Andrew Nikiforuk – Politics of Fracking and the Reality of Leaky Wells by Paula E. Kirman, March 21, 2015
Oilsands companies might be better off not restoring wetlands, U of A ecologist says by Sheila Pratt, March 201, 2015, Edmonton Journal
The effort to restore wetlands in the oilsands is so weak it might be better abandoned, an ecologist told a water forum Friday at the University of Alberta.
Companies are now trying to construct new wetlands on their mine leases, but these have fewer native plants, different chemistry and may in fact pose dangers to wildlife, said Kevin Timoney.
Even if the companies are successful, birds, for instance, would be drawn to these constructed wetlands just a few hundred metres from an active mine with power lines and tailings ponds, and that’s not healthy, he said.
Instead, government might want to consider converting the wetlands into uplands with drainage ditches that would send the surface water back to the mines for reuse, he said.
“Wetland reclamation efforts have failed for years — we are seeing the development of a national sacrifice zone,” he said.
Thousands of hectares of swamps, fens and peatlands have been dug up to get at the bitumen beneath over 40 years.
While companies have an obligation to restore the open pit mines to a more natural state, the provincial government still has not established its criteria for a certified wetland restoration — decades after mining started, Timoney said.
Man-made wetlands are very different from natural wetlands, he added.
“They have a reduced growth rate, their soils are deficient in nutrients and the soils are so compact it’s hard for the plants to grow and contribute to the food chain,” he said.
Even naturally occurring wetlands are changed by surrounding industry when contaminants seep into them.
“Even those ones are problematic because they are staying in their altered state,” he added.
The forum also heard concerns about possible water well contamination from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process of sending water and chemicals under high pressure into rock layers to release natural gas.
Companies are only required to test each water well within 600 metres of fracking operations for some basic chemicals before and after the fracking, said U of A water scientist Bill Donahue. [Not true. Companies are only required to do baseline testing for CBM wells frac’d in fresh water zones. Water well testing is not required before CBM wells are frac’d below fresh water zones, or on any sands or shale fracs below or in fresh water zones. Companies are not mandated to test after frac’ing, they only have to test after if landowners ask.]
They do not have to test for the chemicals particular to the oil and gas industry [True, testing for frac chemicals and metals, BTEX, PAHs is voluntary] or the flow rates of the water [Not true. Water well production is mandatory testing before fracing, but only for CBM wells frac’d in fresh water zones], he said.
“If we only measure water level in the well and some basic chemistry, we won’t get the information we need to detect a leak,” he said.
The Lower Athabasca Regional Plan, which aims to set pollution levels for air and water for the oilsands area, only measures a narrow range of indicators, he added.
Meanwhile, industry demand for groundwater will increase 380 to 670 per cent in the next 20 years if all planned expansion goes ahead with an in situ process that sends steam down into the ground to melt the bitumen, Donahue said. [Emphasis added]
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