Slick Water  

The Devil is in the Details   

Slick Water is a true-life noir filled with corruption, incompetence, and, ultimately, courage. It is a deeply informative, disturbing, and important book.
—Elizabeth Kolbert, 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winning author of The Sixth Extinction



 Slick Water Excerpt

    In 1982 Ernst drove west in a white Toyota two-wheel-drive truck to find work. Alberta didn't need any bug experts at the time, but the oil patch wanted land agents to do seismic work. Ernst signed on as a field supervisor and permit agent for Summit Land Consultants. In short order, she learned how to broker a deal with angry landowners when oil and gas companies doing seismic work destroyed fences, killed livestock, or sullied water wells. The point, she says, was to be honest and keep your word. On one job a rig hand, fresh out of jail, punched her in the mouth. Ernst was undaunted. In 1987 she and her new husband, Sean, started their own land agent business: O'Neill and Ernst Permitting.

1994 Jessica Ernst on the cover of Oil & Gas Journal documenting Home Oil's Kahntah project in NE British Columbia.The business flourished, but the marriage failed, and in 1994 Ernst started her own firm, Ernst Environmental Services. She specialized in assessing the impacts of pipelines and wells on fish, valleys, rivers, and archaeology sites. One of her jobs was to restore to wilderness a road that had been built by Imperial Oil to a now-abandoned well site. She eventually reseeded parts of it by hand. Through her dealings with trappers, First Nations, rural communities, and bureaucrats at the National Energy Board, she established a reputation for getting pipeline applications done on time.

Oil and gas companies made a lot of mistakes in those days, and Ernst dutifully cleaned up many of them. She made sure that roads and fences were repaired, that land was reclaimed, that livestock was replaced, and that landowners were properly paid for their leases. When Ernst started in the business, she recalls, companies such as PanCanadian, a regular client, readily admitted to their errors and hired people to set things right with landowners. "Now," she says, "the industry is in total denial about everything."

Denial takes many forms, as Ernst knows all too well. She collects art, or at least she did. She has twenty pieces by Marianna Gartner, a great contemporary painter. All are slated to be sold to fund the lawsuit. Gartner, born in Winnipeg, takes old photos and uses them to create otherworldly portraits of "disturbing ordinariness."

Some of her recent paintings display skeletal remains and organic matter together. For Ernst, the skeletons "remind us how empty our bodies really are, and what is important is our spirit." A painting called Skull Girl covers most of Ernst's living-room wall. It shows a young girl in a white dress skipping a rope on the lone prairie. A human skull covers the girl's face. Ernst bought the painting the same year Encana fracked local aquifers. She believes that in Skull Girl, Gartner unwittingly captured the state of Ernst herself as a nine-year-old. Ernst says that's the year she died inside.




Slick Water

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