Fracking grievances aired at Eagle Hill by John Gleeson, September 13, 2011, Mountainview 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. … “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.”
Willard opened his presentation with an overview of unconventional oil and gas and multi-stage fracking in Alberta. Acknowledging new fracking technologies have created issues in the United States and elsewhere, Willard said Alberta has “different geology and a different regulatory framework to start from.” Fracking operations are required to adhere to the same 15 directives as conventional extraction methods and the ERCB is currently reviewing all its regulations to see if changes are needed to address the new technologies being used, he said.
On the question of water contamination Willard said: “We think the risk of a fracture going into surface water is extremely remote. Basically we don’t think it’s a risk factor.” Possible sources of contamination, he said, do exist – in cases where the vertical wellbores are not properly constructed or from large volumes of water being stored on site. 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. Don Bester asked Willard how much water was typically used in the fracking process. A typical frack well in the region uses about 1,000 cubic metres of water, with that number rising based on the number of stages, Willard said. “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. [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to: Fracking Canada: No Duty of Care ]