906 water wells in the province had gas "assumed to be methane" in their water, and that nearly 26,000 water wells had coal seams present. That revelation merely alarmed Ernst. "It was all the more reason to do baseline testing before they drilled," she says. "They knew. All the companies should have tested for dissolved methane and gas composition."

Many of Ernst's clients in the oilpatch also started to pass on what she viewed as disturbing information by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and other sources about the scale of natural-gas contamination in groundwater in the province. Even a 2003 article in the Oilfield Review, a quarterly technical journal, noted poor gas-well construction combined with faulty cement casing routinely resulted in "leaks of gas into zones that would otherwise not be gas-bearing." It added that gas migration occurs everywhere — in "shallow gas wells in southern Alberta, heavy oil producers in eastern Alberta and deep gas wells in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains." An industry newsletter, GasTIPS, reported one Alberta study even found that 57% of wells drilled between a depth between 1,900 and 5,900 feet "develop leaks after the primary cement job."

Maurice Dusseault, a B.C.-based civil engineer, gas migration expert with 28 years experience in the field and the author of some 400 articles on petroleum-related subjects, confirms that the seepage of natural gas from poorly cased oil and gas wells into groundwater is a well-documented problem. "We haven't been good stewards of our groundwater near gas wells," he says. "I don't blame the companies.

I feel the EUB and other provincial regulatory agencies have been lax in protecting groundwater and in enforcement." ... 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.      

Alberta 2006, Bruce Jack's water well explodes and burns.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.



Bruce Jack Water Well Explosion Spirit River, Alberta, May 9, 2006

Transcribed from the Documentary


CBC News: [Bruce Jack] called Alberta Environment. After all, he thought, it’s the department’s job to protect Alberta’s fresh water. ... He didn’t get the response he was looking for.


Bruce Jack: I was told, it’s really a grey area. ... If it’s oilfield related, it’s the EUB ... if it’s not oilfield related, it’s [Alberta Environment], so until it’s proven ... nobody’s responsible.


CBC News: Bruce Jack called the Energy Utilities Board, the EUB.


EUB [now ERCB, soon to be Alberta Energy Regulator (AER)]: We respond to 100% of complaints.


CBC News: Except this complaint, EUB decided was outside its jurisdiction.


EUB: Alberta Environment is responsible for water wells in Alberta.


CBC News: True, says Alberta Environment, but ...


Alberta Environment [soon to be AER]: The EUB regulates oil and gas in this province. We work with the EUB staff as partners in these investigations.


CBC News: And the EUB has lots of faith in the oil industry’s track record when it comes to their gas wells leaking into people’s water wells. EUB records show, it virtually never happens.


Dr. Karlis Muehlenbachs: That’s simply false, that’s simply false.


CBC News: The truth is, this scientist says, is that the EUB hasn't looked very hard. It’s not that there isn’t gas in well water; there’s lots of it. But oil companies are almost always exonerated. The EUB has always said it is not the companies polluting underground aquifers. The gas is blamed on natural causes: biofouling, so called swamp gas.


Dr. Karlis Muehlenbachs: Microbial gas, swamp gas, is very possibly generated and therefore that’s the likely excuse. But, I don’t think anyone has actually gone to the trouble of poking around in a biofouled well and seeing if the little bubbles are coming out of the biofouling or if they’re coming out of the aquifer. ...  


EUB: Industry knows the rules, understands the rules and are following the rules. 


Stephanie Cowles, Bruce Jack’s neighbour: Is it the EUB’s responsibility? Or is it Alberta Environment’s responsibility? They play ring around the rosie about people’s water wells.


Bruce Jack: They’re supposed to be our regulators, but it doesn’t seem they’re doing it. I don’t have a bunch of faith in either one of them right now.

... more. 



No Duty of Care 

... the ERCB, whose mission is to develop oil and gas "in a manner that is fair, responsible and in the public interest," was prepared to argue that it has "no duty of care" to a landowner with contaminated water.

By Andrew Nikiforuk April 27, 2012

DRUMHELLER, ALBERTA: A landmark lawsuit against an energy giant and two Alberta government regulatory agencies concerning water well contamination by hydraulic fracturing started with an unusual twist in Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench yesterday.

Judge B. L. Veldhuis began the proceedings in a Drumheller courtroom attended by 20 landowners from across the province by admitting that she was going to do something unexpected: she then asked for a shorter statement of claim.

Jessica Ernst, a 54-year-old oil patch consultant and scientist from Rosebud, Alberta, is suing EnCana, one of the continent's largest unconventional gas producers, for negligence causing water contamination and the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), the province's energy regulator, for breaching the Charter of Rights.

The lawsuit alleges that the regulator "banished" Ernst, now a celebrated landowner in the province, from contact with the board after she publically spoke out about water well contamination and noise pollution.

In addition, the $33-million lawsuit alleges that Alberta Environment, one of two agencies responsible for groundwater protection, failed to uphold its regulatory responsibilities.

The lawsuit effectively puts on trial the practice and regulation of hydraulic fracturing: the controversial blasting of coal, oil and shale formations with toxic chemicals, sand and water.

North America's fracking boom has increased natural gas supplies, lowered gas prices and weakened the bottom line of many gas companies. The poorly studied technology, which can also cause earthquakes, has sparked moratoriums, debates and regulatory investigations from New Brunswick to Wyoming due to concerns about groundwater contamination, air pollution and methane leaks.

Neither EnCana nor the Alberta regulators have fielded statements of defence on shallow fracking incidents that took place eight years ago during a frenzied coal-bed methane drilling boom in central Alberta.

Instead, lawyers for both EnCana and the ERCB came prepared to argue a variety of motions to dismiss the entire case or strike out entire paragraphs from Ernst's highly readable 73-page statement of claim as "inflammatory" and "embarrassing."

In particular, the ERCB, whose mission is to develop oil and gas "in a manner that is fair, responsible and in the public interest," was prepared to argue that it has "no duty of care" to a landowner with contaminated water. ... more.


Source: Slide from Ernst presentation.


A Controversial Electricity Transmission Line and Charges of Spying Zap the Reputation of Alberta's Energy Regulator

... Two independent investigators have condemned the EUB's "repulsive" practice of spying on ordinary citizens during legitimate legal proceedings, and one has accused it of violating the law.

For the first time in its 70-year history, the EUB, an agency sworn to impartiality, has also publicly admitted that, yes, "circumstances have accumulated into a reasonable apprehension of bias." 

By Andrew Nikiforuk, October 22, 2007, Canadian Business Magazine ... more.


Drilling Accident Fuels Rebellion Demanding Halt To Hydraulic Fracturing

The 60-year-old technology has boosted gas and oil reserves but has become the subject of serious government investigations throughout the world, though not in Alberta.

By Andrew Nikiforuk, January 25, 2012, TheTyee.ca

Don Bester, president of the Alberta Surface Rights Group, which represents 1,400 landowners, told The Tyee that if the government doesn't "step up to the plate," the group will hold politicians "criminally responsible" for any horizontal drilling incidents that contaminate groundwater or leak poisonous hydrogen sulfide.

Hydraulic fracturing blasts open tight oil, gas and coal formations with highly pressurized volumes of water, sand and undisclosed chemicals in order to release methane or light oil.

The 60-year-old technology has boosted gas and oil reserves but has become the subject of serious government investigations throughout the world, though not in Alberta. Concerns about "fracking" range from measuring the risk of surface and groundwater contamination to its role in causing increased earthquake activity and dangerous methane leaks.

Bester's high profile group called for a full moratorium on hydraulic fracturing last week after a Calgary-based company injected fluids at such high pressure into a 1,800-metre-deep oil formation that the liquids travelled more than 1.2 kilometre underground and ruptured an oil well near Innisfail, Alberta on Jan. 13.

"It was spewing oil 60 feet into the air all around a pump jack well near the Red Deer River," says 65-year-old Bester.

"If these companies can't control these fracks, what is the potential to destroy a complete aquifer with toxic chemicals? We're not convinced that these fracks will stay in the formation that they were intended to crack open," adds Bester. 

"The potential to cause cross-communication from the fracking zone to zones that contain active fresh water aquifers is one of the many concerns," warned the group in a public letter to the Alberta government last week.

"The continual denial by the ERCB (Alberta's energy regulator) that this will not happen is very much a concern as every professional geologist knows there are naturally occurring fractures in every formation." Contamination of fresh water aquifers, warned Bester, is "inevitable."

Worrisome evidence mount

Recent U.S. studies in Wyoming and Pennsylvania have shown that the cracking of deep shale formations can strongly increase the risk of methane contamination of well water and groundwater perhaps through wellbores or natural fractures. The mechanisms are not fully understood.

Fracturing of groundwater formations was first reported in Canada in 1986 when "hydraulic fractures propagated into the underlying water zone" in Manitoba.

After the Midway fracking incident the ASRG warned that fracking operations could penetrate nearby sour gas wells resulting in catastrophic releases of toxic hydrogen sulfide (H2S).

"H2S has the extreme potential to cause serious health problems, or even death, to nearby residents that could be totally unaware of a blowout. The dangers of these types of unnoticed incidents that are great distances from the actual fracking site are simply a disaster waiting to happen."

One such fracking episode in Texas sent plumes of sour gas up an abandoned oil well in 2010.

Nearly 30 per cent of Alberta's gas reserves contain the deadly neurological toxin. Incredibly, the ERCB has already approved hydraulic fracturing under a massive sour gas field for a new Calgary well.

Bester says the regulator's response to the Innisfail well blow-out was worrisome. A local farmer tried to alert the Energy Resources Conservation Board about the Jan. 13 incident, but the province's energy regulator failed to answer its emergency phone line.

The farmer, acting on advice from the ASRG, then informed the fracking crew about the well blowout. "They couldn't believe that a frack job could come to surface more than a mile away," says Bester. Yet it is not uncommon for fracking operations to impact gas or oil wells nearly a mile away.

As soon as Midway Energy shut down its fracturing operation, the oil gusher "went down to nothing," says Bester. His group, along with Alberta's New Democrats and other civic associations, want an independent investigation of hydraulic fracturing. (Two MLAs in B.C. have asked for a review of that province's massive shale gas industry, too.)

'That tire will blow'

The ASRG, whose members deal with drilling and fracking crews on a daily basis, also want more transparency on what has now become a routine occurrence in unconventional oil and gas plays: the contamination of existing wells by fracking operations.

"If you inflate a tire designed for 28 pounds of pressure and you put 1,000 pounds in it, that tire will blow," explains Bester, a retired reservoir engineer.

"And that's exactly what happens with to rock formations during hydraulic fracturing operations.... There was so much pressure with the Innisfail frack that the existing nearby well couldn't handle it."

In 2010 BC's Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) issued a public safety advisory after highly pressurized injections of northern shale reservoirs resulted in 18 incidents of well contamination. One frack operation blasted chemical fluids and sand into another well just 670 metres away.

"Fracture fluids introduced into producing wells result in suspended production, substantial remediation costs and pose a potential safety hazard," reported the OGC.

The agency also confirmed the uncertain nature of the technology: "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."

Similar incidents have been reported across the United States. In North Dakota's booming Bakken shale oil fields, one engineer recently reported at least four incidents in which fracking fluids shot "into offset wells 1,500 to 2,200 feet away in transverse direction, pumping sand-laden slurry to surface."

At industry conferences engineers frequently bemoan the unpredictability of fracturing behaviour. Highly-pressurized fluids from unconventional wells have "communicated" with nearby oil and gas wells in Colorado and Utah. In one Texas accident fracking fluids invaded five adjacent vertical wells, stopping gas production altogether.

In 2009 Mike Vincent, a Colorado-based fracturing consultant, reported to the Society of Petroleum Engineers that, "Contrary to common expectations there are numerous examples of fractures intersecting offset wells (existing oil or natural gas wells near the well being fractured) but subsequently providing little or no sustained hydraulic connection between the wells. There is an understandable reluctance to publish reports documenting the intersection of adjacent wellbores with hydraulic fractures. Such information could unnecessarily alarm regulators or adjacent leaseholders who may infer that well spacing or fracture treatments are allowing unexpected capture of reserves."

"In the design of hydraulic fractures, it is necessary to make simplifying assumptions," Vincent wrote. "Although computing tools have improved, as an industry we remain incapable of fully describing the complexity of the fracture, reservoir and fluid flow regimes." Industry, he adds, rarely publishes information about the technology's many failures and accidents.

Fracking is safe: Alberta Tories

Given the unpredictability of complex fracturing operations, groups of citizens in New York are now lobbying for better regulation, baseline water monitoring and at least 4,000 ft setbacks from water wells and aquifers. Other jurisdictions such as Quebec, Bulgaria, New York and France have banned the practice or imposed moratoriums due to water concerns.

Alberta's Tories, which have ruled the province for 40 years and are heavily dependent on oil and gas revenues, contend that hydraulic fracking is perfectly safe and requires no review.

Yet the ERCB admits that as many as five well communication incidents have occurred during the fracking of some 2,000 horizontal wells since 2008. The companies involved include Talisman, Bonterra, Yangarra and Bellatrix. Industry insiders suggest the real number is probably much higher.

The Midway incident made global headlines because it connected one well to an existing operation at an unprecedented distance of 1.2 km away.

Alberta's regulator did not answer any questions submitted by The Tyee, but forwarded a Jan. 23 press release asking oil and gas companies to "immediately report any instance of unintended inter-well communication to the nearest ERCB Field Office."

Numerous central Alberta families now have flaming or contaminated drinking water after industry dotted the province's farm belt with poorly regulated and experimental coal bed methane wells over the last decade.

"Yes, people are being harmed and poisoned but we believe it's not just about the people," Ronalie Campbell, a rancher, told a Ponoka audience last week. "It's about the water, the resource we all need to live. It's our job to tell the people the truth." Her family lost its water in 2005 after extensive and repeated fracking in the area.

In 2006 the ERCB issued an interim order that restricted shallow fracturing of gas reservoirs after the practice contaminated groundwater:

"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," said the order.

When wells 'communicate'

In Australia the shallow fracking of coal seams also resulted in groundwater contamination and a major ongoing government investigation.

In addition, Jessica Ernst, an oil patch consultant, recently sued Encana Corporation for $33 million for contaminating a freshwater aquifer in southern Alberta in 2004 after the company extensively fracked coal seams near her home. The claim alleges that Alberta Environment and the ERCB "failed to follow the investigation and enforcement processes that they had established and publicized."

New studies show that fracking can impact rocks over an extensive area. A 2011 study by Denbury Resources (an independent US firm) and presented to the US Environmental Protection Agency, found that hydraulic fracturing operations in the Barnett Shale cracked rock over a vast underground area in Texas. Cumulative frack jobs can also increase the probability of contaminating or invading other wells.

One operation propelled 17,000 pounds of water and 250,000 pounds of sand at a rate of 100 barrels of fluid per minute into shale rock. All of that brute force cracked open rocks over an 150-acre area during a six-stage frack job.

Concluded the Denbury study: "Even with the tools available to perform fracture diagnostics, operators are still faced with challenges that are difficult to predict. As well density increases, it becomes increasingly probable that wells will communicate either through previously created fractures or through adjacent wellbores and then into previously created fractures."

Industry calls hydraulic fracturing a proven technology that has dramatically increased oil and gas reserves on the continent by allowing industry to access previously uneconomic resources.

But independent scientists and industry insiders contend that 60-year-old assumptions about the technology initially used for vertical wells no longer hold true.

When combined with horizontal drilling, which can stretch a mile long underground, hydraulic fracturing can open different kinds of reservoirs, "challenging the fundamental assumptions upon which our existing candidate selection and design methodology are built."

(Full Disclosure: Andrew Nikiforuk is an Alberta landowner but not a member of the ASRG.) 


Critical Environmental Security: Rethinking the Links Between Natural Resources and Political Violence

Edited by Matthew A. Schnurr and Larry A. Swatuk

Centre for Foreign Policy Studies Dalhousie University 2010 

Chapter 10 Loud Bangs and Quiet Canadians: An Analysis of Oil Patch Sabotage in British Columbia, Canada

If safety was the over-riding concern, Encana would have had to do more than issue an apology. And while the ‘capitve’ OGC regulator did issue a thorough report and strong statements on the leak, there was no concerete action.

By Chris Arsenault

As a former advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and an analyst on petroleum infrastructure security for the influential Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute, Tom Flanagan’s opinions hold considerable sway. The University of Calgary academic is likely familiar with the work of Niccolò Machiavelli who argues in The Prince that the “majority of men live content” when “neither their property nor their honor is touched.”

Petroleum companies in western Canada have a history of touching both of these things. Flanagan argues that:

The underlying cause of sabotage is the peculiar structure of property rights; the fact that the Crown owns the mineral resource and individuals own the surface rights. If you go back to Ludwig, he owned the surface rights and not the mineral rights. Individual landowners aren’t happy to see oil and gas companies on their land; it’s not just the drilling but the roads, the land that has to be cleared for the drilling pad, and the noise. Maybe part of the answer would be to amend the legislation for companies to pay greater compensation to surface rights owners.

Small farmers around North America have a history of considering individual property rights as the “basis for freedom and independence.” And, conventional wisdom maintains these independent farmers and other rural residents do not want oil company representatives demanding space for pipelines or compressor stations on their land.

Despite the arguments of Machiavelli, through John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and 21st century progenitors of the property relations thesis such as Flanagan, questions surrounding property rights are not the fundamental driver of conflicts in northeastern BC. Conflicts around property relations are certainly important, but captive regulatory agencies are in fact the driving force inspiring sabotage. The western Canadian country singer and cattle rancher Corb Lund offers a rebuttal to Flanagan’s property rights interpretation. After lambasting the environmental effects of oil drilling in his song “My Prairie”:

The water’s been poisoned.

My calves are all dead.

The children are sick and the aquifer is bled.

Lund opts instead for an analysis of conflict rooted in regulatory captive theory,

I don’t got the money that lawyers can buy.

I don’t have my own government’s laws on my side.

But I got this old rifle that my granddaddy owned.

This is my prairie and this is my home.

Farmers, and other residents who have a connection to the land where petroleum extraction is happening, say rules governing extraction favour corporate land access above health, safety, the environment and basic dignity for other land users. In essence, petroleum companies have ‘captured’ government regulatory bureaucracies for their own benefit. 

... Since the sabotage campaign began in the fall of 2008, police, government officials and EnCana have claimed that protecting public safety is reason for a harsh state security response and a one million dollar bounty on the saboteur. “We take the bombings of our facilities very seriously. The safety of our workers and the people who live in the communities where we operate is of paramount importance. That’s why we are putting up this reward to help stop these bombings and end the threat that they pose to people in the Dawson Creek area,” said Encana spokesman Mike Graham.

However, when recent history is scrutinized, these statements seem disingenuous.

On 22 November 2009, an EnCana pipeline near Tomslake burst, releasing 30,000 cubic metres of toxic sour gas into the community.  “This is a very serious event,” said Oil and Gas Commission spokesman Steve Simon. “This shouldn't have happened.”  In its assessment of the leak, the OGC reported a resident first smelled gas at 2:30 am. The company’s emergency shut-off valve failed. 

The first call came into 911 at 8:36 am, after a resident drove through a cloud of poison gas. The community self-organized an evacuation with a flurry of phone calls. EnCana didn’t tell residents about the danger until 10:16 am, several hours after the pipeline burst. The company didn’t stop the leak until 10:45 am.  “Clearly, procedures were not followed,” EnCana Vice-President Mike McAllister told reporters at a Calgary press conference, where he issued an apology.  No one was arrested or criminally charged as a result of the incident; in fact Encana did not even have to pay a fine.  “This leak probably released thousands of times more gas than what has been released by the bombings,” said Tim Ewert, one of the dozens of people who had to evacuate themselves.

If safety was the over-riding concern, Encana would have had to do more than issue an apology. And while the ‘capitve’ OGC regulator did issue a thorough report and strong statements on the leak, there was no concerete action.

This incident and the responses to it provide clear evidence that public safety is not the main factor motivating state responses to sabotage. Thus, it seems as though providing security for capital investment, partially as a means to bolster government petroleum revenues, is the over-riding public policy concern for the police, EnCana and the BC government. Unlike the seemingly intractible problem of property relations, these grievances can be dealt with primarily through legal changes.

Thus captive regulators, not issues with property rigths (sic) are the main cause of conflict and sabotage in northeastern BC. ... read entire report. 


OGC wraps up Sour Gas Leak Investigation

... more than a dozen residents of the Tomslake area fled their homes in response to a cloud of toxic hydrogen sulphide gas.

By Energetic City.ca, December 18, 2009

The CBC is reporting, an investigation into last month’s natural gas leak in the South Peace, might have been the result of some pipeline abrasion caused by sand going through the line.

It sites a preliminary statement from the BC Oil and Gas Commmission on its investigation into the sour gas leak at well site of Calgary based EnCana Corporation.

Recall more than a dozen residents of the Tomslake area fled their homes in response to a cloud of toxic hydrogen sulphide gas.  

That was during the morning of November 22nd and the commission statement says, the damaged pipe leaked sour gas for at least an hour, before an alarm sounded.

It also says, it took EnCana shut down crews, about two hours, to arrive at the scene. ... more.


Failure Investigation Report: Failure of Piping at EnCana Swan Wellsite A5-7-77-14 L W6M

... internal erosion of the wall resulting from flowing fracture sand suspended in the gas stream.  

By the BC Oil and Gas Commission, February 4, 2010.

The 22 November 2009 failure … was caused by internal erosion of the wall resulting from flowing fracture sand suspended in the gas stream.  

Leak detection and emergency isolation at the site did not achieve timely detection of the leak or control of the escaping gas.

EnCana’s integrity management program did not effectively mitigate the hazard of internal erosion. ... more.

 Gas Well Emergencies Are Real; Don't Dismiss Them

... corrosive sand in the pipeline of a newly producing well caused a small rupture in a valve and allowed water and natural gas to escape.

An unexpected natural gas release on Friday at a Carrizo Oil & Gas well near Debbie Lane and Matlock Road . Photo - Arlington Fire DepartmentTexas - Star Telegram, March. 26, 2012, 

Note to Rusty Ward, Carrizo Oil & Gas vice president of regulatory affairs: Whenever there is a malfunction at one of your company's wells like the one that happened near two schools in Mansfield on Friday, take it very seriously.

The initial report from Carrizo said a valve began leaking just before 8 a.m., venting an estimated 3,400 cubic feet of natural gas and about two barrels of water from the well on Debbie Lane near Matlock Road. The well produces about 6 million cubic feet of natural gas a day.

"That small amount of gas was completely on top of the atmosphere by the time you got to the wall of the drill site," Ward told Star-Telegram reporter Susan Schrock. "There was never any danger to a kid or residents."

That's a little too dismissive.

It's always dangerous when gas leaks from one of the hundreds of wells near Tarrant County neighborhoods and schools. Initial reports from Carrizo and fire officials said corrosive sand in the pipeline of a newly producing well caused a small rupture in a valve and allowed water and natural gas to escape.

Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson, whose personnel were called to the site to assist Mansfield firefighters, said primary and secondary safety valves failed before a third valve finally shut off the high-pressure leak after about 20 minutes. No gas was detected in the neighborhoods or schools downwind.

Ward apparently saw no need for any great concern.

A leak at a well site is a bad thing, and it's an even bigger problem when not just one but two safety systems fail to shut it down.

... Crowson takes such things very seriously. He recently persuaded the Arlington City Council to approve a gas well emergency preparedness and response plan.

The city will charge gas companies $2,397 per well to pay for part of the plan.

With that money, Arlington will create positions for a new fire captain, a gas well inspector and six additional firefighters, as well as pay for their specialized training in dealing with gas well emergencies.

Separately, the city will pay for that kind of training for 42 additional firefighters.

The idea is to draw up emergency action plans for each of the about 300 well sites in Arlington. 

... Friday's leak at the Mansfield well delivers a simple message, Crowson says: "Things do happen at well sites." ... more.


Well Blowout Hythe, Alberta - February 24, 2010



Sour Gas Well Blows Out, Burns in Northwest Alberta - February 24, 2010

'So at this point, there is absolutely no risk to public health or safety from this well. ... In fact, we don't know if there's any sour gas flowing from this well at all'

CBC News, February 24, 2010 

A sour gas well blew out Wednesday morning and was burning throughout the day northwest of Hythe, Alta.

The well, which is owned by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., caught fire around 3 a.m. local time while a crew was drilling on the site. No one was hurt. The cause of the blowout hasn't yet been determined.

"You can see a plume of dark grey to black smoke coming over top of the trees, you can't smell anything at all," said Hythe Mayor Gary Burgess.

"Something like this is definitely a concern. I just hope that we find out more about it soon, so we know where we're at. And if there is … no threats or reasons to be concerned, then we need to know that, too."

The closest home is more than seven kilometres away, outside the well's 400-metre emergency planning zone, said Bob Curran, a spokesperson for the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB).

"So at this point, there is absolutely no risk to public health or safety from this well," Curran said.

"In fact, we don't know if there's any sour gas flowing from this well at all," he said, adding that the fire makes assessing that difficult.

... Curran believes that the fire might be burning off the outflow. Sour gas contains hydrogen sulphide, a toxic and flammable substance.

The blowout occurred a few kilometres from a Canadian Superior Energy sour gas testing site where people from Trickle Creek Farm have been holding a protest vigil against gas drilling.

"It's rather providential that this thing blew up while we were protesting, insofar as it punctuates our concerns," said Wiebo Ludwig, the leader of the community and a convicted pipeline bomber.

"They told us we'd better get out of there about 6:30 this morning," he said. "The reaction time is awful because it started apparently at 3:30 already, and we didn't hear about it until 6:30."

Some members of the community used snowmobiles to get close enough to the blowout to get photographs, Ludwig said.  

"Everything is burning there, the whole well site, all the trailers too are getting set on fire," he said. "We have reasons to worry when we're surrounded by that kind of development here." ...more. 


Well Blowout Update - February 25, 2010

... at this point authorities don’t know if any sour gas is flowing from the well

Energetic City.ca, February 25, 2010

... the closest home is more than seven kilometers away and that is well outside the emergency planning zone of 400 meters.

Thus, Bob Curran of the Energy Resources Conservation Board has again offered public assurance, the well poses no health or safety risk.

He’s confirmed the well was targeting sweet gas, but under Alberta regulations had to be licensed as a sour gas well just in case pockets of toxic hydrogen sulphide were encountered during the drilling process.

He adds at this point authorities don’t know if any sour gas is flowing from the well ... more.


Northern Alberta Gas Blowout Tough to Tame - March 3, 2010

There is a possibility that the cause of the blowout could be deep underground.

Edmonton Journal, March 3, 2010

EDMONTON — A natural gas well in northwestern Alberta that blew out into flames on Feb. 24 is still burning, and workers believe the rupture may be far beneath the ground.

Davis Sheremata, a spokesman for the Energy Resources Conservation Board, said progress has been made working on the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. site.

"They have finally cleared the sub-structure out of the way and exposed the wellhead," he said Wednesday. "We are still not 100 per cent sure what caused this."

There is a possibility that the cause of the blowout could be deep underground.

To fix it, workers have brought a drilling rig to the site to dig a relief well. That new dig will be 600 metres away from the current well.

"It could be a few more days, to be honest," Sheremata said. ... more.


Hythe Gas Blowout Finally Extinguished - March 12, 2010

'Luckily, they were able to stop the flow of gas ... from this well.'

CBC News Friday, March 12, 2010

A blowout and fire at a gas well near Hythe in northwest Alberta has been brought under control after more than two weeks.

The well, licenced to Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., exploded around 3 a.m. on Feb. 24.

Emergency crews at the site have installed new equipment to prevent blowouts and pumped drilling mud down the hole, ending the gas flow.

"Usually when you see something like this in Alberta, they get control of it very quickly," said Bob Curran, a spokesperson for the Energy Resources Conservation Board.

'In this case, just due to the nature of what happened, it took a little bit longer," he said. "Luckily, they were able to stop the flow of gas [Friday] from this well." ... more.


EnCana Corporation Facing Criminal Charges

The Ministry of Environment has charged EnCana following a sour gas leak in November 2009.

By Adam Reaburn Energetic City, September 28, 2010.

The Ministry of Environment has charged EnCana following a sour gas leak in November 2009.

The Ministry has filed two charges against the company. The company is charged with introducing business-related waste into the environment and failing to report a spill of a polluting substance.

… The leak was caused after sand had eroded a piece of pipeline infrastructure, called a ‘Tee’. ... more.


Public Inquiry Requested Into Pouce Coupe Gas Leak

... even if EnCana followed every step, it wouldn’t have been enough.

By Christine Rumleskie Energetic City 

Concerned South Peace residents are generating support for a proposed public inquiry into a gas leak that happened late 2009.

Members of the Peace Environment and Safety Trustees explained the idea to Peace River Regional District directors on Thursday afternoon.

On November 22nd, a gas leak occurred at an EnCana well site, forcing the evacuation of 15 nearby residents. A report by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission concluded that a combination of sand and a high-velocity gas stream eroded a well site tee, which ruptured and caused the gas release.

Spokesperson Lois Hill says the group now has no confidence in industry emergency protocol, the reporting protocol or the report of events conducted by the B.C. OGC.

The OGC report also found that EnCana did not follow proper protocol in its emergency program. But Hill says even if EnCana followed every step, it wouldn’t have been enough.

While there are no ‘official’ reports of injury as a result of the leak, Hill claims one woman is being treated for lung damage and one horse died.

Hill even claims that EnCana has paid the unidentified woman to replace the horse, and has sent her to Calgary for treatment. ... more.


Health Risks Are Real, Say Residents 

'they’ve recognized it [the health concerns], but because there is such a huge pool of money coming in from the natural gas resources here, it is just an ad-lib or something just to pacify the people and keep them quiet'

By Matthew Bains, Staff Writer, Alaska Highway News,  June 9, 2012

Glenda and Pat Wagar are all too aware of the human health risks posed by unconventional natural gas development in the Peace Region.

For the couple, who live just south of Pouce Coupe, those concerns are not just a fear of the unknown, but a first-hand knowledge of what exposure to potentially deadly “sour” gas containing hydrogen sulphide (H2S) can have on the body and the mind.

Glenda said she is still living with the effects of that exposure from a gas leak that occurred at a wellsite a few hundred metres from their home in November, 2009.

“I have vertigo problems, and my lungs still hurt,” she said. “It hurts all the time, there’s a pain there, but it definitely gets worse when I exercise.”

“We used to go out for walks all the time… and we would be talking all the time as we walked along – but we go for walks now and she can’t talk and walk at the same time, she loses her breath,” her husband added.

Glenda said she has seen medical professionals about her persistent health problems and they cannot tell her if it will get better over time.

“They have no idea,” she said. “They said H2S is known to cause neurological damage, but it’s never the same twice. They don’t know how bad it will be, whether it will get worse, stay the same or get better. I have no idea what my health is going to look like in the future, but I know right now it sucks.”

A loud noise like a jet engine was the first indication she said she had that something was wrong at about 3 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2009. Then it was the smell of H2S, like rotten eggs.

“We weren’t notified, we noticed it ourselves,” she said.

“In the beginning, I didn’t recognize what it was, I kept running outside trying to figure out what it was. Then at five to nine [a.m.] or whatever it was, a hunter came, honking his horn and driving through the yard saying, ‘Get out! Get out! You’re in a cloud!’”

They did leave their home after that and stopped at the end of their road to call 9-1-1 from there, but did not get much help.

“They really didn’t know, there was no procedure, no set plan like, ‘This is what you’re going to do’ …it was mass confusion,” she said.

She said she then started phoning her neighbours, but the responses indicated they were just as unprepared for what to do in a gas leak as she and her husband were.

“Nobody was prepared, it was confusion.”

They were eventually told they were to gather at a mustering point, which they did, and it wasn’t until about 1 p.m. that they were told it was safe to return home, though a heavy odour still lingered there.

A BC Oil and Gas Commission investigation into the incident found the well was not successfully shut-in until 10:45 a.m., and as a result, about 30,000 cubic metres of natural gas was released, with the concentration of H2S measuring 6,200 parts per million at the time of the leak.

Glenda said she began noticing the effects of that exposure immediately.

“At that time, myself and few other people had really itchy eyes and a really harsh cough, and are throats were just burning,” she said.

“Three days later, I still couldn’t get rid of the cough and the burning and so I went into the doctor, and he said it was like being in smoke and it was lung damage, but that it would clear up in two or three months. They had no idea what a gas leak is. He kept asking: ‘Was it gas in your house?’ and he had no idea what H2S was, so the doctors weren’t prepared either.”

“The one doctor in Edmonton asked me how come I wasn’t treated properly right of the bat. I still don’t know what ‘treated properly’ is because nobody has ever treated me,” she added.

She said Encana, the operator of the wellsite in question, never offered her any kind of compensation for her injuries.

“They paid for one trip to Calgary to see a doctor they chose and paid for, who of course said he didn’t see anything wrong. The other doctor saw infiltrates in my lungs and definitely breathing problems.”

She added her horses were affected as well.

“We had a couple of young horses die, and then we had a bunch of mares pregnant that were ready to foal, but then all of a sudden there was nothing, no foals.”

For his part, Pat said he hasn’t had any lingering health effects, other than he now commonly wakes up with a stuffed nose, which he had not experienced before. However, they both said there are psychological effects to going through an incident like that.

“You’re living under anxiety all of the time. This happened once, now when is it going to happen again?” said Pat.

“It’s just really nasty, it causes a lot of stress and a lot of ongoing problems. I get nightmares, I wake up at night and I’m listening for noises,” added Glenda.

“They opened up a new well with a bunch of flaring, and you can hear people talking and the thump of the machinery, and you just lay awake wondering when it’s going to cause more damage.”

The incident near Pouce Coupe, and the fact there was no redress for the injuries that were reported, prompted the call for public health inquiry into the incident that led to the provincial government establishing an Oil and Gas Human Health Risk Assessment this year.

Glenda said she participated in phase one of that assessment by outlining her concerns and submitting them in a letter to the Fraser Basin Council, but she never received confirmation that letter had been received. She said she would like to see further setback distances for wells drilled near homes, and better emergency preparedness.

“We need our medical professionals to be aware of what is going on and what the risks are, and we need a better emergency plan so that if you have a scare or a smell, there is a procedure that people can go – ‘Okay, this is what I can do,’” she said.

However, both Glenda and her husband said they are not very confident any substantive changes will be forthcoming from government or industry as a result of the health risk assessment.

“Yeah, they’ve recognized it [the health concerns], but because there is such a huge pool of money coming in from the natural gas resources here, it is just an ad-lib or something just to pacify the people and keep them quiet,” said Pat. ... more.


$250,000 in Community Safety Projects Following Encana Sour Gas Leak

Through open discussions, participants determined it would be appropriate for Encana to provide $250,000 to a variety of initiatives in order to compensate for the incident

By Sean Assor, September 12, 2012, Energetic City

On Wednesday, September 12, Encana Corporation announced it will be contributing $250,000 towards community health and safety projects in northeast B.C.

The forum’s focus was the pipeline failure which took place on November 22, 2009, resulting in a sour gas leak at an Encana well, located close to Pouce Coupe.

According to Encana, the failure resulted from internal erosion of a pipe wall, which was caused by the suspension of sand within the gas stream.

The recently held forum gathered representatives of the parties impacted by the leak, also including employees and community members from Pouce Coupe and the Tomslake area.

Through open discussions, participants determined it would be appropriate for Encana to provide $250,000 to a variety of initiatives in order to compensate for the incident.

Such initiatives include multiple equipment upgrades for the Pouce Coupe Fire Department, including one-third of the cost of a rural interface fire truck, along with emergency evacuation preparedness at Tomslake’s Tate Creek Community Centre and wetlands environmental enhancement projects to be overseen by Ducks Unlimited Canada within the South Peace Region. ...more.



'Industry People Have Threatened Me': AB Air Pollution Campaigner

Emissions from the tanks have sickened scores of residents and cattle in the community of Three Creek just 30 km northeast of Peace River for nearly a decade.

By Andrew Nikiforuk March 14, 2012, The Tyee

A 49-year-old rancher battling air pollution in Alberta’s Peace River country hopes a high profile meeting with four Alberta government ministries and two local MLAs will result in some concrete changes this Friday.

Carmen Langer, a former oil patch worker, has fought for years to get companies to control the venting of solution gases and toxic chemicals from hundreds of heated tanks full of bitumen dotted around Alberta’s third largest bitumen deposit.

Emissions from the tanks have sickened scores of residents and cattle in the community of Three Creek just 30 km northeast of Peace River for nearly a decade.

“It’s been hell for the last couple of years. I'm traumatized by all this. Industry people have threatened me,” he told The Tyee in a phone interview.

Last week Langer says a Grand Prairie RCMP officer and plainclothes investigator paid Langer a visit saying they had heard rumors about bomb threats to the oil sands industry.

“I said someone is blowing smoke up your ass and we talked it out,” said Langer. “These people even called my relatives in Calgary to see if I was crazy.”

(The RCMP now routinely visit farmers, ranchers and First Nations who have civilly complained about oil and gas operations in Alberta and BC). ... more. 

From the comments to article:

Can you please clarify?

Was Mr. Langer saying that the RCMP were threatening him, or were the people generating the rumours of the bomb the ones threatening him and calling his family in Calgary?

Can you tell us why the RCMP routinely visit people who have made civil complaints?

I read your article with one understanding of what you meant, and then realized from the comments that it could be taken differently. I think clarification of these two points would be helpful.


Clarification: The RCMP

The RCMP who visited Carmen Langer's property, told the rancher that someone said he was "dangerous" and that they must check him out. The RCMP also called Langer's family in Calgary, as Langer put it, "to see if I was crazy."

In the last couple of years the RCMP have visited scores of landowners in BC and Alberta after they have raised civil and public complaints about polluting facilities. Most describe the visits as "intimidating."

During the bombing campaign against EnCana between 2008 and 2010, the RCMP not only investigated landowners around Dawson Creek, the scene of the bombings, but interviewed landowners as far away as Calgary. Anyone who had filed a complaint against EnCana in the past appears to have been visited by the RCMP. This is an abuse of the police, pure and simple.

To my knowledge the RCMP has yet to visit the owner of a sour gas plant or leaking tanker farms to see if their dangerous emissions killed cattle, violated trespass or criminal laws or posed cancer risks to those downwind.

Andrew Nikiforuk



Oil Company Within Regulation, People Leaving Homes Due To Illness

Baytex's Chief Operating Officer Marty Proctor, who has visited the area himself, says the air quality there is better than what he experiences in Calgary

... Residents are encouraged to seek medical treatment and get medical testing for their ailments, says ERCB's Barter.

By Erin Steele, June 6, 2012, Record-Gazette

Shortly after the turnoff from Highway 2 about 15 kilometres south of Nampa, one passes a yellow Children Playing sign on the right hand side of the dirt road. Shortly after that, the towering black storage tanks start appearing, grouped together and containing bitumen- some venting, others equipped with a flaring system through which excess gas is burned off, some with a gas gathering system in place to minimize what joins the atmosphere.

Interspersed throughout this area are residences, mostly belonging to that of the Labrecque family - Andy Labrecque, who still lives in the area with his wife Joyce - amongst much of their extended family, bought the land at 18-years old through what was then known as a homestead sale.

A little farther down the road is metal side-paneling hanging from a fence and off poplar trees with spray-painted red lettering reading: 'Baytex we deserve clean air' and 'forced evacuations in progress.'

One of those so-called 'forced evacuations' is Alain and Karla Labrecque, who have lived in the area since Koch Exploration first developed the property and sold it to Prosper Petroleum, which drilled more wells before it was purchased by Baytex Energy in February 2011. Since entering the picture, Baytex has drilled five wells, adding to the approximate 41 total in the area.

The Labrecque's say the air quality is affecting their lives and causing negative health symptoms. Baytex's Chief Operating Officer Marty Proctor, who has visited the area himself, says the air quality there is better than what he experiences in Calgary, though the company remains concerned. The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) has dispatched a dispute-resolution team to act as a mediator between the residents and the company.

Alain and Karla and their young children began to experience health problems in Dec. 2010, before Baytex purchased the property, and say they tried to attribute it to everything else before the surrounding development.

"I spent so long trying to blame it on ourselves, our house. You just keep eliminating all of what it could be of our stuff," Alain told the Record-Gazette.

According to Karla, they could not have fathomed having any negative from the industry they believe is vital to the economy.

"We were excited when the oil came, this was on his Dad's land. We were very excited when it first started coming around. Right on, your Dad's getting some oil activity, right? Never dreamt it would cause this. Never."

By March 2011 though, Alain and Karla's process of elimination left nothing else to blame.

"We figured out what it was. It was the smell. Whenever the smell was bad, the day after we had symptoms," Karla said.

Karla suffered from almost constant headaches, would sometimes lose her balance, and if she turned her head to far the left, dizziness would overcome her to the point of almost passing out, she explained. She went to a doctor who put her on decongestants for two months thinking it was a problem with her ears. With no change in her symptoms she went to a specialist who attributed it to her sinus', which were red, thought there was no pus or mucus build-up.

This never went away.

According to Alain, he didn't realize his symptoms were symptoms until the family moved out of their home, one year after they started noticing issues. ... more.


Another Alberta Pollution Scandal Forces Residents From Homes

"I blame the ERCB (Alberta's energy regulator). They are not doing proper monitoring and are withholding data. They are responsible for this going on for years. They have lied to us more than the company. I don't know how they sleep at night."

By Andrew Nikiforuk, March 2, 2013, TheTyee.ca

Another Alberta pollution scandal has forced as many as six residents from their homes and poisoned scores of other citizens near the Peace River Oil Sands in the northwest corner of the province.

Flaring gas and bitumen storage tanks near home Labrecque family says it has been forced to leave. Photo: Daniel Labrecque."It's a desperate situation," said Vivianne Laliberte who moved into her son's place last October after being repeatedly "gassed" from emissions from oil sands operations just 5 kilometres from her 85-year-old farm.

"There are a lot of sick people but they don't have the money to move," Laliberte told The Tyee. Her farm is located 48 kilometres south of Peace River.

Emissions from heavy oil extraction and storage facilities owned by Calgary-based Baytex Energy Corp., a heavy oil producer, forced her and her husband to abandon their property.

"But I don't blame the company," added Laliberte.

"I blame the ERCB (Alberta's energy regulator). They are not doing proper monitoring and are withholding data. They are responsible for this going on for years. They have lied to us more than the company. I don't know how they sleep at night."

Greg Melchin, a former Alberta Energy Minister and Tory politician, sits on the board of Baytex Energy.

Darin Barter, spokesman for the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERBC), says the board "continues to take this matter seriously. We have worked directly and frequently with residents, industry and other government agencies on these concerns."

Barter adds that the ERCB has assigned an extra inspector to the region and that "the ERCB is currently examining our regulatory options that may assist in resolving this issue."

But residents, many of whom were recently profiled in a three-part CBC series, say the province has failed to regulate hydrocarbons being vented off of hundreds of bitumen storage tanks in the region.

No regulations

"There are no regulations on heated bitumen products. The carcinogens coming off those tanks are just crazy," says 50-year-old Carmen Langer, who worked in the industry for two decades.

His ranch, located 27 kilometres north of Peace River, is surrounded by hundreds of wells and hundreds of bitumen storage tanks.

"Three generations built this farm and now industry pollution is taking it away from us," says Langer, who recently sold his cattle. "We're done. I won't sell my home contaminated. We're not that kind of people."

Langer, who calls bureaucrats and politicians every day for action on bitumen vapour recovery, recently presented a $3.8-million bill to the province for land contamination and property devaluation.

"The government is mental not to deal with this situation," said Langer.

But Ian Johnson, an independent scientist with a PhD in chemistry who has advised citizens on the inadequacy of government air monitoring, does not think the government has any interest in regulating.

"Industry isn't contravening any regulations because there are none that I know of. It's a case of colossal mismanagement," explained Johnson.

Bitumen deposits around Peace River vary greatly in quality, sulfur content and thickness. Some deposits can be recovered with steam injection while others use a cold production method known as CHOPS. It pumps both bitumen and sand to the surface from 600-metre-deep deposits. The ultra-heavy oil is then stored in heated tanks (up to 120 degrees) where gases can build up. Once vented into the air these toxic fumes can travel for miles.

A 2003 Shell Bitumen Handbook notes that bitumen fumes from heated storage tanks can "result in the irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory tract and headaches and nausea" and adds that exposure should be minimized. Moreover, emissions from storage tanks can contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) as well as hydrogen sulfide, a deadly neurotoxin even at small levels.

Pollutants also change with the quality of heated bitumen stored in the tanks. One Australian study found that measured off-gassing pollutants included PAH, benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene, chloromethane and acetone.

Residents near Baytex bitumen facility say they are being poisoned by off-gassing. Photo: Richard Labrecque.Her children 'were being poisoned'

Another family gassed by Baytex's operations recently set up their own website documenting their ordeal as environmental refugees in Canada's wealthiest province. (See sidebar)

"I have two young children who I initially thought were going through a clumsy stage related to either a growth spurt or simply due to their age but now I know that they were being poisoned," writes Karla Labrecque on her website. [StopBaytex.ca]

"My three-year-old looked like he was a ghost most days while my two-year-old would repeatedly lose her balance while sitting and fall off furniture. Since making the difficult decision to leave our farm, both my children have made dramatic recoveries but I can't help but think about what long-term effects they may suffer."

... 'Get yourself out of the area'

Laliberte told The Tyee that rural residents who have sought medical help also had trouble finding physicians "who dared look into the matter, fearing repercussions. One person was told by a specialist, 'I can't do anything. Get yourself out of the area.' Another was told, 'I don't want to hear about it anymore. You need a lawyer, not a doctor.' This happened in three different centres in the province."

Johnson, who has criticized air monitoring in the region as fraudulent, has also called the ERCB's response to the pollution totally inadequate in letters to Environment Minister Diana McQueen.

After receiving a pollution complaint on Jan. 4 from rancher Carmen Langer (the rancher has since found dead deer in his yard after pollution events and has now sold all of his livestock), the board initiated its so-called "Peace River Cooperative Odor Complaint Protocol."

It consists of asking heavy oil producers in the region such as Shell, Penn West, Baytex and Murphy to dispatch "staff or agents to check its facilities and review activities from the previous 24 hours." In most cases, such ad-hoc investigations reveal "nothing identified."

In the region, Shell has remodified its storage tanks to capture their toxic emissions while other companies have not.

'Committed to producing oil safely': Baytex

According to the Peace River Record Gazette, the ERCB has responded to more than 600 complaints, 400 inspections and 1,300 investigations in the Three Creeks/Reno area over the last two years with little change in emissions reduction.

Yet the ERCB website makes no mention of these ongoing events and concerns. "We do not post personal information or details around landowner concerns or official complaints on our website for FOIP reasons," explained Barter in an email.

Baytex's website declares that the heavy oil producer believes "in keeping best practices and the needs of our neighbours and partners in mind when operating our business and when sharing a community space." ... more.



 Trouble In The Peace (2013)


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