Keywords Canadian charter (Non-criminal) – Constitutional law, Enforcement, Remedy, Freedom of expression (s. 2(b)).
Case summaries are prepared by the Office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada (Law Branch) for information purposes only.
Charter of Rights – Constitutional law – Enforcement – Remedy – Freedom of expression – Statutory immunity clause held to preclude adjudication of individual’s action in damages for alleged Charter breach by the regulator – Can a general “protection from action” clause contained within legislation bar a Charter claim for a personal remedy made pursuant to s. 24(1) of the Charter – Can legislation constrain what is considered to be a “just and appropriate” remedy under s. 24(1) of the Charter – Vancouver (City) v. Ward, 2010 SCC 27,  2 S.C.R. 28.
The applicant owns land near Rosebud, Alberta. She brought an action against: i) EnCana Corporation for damage to her water well and the Rosebud aquifer allegedly caused by its construction, drilling, hydraulic fracturing and other activities in the area; ii) Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, claiming it owes her a duty to protect her water supply and had failed to address her complaints about EnCana; and iii) the respondent regulator, for “negligent administration of a regulatory regime” related to her claims against EnCana. She brought a further claim for damages against the regulator under s. 24(1) of the Charter for alleged breaches of her s. 2(b) Charter rights. She alleges that from November, 2005 to March 2007, the Board’s Compliance Branch refused to accept further communications from her through the usual channels for public communication until she agreed to raise her concerns only with the Board and not publicly through the media or through communications with other citizens. She submits the respondent infringed her s. 2(b) Charter rights both by restricting her communication with it and by using those restrictions to punish her for past public criticisms and prevent her making future public criticisms of the respondent.
The respondent brought an application to strike paragraphs from the Statement of Claim or grant summary judgment in its favour. The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta granted the application and struck out the applicant’s negligence and Charter claims. While the Court held that the Charter claims were not doomed to fail and did disclose a cause of action, it held that the courts were precluded from considering the claims by the statutory immunity provision in the Energy Resources Conservation Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. E-10. The Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.
February 9, 2015: Supreme Court of Canada Justice Rosalie Abella, Justice Andromache Karakatsanis and Justice Suzanne Côté to review Ernst’s application for leave (to decide if the court will hear her case).
2014 11 27: Suzanne Côté is a partner and head of the Montréal litigation practice at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP - firm representing Encana in the Ernst vs Encana lawsuit.
2014 05 09: Ernst Argues Alberta’s Energy Regulator (AER) Not Immune to Charter [Encana's Ex VP Gerard Protti is Chair of the AER]
Ernst’s lawyer Murray Klippenstein argued yesterday that no government or province can legislate themselves out of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights, on which Ernst’s claim is based. He called the Charter “the supreme law of the land.”
He argued that Ernst’s right to freedom of expression was breached in 2005 when the regulator sent her a letter accusing her of making “criminal threats.” It informed her that regulator staff had been told “to avoid any further contact” with Ernst.
A letter by Ernst seeking clarification on that decision and what basis it was made was refused by the board and returned unopened. …
In a taped conversation in June 2006 with ERCB lawyer Rick McKee, McKee said that “criminal threats” were never an issue, but that the board was upset with the landowner for airing her grievances in public and therefore embarrassing the regulator.*
“What you are doing is, hey, I don’t want to make it sound like people are a bunch of sensitive, you know, but at the end of the day, you are, you seem to be, attempting to humiliate the organization. And if that is your intention good on you, but don’t expect us to help you,” McKee told Ernst.
(The Tyee has heard the recording, read the transcripts and checked with actual witnesses. The incident is detailed in the original statement of claim.)
“Jessica is fighting for the welfare of the public in general,” said Shawn Campbell, a semi-retired 65-year-old rancher from Ponoka, Alberta. “To me, the issue is government transparency, and we have none of it. They’re in the deepest closet they can find.”
January 30, 2015: the Alberta Government filed their Statement of Defence:
34. Further, and in the alternative, if the Plaintiff did incur any loss or damages as
alleged in the statement of claim, or at all, which the Province does not admit but rather denies, then any such loss or damages were caused solely or substantially contributed to by the negligence of EnCana, for which the Province is not liable.
January 15, 2015, the Alberta Government suddenly announced it had other unexpected issues arise and was unable to file its Statement of Defence by mid-January, as promised in 2014.
“Triple costs” the court ordered the Alberta government to pay (works out to much less than what Ernst had to pay to fight Environment’s third and “improper” attack on the case):
Fees: $ 7,500.00
Disbursements: $ 230.10
Other Charges: $ 366.00
GST: $ 408.81
TOTAL: $ 8,500.91
(On January 20, 2015, the government, with banks full of cash they do not need to account for – according to AER’s lawyer Mr Glenn Solomon, finally paid Ernst these costs. The ruling was dated November 7, 2014)
COMPARE: So far, the court ordered (even though the case is clearly in the public interest) Ernst to pay industry, aka the ERCB (AER, 100% funded by industry, headed by Ex-Encana VP Gerard Protti) $21,840.79 for Mr. Solomon’s costs. Ernst paid as ordered to.
January 18, 2014: Jessica Ernst v AER (File No 36167 Supreme Court Canada, filed copy) Reply to ERCB Response for Leave to Appeal Also embedded below:
69: The ERCB submits that there is no legal issue of general importance which requires further guidance from this Court nor any injustice to the Applicant to remedy.
Alberta Landowner Appeals Constitutional Issue in Fracking Case, Jessica Ernst aims to challenge regulator immunity in Canada’s highest court by Andrew Nikiforuk, November 15, 2014, TheTyee.ca
Ernst v Alberta Environment: The Gatekeeper Refuses to Strike or Grant Summary Judgment by Shaun Fluker, November 17, 2014, Ablawg.ca
Regulatory Negligence Redux: Alberta Environment’s Motion to Strike in Fracking Litigation Denied by Martin Olszynski, November 14, 2014, Ablawg.ca
Judge Rules Landowner May Sue Gov’t in Landmark Fracking Case, Decision ‘reaffirms the power of the people,’ says plaintiff Jessica Ernst by By Andrew Nikiforuk, November 11, 2014, TheTyee.ca
Procès charnière du fracking: Le juge statue qu’un propriétaire terrien peut poursuivre le gouvernement translation of Nikiforuk article by Amie du Richelieu, November 11, 2014
ROSEBUD, AB, Nov 10, 2014 /CNW/ – The Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta has ruled that Alberta Environment can be sued for failing to properly investigate and remediate water contamination allegedly caused by Encana’s hydraulic fracturing activities near Rosebud, Alberta.
“This is a big victory for water and for all Albertans. The decision means that landowners can stand up and hold governments and regulators to account if they fail in their duty to properly investigate environmental contamination” said Rosebud resident and plaintiff Jessica Ernst.
Alberta Environment argued in court it didn’t owe a “private duty of care” to individual landowners when investigating causes of groundwater contamination that left wells so polluted with methane and other contaminants that the water could (and still can) be lit on fire. In other words, the regulator argued that individual landowners couldn’t try to hold government legally responsible for negligent investigations of environmental contamination, no matter how faulty. The Court disagreed. Chief Justice Wittmann ruled that “[w]hile this is a novel claim, I find there is a reasonable prospect Ernst will succeed in establishing that Alberta owed her a prima facie duty of care.”
In addition to ruling in favour of Ms. Ernst on all key points, Chief Justice Wittmann took the rare step of ordering the government to pay triple Ms. Ernst’s legal costs for the improper manner in which her claim was attacked.
“Ernst was wholly successful in responding to this Application. … These arguments could have been raised as part of Alberta’s first application, but were not. Ernst was put to the time and expense of two applications, not one. … As a result of these considerations Ernst shall have her costs against Alberta fixed at triple [the regular rate]”
For further information:
Communiqué de presse
La cour statue qu’Alberta Environment peut se faire poursuivre pour n’avoir pas correctement enquêté une contamination de l’eau à Rosebud, en Alberta, et ne pas avoir pris des mesures d’assainissement.
Rosebud, Alberta (10 novembre 2014) – Le juge en chef de la Cour du Banc de la Reine en Alberta a statué qu’Environment Alberta peut se faire poursuivre pour ne pas avoir correctement fait enquête d’une contamination de l’eau, et ne pas avoir pris des mesures d’assainissement suite à une contamination présumément causée par des activités de fracturation hydraulique faites par Encana près de Rosebud, en Alberta.
“Ceci est une grande victoire pour l’eau et pour tous les Albertains. La décision veut dire que les propriétaires terriens peuvent forcer les gouvernements et les régulateurs à prendre leurs responsabilités s’ils manquent à leurs obligations d’enquêter adéquatement les contaminations environnementales” dit la résidente de Rosebud et plaignante Jessica Ernst.
Environment Alberta soutenait en cour qu’il ne devait pas de “devoir privé de protection” envers les propriétaires terriens individuels lors d’enquêtes sur les causes de contaminations d’eau souterraine qui rendaient l’eau de puits si pollués avec du méthane et d’autres contaminants que l’on pouvait (et l’on peut encore) faire brûler l’eau. En d’autres mots, le régulateur soutenait que les propriétaires terriens individuels ne pouvaient pas essayer de rendre le gouvernement légalement responsable pour des enquêtes négligentes sur des contaminations environnementales, peut importe la gravité. La Cour n’est pas d’accord. Le juge en chef Wittmann a statué que “bien que ce soit une nouvelle réclamation, je crois qu’il y a une perspective raisonnable que Ernst réussira à établir que l’Alberta lui devait à première vue un devoir de protection.”
En plus de statuer en faveur de Mme Ernst sur tous les points-clés, fait rare, le juge en chef Wittmann a ordonné au gouvernement de payer les coûts légaux de Mme Ernst en triple pour la façon incorrecte qu’on a attaqué sa réclamation.
“Ernst a réussi complètement à répondre à cette Application…. Ces arguments auraient pu être soulevés lors de la première application, mais cela n’a pas été fait. On a obligé Ernst de prendre le temps et rencontrer les coûts de deux applications, pas seulement une….Suite à ces considérations, Ernst verra ses coûts contre l’Alberta triplés (du tarif régulier).”
Ernst v Alberta (Energy Resources Conservation Board): The gatekeeper is alive and well by Shaun Fluker, October 20, 2014, ABlawg.ca
Revisiting Regulatory Negligence, The Ernst Fracking Litigation by Martin Olszynski, October 15, 2014, comment added October 21, 2014, ABlawg.ca
Happy Thanks Giving, View from Ernst property October 10, 2014
Last Stop for High Profile Fracking Suit: Supreme Court, In striking Ernst appeal, Alberta court wraps blanket of immunity around regulator by Andrew Nikiforuk, September 16, 2014, TheTyee.ca
The Alberta Court of Appeal has effectively ruled that one of the nation’s most powerful regulators can violate the nation’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms by banishing citizens and falsely branding them as a security threats.
Alberta fracking case could go to Supreme Court by Brenton Driedger, September 15, 2014, 630 CHED
A legal fight over contaminated water and hydraulic fracturing could wind up before the Supreme Court.
Jessica Ernst has lost an appeal to sue the Alberta energy regulator over fracking on her property northeast of Calgary. But she still says her charter rights have been violated, and she plans to take that fight to the Supreme Court. She says all Canadians should be concerned about this.
“It is our water and it is the big picture that’s being violated, it is the public interest that the fracking companies are harming,” says Ernst. “The health care costs of treating the workers alone that are getting sick will be massive, never mind the families.”
Last fall an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench judge ruled that Ernst can’t sue the energy regulator because it is immune from private legal claims. On Monday, the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld that ruling.
Ernst says her water is so contaminated that it burns skin. She plans to continue her lawsuit against the province and Encana, claiming they are responsible for chemicals getting into her water supply, because of fracking.
“I wouldn’t be doing this lawsuit if it was just my water well,” says Ernst. “That would be a total waste of time because our legal system is so against an ordinary person with a lawsuit in this country. I’m doing it because people’s drinking water is being contaminated everywhere they’re fracking. My case isn’t the only one.”
Ernst has 60 days to file for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. Her lawyers have told her maybe one in ten cases are actually heard by the Supreme Court, but she wants to go ahead. (The Canadian Press, bd)
ROSEBUD, ALBERTA–(September 15, 2014) The Alberta Court of Appeal ruled today that Alberta’s key energy regulator cannot be sued by citizens – even if it breaches constitutional rights. In a judgment released today in a landmark lawsuit by Jessica Ernst against EnCana, Alberta Environment and the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB, now AER) regarding water contamination caused by fracing, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that the Alberta government had granted complete and total legal immunity to Alberta’s key regulator, the ERCB, against all legal claims, including for violations of constitutional rights.
The Court also ruled that the ERCB does not owe any legally enforceable duties to protect individual landowners from the harmful effects of fracing, after the ERCB argued in court that it had total immunity for “not only negligence, but gross negligence, bad faith and even deliberate acts,” and therefore Albertans simply could not sue the ERCB, no matter how badly they were harmed by the ERCB’s acts or failures to act.
Ms. Ernst will seek leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“I think Albertans will be disturbed to learn that their energy regulator has total and blanket legal immunity, even in cases where the regulator has breached the fundamental and constitutional free speech rights of a landowner,” said Murray Klippenstein, lead legal counsel for Ms. Ernst.
“I’ll be seeking leave to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court. These are critical issues that affect all Canadians,” said Jessica Ernst. “I will continue to fight for what’s right.”
The lawsuit against Alberta Environment and Encana continues.
Appeal court set to rule on ERCB’s charter immunity at centre of fracking lawsuit by Jeremy Lyle, Edmonton, AB, Canada / 630 CHED, September 15, 2014
Ernst tells 630CHED’s Brenton Driedger she’s appealing a previous court ruling that an immunity clause exempted the ERCB from claims of breaching the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. …
In its attempt to shut down the lawsuit earlier this year, the Alberta government argued the lawsuit could expose the province to billions of dollars in litigation claims.
Court of Appeal of Alberta announced on September 12, 2014 that their Ernst v Alberta (Energy Resources Conservation Board), 2014 ABCA 285 (Reserved Judgment) ruling will be posted Monday September 15, 2014 at 10:05 AM
Australian Petroleum Association: Coal seam damage to water inevitable by The Sydney Morning Herald, August 3, 2011.
The coal seam gas industry has conceded that extraction will inevitably contaminate aquifers. “Drilling will, to varying degrees, impact on adjoining aquifers,” said the spokesman, Ross Dunn. “The intent of saying that is to make it clear that we have never shied away from the fact that there will be impacts on aquifers,” Mr Dunn said.
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers: Coal bed methane operations contaminate water resources by The Calgary Herald, August 28, 2014
Yet CAPP’s Alex Ferguson says many worries about water quality are based on past operations involving coal-bed methane — shallow deposits in closer proximity to groundwater. These did occasionally contaminate water resources, he says. In some of the more infamous instances, affected landowners could light their well water on fire.
Alex Ferguson was appointed Commissioner and CEO of the BC Oil and Gas Commission from 2007-2011
“That’s actually fairly common.”
EnCana VP, Mr. Gerard Protti (appointed Chair of the AER by the government in 2013) in a 2006 interview about Ernst’s water.
Four months and 2 week (18 weeks) since Court of Appeal of Alberta heard arguments on May 8, 2014 regarding the Court of Queen’s Bench granting the ERCB complete legal immunity, even for violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
2012 Justice Barbara Veldhuis states – too much information; 2014 Court of Appeal of Alberta Justices state – not enough information:
April 2012: Justice Veldhuis requests a shorter Statement of Claim;
Klippenstein states in court that in his experience, courts will inevitably ask for more information. Ernst cooperates and fulfills the request for a shortened Claim.
May 2014: the Court of Appeal of Alberta Justices complain there wasn’t more information in the shortened Statement of Claim, and inquire about the ERCB’s Statement of Defence (to date, the ERCB has not filed one).
Seven months and one week (29 weeks) since Court of Queen’s Bench heard arguments in Drumheller on April 16, 2014 on Alberta Environment’s Motion to Strike (after 3 years of process already and their failed application to strike the word contamination and mention of other contaminated water wells at Rosebud), and the regulator’s secret editing of Dr. Alec (Alexander) Blyth’s “independent” report dismissing the contamination of Ernst’s well water.
Document exchange dates ordered: On April 16, 2014, Justice Wittmann requested document exchange between Ernst and Encana, saying there is no need to wait until the matters of the other defendants are ruled on. For months, Encana wouldn’t even agree to schedule a case management phone call. On July 14, 2014, Justice Wittmann ordered Ernst to give Encana her documents by October 31, 2014 and Encana to give Ernst its documents by December 19, 2014. Encana argued that it should not have to give any documents until the matters of the Alberta government and ERCB are resolved. August 2014, Encana finally agrees to cooperate with the document exchange protocol, accepting searchable, manageable, usable PDFs.
It took nearly 9 months (35 weeks) for Court of Queen’s Bench to rule on the January 18, 2013 hearing: ERCB motion to strike and Alberta Environment motion to remove the word contamination and mention of other contaminated water wells in Rosebud.
It took a year to set the first hearing on April 26, 2012, where Justice Veldhuis requested a shorter statement of claim. It took 7 months to set the January 18, 2013 hearing. It took another 7 months from Justice Wittmann’s September 19, 2013 ruling to get to the third hearing, on April 16, 2014.
It took 2 years and 4 months for Encana to file statement of defence.
The ERCB and Alberta Government did not file statements of defence.
It took 4 years to get the data from the Alberta Research Council (now Alberta Innovates) on the water contamination cases under Freedom of Information legislation, ordered released by OIP Commissioner’s Office after a year and half in inquiry. The public baseline water well testing data remains withheld even though it was ordered released to Ernst.
May 8, 2014, 10 AM: Appeal hearing Ernst vs ERCB (now AER) in Alberta Court of Appeal in Calgary:
The ERCB (now AER) chose not to file a Notice of Cross Appeal but argues an additional and novel issue in direct opposition to the finding of Justice Wittmann, that Ernst’s Charter claim is not valid because, it is argued, the ERCB did not limit the Appellant’s right to free expression. This issue was not raised in the Notice of Appeal, the Appellant’s Factum or any Notice of Cross Appeal.
April 16, 2014: Alberta Minister of Justice and Solicitor General intervenes in Ernst appeal of ERCB Charter violation
Alberta Moves to Strike Down Ernst’s Fracking Lawsuit, Landmark case could spark a flood of litigation against the province, lawyer argues by Andrew Nikiforuk, April 18, 2014, TheTyee.ca
Court sketch, Ernst v. Alberta Government.
Crown counsel argued that Alberta landowner Jessica Ernst’s case could inspire ‘millions or billions of dollars worth of damages’ in subsequent lawsuits against the province.
An Alberta government lawyer argued in court this week that Jessica Ernst’s lawsuit on hydraulic fracturing and groundwater contamination should be struck down on the grounds that it would open a floodgate of litigation against the province.
“There could be millions or billions of dollars worth of damages,” argued Crown counsel Neil Boyle.
Seven years ago, oil patch consultant Ernst sued Alberta Environment, the Energy Resources Conservation Board and Encana, one of Canada’s largest shale gas drillers, over the contamination of her well water and the failure of government authorities to properly investigate the contamination.
The $33-million lawsuit alleges that Encana was negligent in the fracking of shallow coal seams; that the ERCB breached Ernst’s freedoms under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that Alberta Environment performed a problem-plagued investigation in bad faith.
The case, which effectively puts the performance of the province’s oil and gas regulators on trial, has drawn international attention.
The Alberta government made the application to strike the entire claim after Chief Justice Neil Wittmann ruled last fall that that lawsuit against Encana and Alberta Environment could proceed, but that the ERCB (now Alberta Energy Regulator) was exempt from civil action due to an immunity clause.
In Jan. 2013, Alberta Environment tried unsuccessfully to delete the word “contamination” as well as several clauses from the lawsuit that specifically mentioned other polluted water wells in central Alberta.
Justice Wittmann had trouble following the coherence of the government argument to strike the claim in the crowded Drumheller courtroom.
He noted that Boyle’s line of reasoning, which argued that the Crown owed no private duty of care to landowners, suggested that Alberta Environment would have to be negligent all the time before it could ever be found liable.
Boyle also argued that immunity clauses in the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Water Act shielded the province from any civil action. But questions from Wittman made it clear that these immunity clauses were not strong and only included actions taken “in good faith.”
Justice Wittmann also questioned Ernst’s lawyer Murray Klippenstein about the government’s filing of a report by the Alberta Research Council that dismissed Ernst’s water well case as insignificant. The government claimed the report was an independent review that proved there was no merit in the Ernst case.
Klippenstein argued that such a filing of evidence was inappropriate at this time. He also submitted a collection of Alberta Environment emails obtained through freedom of information legislation that he argued show the Alberta Research Council report was edited by Alberta Environment and not an independent review.
Justice Wittmann allowed the submissions in the event of an appeal.
French Translation by Les Ami(e)s du Richelieu with photo of the Ernst v Encana team
April 16, 2014: Drumheller Court of Queen’s Bench Hearing on the Alberta Government’s Application to strike out the Ernst case against them.
Duty of Care Chart presented by Klippensteins in the hearing:
17. … Similar to a criminal investigation, the province is obliged to provide information to the party being investigated (EnCana), so that this party may respond, but the complainant (similar to a victim in a crime), does not necessarily participate actively in the investigation or have any rights in this regard.
Hearing Transcripts (included in the appeal record sent in January 2014 to the Alberta Court of Appeal) of the January 18, 2013 Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench arguments on Applications to Strike by the Alberta Government (Alberta Environment) and ERCB (now AER) heard by Justice Barbara Veldhuis (promoted off the case by the Harper government on February 8, 2013; Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Neil Wittmann volunteered to take over; refer below for his September 19, 2013 ruling on the arguments heard by Justice Veldhuis):
The approach taken by Alberta Environment is an abuse of process; the present Application should be dismissed, and further, Alberta Environment should be sanctioned with an award of substantial indemnity costs. There is ample case law holding that, barring special circumstances, a party should be allowed only one chance to attack an opponent’s pleadings.
February 18, 2014: Alberta Government Brief filed for Application to Strike the Ernst case against the Crown, claiming no private duty of care, no proximity, and immunity. The Crown waited nearly three years to argue such and Justice Wittmann allowed it (case management phone call, January 13, 2014). The hearing is set for April 16, 2014 in Drumheller Court of Queen’s Bench.
February 3, 2014: Ernst’s Appeal Factum (Appeal Number 1301-0346AC) filed in the Alberta Court of Appeal in Calgary. Hearing set for May 8, 2014.
January 30, 2014: Alberta government files Application to strike out the Ernst case against the Crown.
January 13, 2014 Case management call: Justice Wittmann returned the case to where by law it belongs – in Drumheller Court.
December 19, 2013: Alberta Court of Appeal approved our proposed schedule with minor changes. The approved schedule is as follows:
January 17, 2014 – Appellant to file and serve Appeal Record
February 5, 2014 – Appellant to file and serve Appellant’s materials
March 24, 2014 – ERCB (name changed to AER) to file and serve the ERCB’s materials
May 8, 2014 – Hearing (Calgary)
December 10, 2013: Notice of Appeal to the Court of Appeal filed and served on the defendants.
(French translation of advisory below)
The practice of hydraulic fracturing – injecting fluids (gases or liquids, sand and toxic chemicals) under high pressure to shatter deep and shallow rock to stimulate hydrocarbons to flow – has raised serious economic, political, legal, health and environmental issues around the world.
In a judgment recently released by the Alberta Court of Queen’s bench, Chief Justice Neil Wittmann ruled on the first skirmishes in a landmark multi-million dollar claim by Jessica Ernst against EnCana, Alberta Environment and the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) regarding water contamination caused by fraccing.
Key parts of the judgment include:
The court rejected the Government of Alberta’s attempt to attack portions of the lawsuit, thereby paving the way for the claim against the Government of Alberta to proceed.
Justice Wittmann agreed there were valid claims asserted against the ERCB for breaching Ms. Ernst’s fundamental and constitutional right to freedom of expression. The court also found “the ERCB cannot rely on its argument on the Weibo eco-terrorism claim, in the total absence of evidence. There is none.” However, the court found that the Alberta government had granted complete immunity to the ERCB for all legal claims, including for breaches of constitutional rights.
Chief Justice Wittmann ruled the ERCB does not owe any legally enforceable duties to protect individual landowners from the harmful effects of fraccing, after the ERCB argued in court it had total immunity for “not only negligence, but gross negligence, bad faith and even deliberate acts,” and therefore Albertans simply could not sue the ERCB, no matter how badly they were harmed by the ERCB’s acts. Ms. Ernst was ordered to pay the ERCB’s costs.
Ms. Ernst has instructed her legal counsel to appeal the decision to dismiss the lawsuit against the ERCB.
“I think Albertans will be disturbed to learn that their energy regulator has total and blanket immunity, even in cases where the regulator has breached the fundamental and constitutional free speech rights of a landowner,” said Murray Klippenstein, lead legal counsel for Ms. Ernst.
“It is very worrying that citizens are unable to hold the energy regulator accountable for failing to protect citizens from the harmful impacts of fraccing,” said Cory Wanless, co-counsel for Ms. Ernst. “If the energy regulator won’t protect citizens, who will?”
For more information, including Encana’s Statement of Defence, refer below:
Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors:
(416) 598-0288 or (416) 937-8634
(416) 598-0288 or (647) 886-1914
Jessica Ernst: 1-403-677-2074
COMMUNIQUÉ DE PRESSE
Le juge en chef rejette l’attaque du gouvernement de l’Alberta dans le dossier de contamination de l’eau de Rosebud, mais écarte l’action contre le ERCB, le régulateur énergétique principal de l’Alberta.
La pratique de la fracturation hydraulique, qui consiste à injecter des fluides ( des gaz ou des liquides, du sable et des produits chimiques toxiques) sous haute pression afin de fissurer le roc profond et en surface afin de stimuler les hydrocarbures pour qu’ils se libèrent, a soulevé de sérieux questionnements économiques, politiques, légaux, environnementaux et sanitaires partout sur la planète.
Dans une décision judiciaire rendue dernièrement par la cour du banc de la Reine en Alberta, le juge en chef Neil Wittmann a statué sur les premiers accrochages dans une réclamation clé de plusieurs millions de dollars enclanchée par Jessica Ernst contre EnCana, Alberta Environment et l’agence Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), au sujet d’une contamination de l’eau causée par le fracking.
Les éléments principaux du procès sont:
La cour a rejeté la tentative du Gouvernement de l’Alberta d’attaquer des parties du procès, ainsi ouvrant la porte à la réclamation contre le Gouvernement de l’Alberta pour qu’elle se poursuive.
Le Juge Wittmann convient qu’il y a des réclamations valides contre le ERCB pour avoir enfreint aux droits fondamentaux et constitutionnels de liberté d’expression de Mme Ernst. La cour a aussi conclu que “le ERCB ne peut pas se fier sur son argumentaire dans sa réclamation d’écoterrorisme à la Weibo, à cause de l’absence totale de preuves. Il n’y en a pas.” Toutefois, la cour a constaté que le gouvernement de l’Alberta a accordé une immunité complète à l’agence ERCB de toute réclamation légale, incluant des violations aux droits constitutionnels.
Le juge en chef Wittmann a statué que le ERCB n’a pas de devoirs légalement imposables pour protéger les propriétaires terriens individuels des impacts nuisibles du fracking, après que le ERCB ait argumenté à la cour qu’il bénéficiait d’une immunité totale pour “non seulement de la négligence, mais de la négligence grave, de la mauvaise foi et même des actes délibérés,” et donc les Albertains ne peuvent simplement pas poursuivre le ERCB, peu importe l’importance des dommages encourus à cause des gestes du ERCB. Mme Ernst a reçu les ordres de payer les coûts du ERCB.
Mme Ernst a demandé à ses avocats d’aller en appel de la décision de rejeter le procès contre le ERCB.
“Je crois que les Albertains seront troublés d’apprendre que leur régulateur énergétique jouit d’une immunité totale et générale, même dans des cas où le régulateur a enfreint aux droits fondamentaux et constitutionnels d’un propriétaire terrien,” dit Murray Klippenstein, le conseiller juridique principal de Mme Ernst.
“C’est très préoccupant de constater que les citoyens sont incapables de forcer le régulateur énergétique de rendre des comptes pour avoir manqué à la protection des citoyens contre les impacts nocifs du fracking,” dit Cory Wanless, coconseil de Mme Ernst. “Si le régulateur énergétique ne veut pas protéger les citoyens, qui le fera?”
Pour plus d’information, dont la requête de défense d’Encana: http://www.ernstversusencana.ca/the-lawsuit
Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors:
(416) 598-0288 ou (416) 937-8634
(416) 598-0288 ou (647) 886-1914
Jessica Ernst: 1-403-677-2074
September 16, 2013 Ernst files reply to Encana’s Statement of Defence
Encana’s Statement of Defence
August 19, 2013: Encana files Statement of Defence
Encana did not file their Statement of Defence by June 15, 2013 as promised because “a few of their key people are on vacation.”
Mid-May, 2013, Encana promised to file their statement of defence no later than June 15, 2013.
On an April 15, 2013 case management call, Chief Justice Wittmann introduced himself to the parties, advised that he will rule on the January 18, 2013 hearing (heard by Judge Veldhuis) by reading the filed briefs and transcripts, may request a hearing if he has questions, and asked EnCana if there was any reason why the company couldn’t file their statement of defence. Encana failed to come up with a good reason, so they agreed to file it right away.
On a February 20, 2013 case management call, it was decided that Chief Justice Wittmann will choose whether to read the transcripts of the arguments heard by Justice Veldhuis on January 18 and rule, or require a re-hearing which will add significant delay and costs.
On February 8, 2013, the Harper Government promoted Justice Barbara L. Veldhuis to the Court of Appeal of Alberta; she will not rule on the defendants’ applications she heard in Court of Queen’s Bench on January 18, 2013. Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Neil Wittmann volunteered to take over case management.
Ernst Statement to the Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench, read by Murray Klippenstein, January 18, 2013, heard by Justice Barbara L. Veldhuis:
I wanted to attend today’s hearing, but I decided not to attend because I feel strongly that my lawsuit should be heard in the judicial district of Drumheller as it is the courthouse with the closest connection to my dispute. This is where I live; this is where my water is; this is where coalbed methane wells were drilled; and this is where my water is contaminated. It seems to me that it is important to rural Albertans that disputes and harms that occur in our communities are also judged in our communities. Today’s application is not a minor or merely procedural step – it will determine the core issue of whether a landowner can sue the Energy Regulator for failing to protect rural Albertans from the harmful effects of the oil and gas industry.
I have a lot of respect for the court, and because of this respect, I feel it is important to make my position known. I will continue to request that all major applications be heard in Drumheller with the closest connection to my dispute.
Jessica at Drumheller Court, 10 AM, January 18, 2013. Jessica spent the day there, with a witness. Video of the hearing in Calgary Court was not available, requested or the heart of the matter.
On January 18, 2013, in Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench, Judge B. L. Veldhuis heard the defendants’ applications.
Read the original full Statement of Claim filed in Drumheller Court April 21, 2011.
In the summer of 2011, Encana suggests that the case be moved to Calgary. Klippensteins respond by explaining to all defendants why it is best to proceed in the Drumheller judicial centre, which is where the harm took place.
On April 26, 2012, the first hearing took place in Drumheller Court. Rather than hear the defendants’ arguments to strike out the case, Judge Veldhuis requests a shortened statement of claim.
Read the Fresh Statement of Claim filed in Drumheller Court on June 25, 2012.
On October 1, 2012, during a case management call heard by Justice B.L. Veldhuis, Encana, the ERCB and Alberta Environment (HMQ) request the case be moved to Calgary for the convenience of the defendants’ lawyers despite the fact that Drumheller is clearly the court with the closest connections to the lawsuit.
Alberta Environment (HMQ): “It clearly tips in favour of the defendants’ position, that it ought to be in Calgary and not in Drumheller”
Encana’s Drumheller Office
Subsequently, the request to move this particular hearing to Calgary is granted by Judge Veldhuis and Alberta’s Chief Justice. The Plaintiff respectfully requests that all major applications be heard in Drumheller as it is the judicial district where the harm took place.
Read the ERCB’s Brief of Argument to strike the case against them, filed in Drumheller Court December 5, 2012.
Read Alberta Environment’s (HMQ’s) Brief of Argument on the Special Application to strike paragraphs referring to the other contaminated water wells in the Rosebud community and the word contamination, filed in Drumheller Court on December 5, 2012.
Encana did not file application to strike the case against them or any paragraphs, and argued nothing in court.
Read the Plaintiff’s Brief in Response to the ERCB, filed in Drumheller Court on December 21, 2012.
Read the Plaintiff’s Brief in Response to Alberta Environment (HMQ), filed in Drumheller Court on December 21, 2012.
December 15, 2012 – Encana frac’ing above the Base of Groundwater Protection at Rosebud, Alberta
Landmark Alberta Fracking Lawsuit Resumes in Calgary Court
Alberta’s Key Regulator Argues It Has No Duty of Care to Landowners and Groundwater
Friday Jan. 18 at Court of Queen’s Bench
Suite 705-N, 601 – 5th St SW, Calgary T2P 5P7
10 AM to 4 PM
Jessica Ernst, a 55-year-old oil and gas industry consultant and scientist from Rosebud, Alberta, returns to court this Friday to continue her multi-million dollar lawsuit against EnCana, one of the continent’s largest unconventional gas producers, for negligence causing water contamination.
Her landmark lawsuit also alleges that the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), the province’s energy regulator, breached her Charter Rights and failed to “exercise a reasonable standard of care, skill and diligence in taking reasonable and adequate steps to protect her well water from foreseeable contamination caused by drilling for shallow methane gas.”
Recent Court of Appeal decisions show the ERCB has a history of not upholding its own laws and even the Royal Society of Canada chided the agency for a 2007 incident in which the regulator spied on landowners and damaged “its credibility as an independent quasi-judicial board.”
In a court document filed on December 5/2012, the ERCB argues that it is exempt from liability for its actions in the Ernst case and that it owes no “duty of care” to landowners impacted by oil and gas development.
“I suspect that most Albertans will be shocked to learn that the province’s oil and gas regulator is arguing that it is totally immune from legal accountability even if there is gross negligence and incompetence,” says Murray Klippenstein, lawyer for Jessica Ernst.
Last December, an ERCB investigation found a company guilty of “accidentally” perforating above the Base of Groundwater Protection and contaminating groundwater near Grand Prairie but issued no fine saying the incident “posed an insignificant risk to drinking water resources” in a sandstone aquifer. One third of Alberta’s population is dependent on groundwater for drinking purposes.
During the last decade, EnCana intentionally perforated and fractured hundreds of gas wells above the Base of Groundwater Protection at Rosebud. The regulators continue to allow EnCana to do this.
In December 2012, only after about 171,000 energy wells were already fractured in Alberta, did the ERCB release draft regulations. Public input closes the day of this hearing on January 18, 2013.
The $33-million lawsuit effectively puts on trial the practice and regulation of hydraulic fracturing: the controversial blasting of both shallow and deep coal, tight sands, oil and shale formations with toxic chemicals, sand and water.
The poorly studied technology, which can cause earthquakes and methane leaks, has sparked moratoriums, bans, debates and regulatory investigations from New Brunswick to South Africa due to growing concerns about groundwater contamination, property devaluation, air pollution, health impacts and climate change.
Neither EnCana nor the Alberta regulators have yet filed statements of defense on incidents that took place nine years ago that resulted in scores of groundwater complaints.
EnCana, whose CEO abruptly resigned last week, has been the subject of many recent public controversies. It remains the subject of a major US government groundwater study in Pavillion, Wyoming linking hydraulic fracturing to aquifer contamination as well as an ongoing antitrust investigation in Michigan for allegedly colluding with Chesapeake Energy to keep land prices low. A grassroots organization of mothers has also challenged the company’s aggressive fracing operations in Colorado.
Murray Klippenstein: 1-416-937-8634
A 2008 scientific review panel report for Alberta Environment warned that “preliminary data from the Rosebud, Alberta area suggest groundwater gas concentrations are being underestimated by a factor of three.”
A 2008 presentation to the International Wellbore Intergrity Network in Paris, France, co-authored by the ERCB, admitted “high pressure fracturing” increased the potential to create pathways to groundwater, and “the likelihood that gas, due to migration through shallow zones, can accumulate in buildings.”
A 2009 paper also co-authored by the ERCB on gas migration being a chronic problem reports that “high buildup pressures may potentially force gas into underground water aquifers” and that the factors affecting gas leakage and migration “can be generalized and applied to other basins and/or jurisdictions.”
November 14, 2012 – EnCana spraying drilling waste at Rosebud
Procès marquant reprend à la cour de Calgary, en Alberta
Un régulateur clé de l’Alberta prétend qu’il n’a pas le devoir de protection envers les propriétaires terriens et l’eau souterraine
Vendredi le 18 janvier à la Cour du Banc de la Reine
Suite 705-N, 601 – 5e Rue SO, Calgary T2P 5P7
10:00 heures à 16:00 heures
Jessica Ernst, une consultante pour l’industrie pétrolière et gazière et scientifique de Rosebud en Alberta, âgée de 55 ans, revient devant le tribunal ce vendredi pour continuer son procès de plusieurs millions de dollars contre EnCana, l’un des plus important producteurs de gaz non conventionnel du continent, à cause de négligence qui aurait causé de la contamination de l’eau.
Son procès important prétend aussi que la commission Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) de l’Alberta, le régulateur de l’énergie de la province, aurait violé sa Charte de Droits et aurait manqué à son devoir “d’exercer une norme raisonnable de protection, compétences et diligence en prenant des mesures raisonnables et adéquates pour protéger son eau de puits de la contamination prévisible causée en forant à la recherche de gaz de méthane peu profond.”
Des décisions récentes de la cour d’appel démontrent que la ERCB a une historique de ne pas faire respecter ses propres lois et même la Société royale du Canada a réprimandé l’agence pour un incident de 2007 durant lequel le régulateur a espionné sur des propriétaires terriens et nuit à “sa crédibilité en tant qu’une commission indépendante quasi judiciaire.”
Dans un document de la cour déposé le 5 décembre 2012, la ERCB soutient qu’elle est exemptée de toute responsabilité de ses actions dans la cause Ernst et n’a pas “le devoir de protection” envers les propriétaires terriens impactés par le développement pétrolier et gazier.
“Je pense que la plupart des Albertains seraient choqués d’apprendre que le régulateur de la province argumente qu’il est complètement exonéré de toute responsabilité légale même s’il y a eu extrême négligence et incompétence,” dit Murray Klippenstein, l’avocat de Jessica Ernst.
En décembre dernier, une enquête de la ERCB a déclaré une compagnie coupable d’avoir “accidentellement” perforé au-dessus de la base de protection de l’eau souterraine et avait contaminé l’eau souterraine près de Grand Prairie mais n’a émis aucune amende, disant que l’incident “ne posait pas de risque important à la ressource d’eau potable” dans un aquifère de formation de grès. Un tiers de la population de l’Alberta dépend de l’eau souterraine pour son eau potable.
Pendant la dernière décennie, EnCana a intentionnellement perforé et fracturé des centaines de puits de gaz bien au-dessus de la bas de protection de l’eau souterraine à Rosebud. Les régulateurs continuent de permettre Encana de le faire.
En décembre 2012, une fois qu’environ 171,000 puits énergétiques avaient déjà été fracturés en Alberta, et seulement à ce moment-là, la ERCB a émit son ébauche de règlements. La période pour recevoir les commentaires du public termine en cette journée de séance le 18 janvier 2013.
En réalité, le procès de $33 millions met en cause la pratique et les règlements encadrant la fracturation hydraulique: le dynamitage controversé des formations de charbon, qu’elles soient à faible profondeur ou très creuses, des réservoirs étanches dans le sable ou le schiste, des formations contenant du pétrole ou du gaz, avec des produits chimiques toxiques, du sable et de l’eau.
La technologie, si peu étudiée, qui peut provoquer des séismes et des fuites de méthane, a déclenché des moratoires, des interdictions, des débats et des enquêtes régulatrices du Nouveau-Brunswick jusqu’en Afrique du Sud à cause des préoccupations grandissantes pour les contaminations de l’eau souterraine, les dévaluations des propriétés, la pollution de l’air, les impacts sur la santé et les changements climatiques.
Ni EnCana, ni les régulateurs de l’Alberta n’ont encore déposé des requêtes pour la défense à propos des incidents qui ont eu lieu il y a de cela 9 ans maintenant et qui sont la source de plusieurs plaintes de problèmes d’eau souterraine.
EnCana, dont le PDG a brusquement démissionné la semaine dernière, a été au coeur de plusieurs controverses publiques récemment. La compagnie est toujours impliquée dans une étude gouvernementale sur l’eau souterraine aux États-Unis à Pavillion, au Wyoming, qui fait des liens entre la fracturation hydraulique aux contaminations de l’aquifère ainsi qu’avec une enquête antitrust toujours en cour au Michigan pour une présumée collusion avec Chesapeake Energy afin de garder les valeurs des terres à la baisse. Un groupe populaire de mères a aussi mis au défi les opérations agressives de la compagnie au Colorado.
Murray Klippenstein: 1-416-937-8634
Mise en contexte
Un rapport de 2008 d’un comité de révision scientifique pour Environnement Alberta prévenait que les “données préliminaires venant de Rosebud, en Alberta, laissait penser que les concentrations de gaz dans l’eau souterraine sont sous-estimées par un facteur de trois.”
Une présentation au groupe International Wellbore Intergrity Network en 2008 à Paris, France, dont la ERCB était un coauteur, admettait que la “fracturation à haute pression” augmentait le potentiel de créer des passages vers l’eau souterraine, et “la probabilité que le gaz, à cause de la migration à travers les zones peu profondes, peut s’accumuler dans les bâtiments.”
Un papier dont ERCB est aussi un co-auteur datant de 2009 sur la migration du gaz étant un problème chronique rapporte que “l’accumulation importante de la pression peut potentiellement forcer le gaz à pénétrer dans les aquifères d’eau souterraine” et que les facteurs affectant les fuites de gaz et la migration “peuvent être généralisés et s’appliquer à d’autres basins et/ou d’autres juridictions.”
November 2012 – EnCana’s drilling waste dumped on food land at Rosebud
January 17, 2013, Bob Curran, Public Affairs Section Leader, ERCB, on GlobalTV:
“We evolve the regulations on an ongoing basis to ensure that they’re protective of groundwater and public safety and that waste is disposed of properly as well.”
April 19, 2011, Darin Barter, ERCB spokesman, to the Peace River Record Gazette:
The ERCB does not test drilling waste before it is deposited on fields, said Barter, nor will it inspect deposits unless contacted by the landowner, as staff is limited, and the practice is common. “It is the company’s responsibility to follow the rules. We can’t be there in every location throughout the province every time something is done”
2007, Darin Barter, ERCB spokesman:
“If they are not following our regulations, we should be involved in it.”
The report also found that a variety of products — including hazardous materials and lubricants — had been discarded or abandoned “with no apparent concern for the environment.”
“A lack of responsibility and supervision are evident at other sites, wherein examples of poor industry practices and lackadaisical housekeeping abound”
“Drilling fluids are transported, stored and handled in tanks. Typically, drilling fluid waste will be transported off-site for re-use and treatment/disposal…. Some additives may be caustic, toxic, or acidic.”
2003: Alberta Landspraying While Drilling (LWD) Review by Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, released three years later, only after FOIP and public pressure.