Ruth A. Morgan reviews ‘Slick Water’ by Andrew Nikiforuk by Ruth A. Morgan, March 2016, Issue No. 379 Australian Book Review.
SLICK WATER: FRACKING AND ONE INSIDER’S STAND AGAINST THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL INDUSTRY by Andrew Nikiforuk
Greystone Books (NewSouth), $34.99 hb, 359 pp, 9781771640763
Ruth A. Morgan is a Lecturer at the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University.
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Remarkably, the hazards of hydraulic fracturing, evident from the outset, have largely gone unheeded. In the United States, fracking has ‘left a troubling legacy of exploding homes, flammable water, uncontrollable methane seeps, and earthquake swarms’. Furthermore, the fractures that fracking produces are unpredictable and difficult to contain, as they follow the path of least resistance. Geologically and politically, as Ernst warned an Irish community, ‘[F]racking brings a war that knows no borders.’
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Despite the risks that fracking poses to prime agricultural land and livelihoods, the cosy relationship between the fossil fuel industry and government has allowed fracking to go unquestioned for too long. As the Alberta Energy Regulator is entirely funded by industry, it is unsurprising that fracking projects were poorly regulated, with little law enforcement, and minimal groundwater monitoring.
… Her story echoes that of American marine biologist Rachel Carson, who withstood the ridicule of the chemical industry in the 1960s after the publication of Silent Spring (1962). Like Carson, Ernst is attuned to the widespread ecological and intergenerational impacts of fracking. Literary scholar Rob Nixon describes such forms of environmental degradation as ‘slow violence’. For Nikiforuk and Ernst, violence is at the heart of fracking: a process of exploding the Earth’s crust, supported by a vanguard of vested interests, to produce combustible fossil fuels.
In 2013, Ernst learnt she had an ally in Australia. Three years earlier, environmental specialist Simone Marsh had blown the whistle on the failure of the Queensland government to properly assess the impact of fracking projects on groundwater. Watching the ABC Four Corners report, ‘Gas Leak!’, Ernst watched the Condamine River in southern Queensland bubble with methane gas as a consequence of fracking. …
For Nikiforuk and Ernst, fracking is not simply an issue for Alberta, Canada, or even North America, but is an issue of planetary proportions. … But perseverance is vital. As Ernst reminds us, ‘Many fleas make big dog move.’
In January 2016, Canadian Jessica Ernst had her day in court. Lawyers for the former oil industry insider debated whether she could sue the Alberta energy regulator over her claim that hydraulic fracturing had so badly contaminated her well that the water could be set on fire. This hearing in the Supreme Court of Canada is the latest chapter in Ernst’s twelve-year battle against Alberta Environment, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (which has since become the Alberta Energy Regulator) and Encana, one of Canada’s largest unconventional gas drillers. At the time of writing, the judgment was reserved, but if the Supreme Court finds in her favour, Ernst’s case will resume.
An environmental consultant for some of North America’s largest oil and gas companies, Ernst began to question Encana’s operations in 2003 when she discovered the extent of drilling near her rural home north-east of Calgary. Concerned about the impact on her property, the local aquifer, and her community, she probed Encana’s practices and found them to be illegal and underhand. When she turned to the province’s energy regulator for help, the regulator tried to silence her, attacked her credibility, and branded her a security threat. Not to be intimidated, Ernst launched a multi-million-dollar lawsuit over fracking’s contamination of her well water and the failure of government authorities to investigate the pollution. In Slick Water, Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk shares Ernst’s story and exposes the dark underbelly of the coal seam gas industry. [Emphasis added]
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