Does Albert County want fracking?

(updated March 1, 2019)

PC Leader Blaine Higgs says he wants to lift the fracking moratorium for communities that want it. He specifically mentions Sussex and Albert County, although Penobsquis/Elgin are the locations of the gas and oil wells, and Hillsborough Village Council clearly stated they oppose fracking in their jurisdiction. (BTW, Riverside-Albert and Alma agree). Higgs’ approach may seem reasonable, but it actually creates division and conflict.

The consequences of oil and gas development affect everyone, whether they support it or not.

Companies lease lands from people who make a decision based on their own financial needs, yet neighbors and community have no choice but to share the impacts. The private profits are generally short-lived, as well productivity declines quickly, while environmental degradation often cannot be reversed. We all pay for the added burdens on healthcare, road repair and the increased cost of living.

Beth Nixon knows what this does to communities. She hosted well sites on her Penobsquis farm and now lives with air pollution from flaring. She’s kept records of every toxic spill and incident since the fracking began. Hers was one of 60 families who lost well water after an aquifer began draining through a subterranean crack into the potash mine. Coincidentally, the crack appeared shortly after Corridor Resources began seismic testing and fracking in the vicinity. It took five years for the affected families to get a new water pipeline. The pipeline cost NB taxpayers almost $10 million dollars.

Nixon was one of the first people WEPAC consulted in 2011 after we learned Contact Exploration received approval to bring 31 new and existing wells into production in the Stoney Creek oilfield, and planned more exploration around Hillsborough. Contact Exploration had already drilled/fracked three oilfield wells, drilled two exploratory gas wells outside village limits on the Salem Rd and on Fairview Dr.  Another exploratory well was drilled in Edgett’s Landing within 2 km of both village water sources and in close proximity to private wells.

Location of exploratory oil well in proximity to Village of Hillsborough water supplies.

Hillsborough and Stoney Creek are no strangers to extractive industries. Toxic berms from the gypsum plant still seep sludge alongside the Petitcodiac River; sinkholes and limestone caves are now part of a recreation area. Old oil and gas wells are hidden throughout the landscape.

The formations targeted for fossil fuel extraction extend from Memramcook to Hillsborough, through Rosevale to Elgin and Penobsquis. Albert County was poised to become a frack zone, until the provincial Liberal party’s moratorium on fracking.

Documented Impacts

Fossil fuel proponents say they’ve been “fracking for 60 years without incident” and they’ve “drilled 175,000 wells with no evidence of contamination.”

Fake News.

Fact One:  Modern fracking technology – a high-intensity, multi-stage operation which combines horizontal drilling and uses massive amounts of water (or gas), mixed with sand and toxic chemical to blast formation rock releasing trapped oil and gas – has ignited this unprecedented drilling frenzy since about 2004. Fracked landscapes look like microchips: a tangle of well-pads, waste ponds, pipelines and roads.

Fact Two: Since 2012, the petroleum industry has repeatedly stated they’ve safely drilled 175,000 wells, yet Alberta alone now has over 400,000 wells and Saskatchewan aims to out-drill them annually. There are countless cases of property destruction, but when the evidence clearly indicts them, industry usually settles out of court with compensation and gag orders, so the public never hears the truth.

Andrew Nikiforuk has written three books on the industry in Canada. The latest, Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry documents industry’s track record and the struggles of Jessica Ernst who filed an expensive lawsuit in 2007 after Encana contaminated water wells in Rosebud, AB (it’s not over yet). He also writes about Diana Daunheimer (also suing the industry) and then there’s the Campbells, the Thomases, the Hawkwoods, the Mildenstiens, the Hemeyers, Dr. Gary Tresidder…all Canadians who have gone public with their experiences. Many others remain silent.

Dr. Emily Eaton studies the impacts of oil and gas extraction on communities in Saskatchewan, calling it the Wild West of Fracking, where government colludes with industry and a culture of silence keeps people from speaking out because a neighbour, friend, or a family member might be an oil worker. She told me one man sought justice for seven years after his daughter became sick from contaminated water. Emily Eaton was the first person he’d ever told.

When I asked her what she’d say to communities considering fracking, she said, “There may be some jobs and economic benefits in the short term, but the investment in communities is short term and it leaves its infrastructures and liabilities behind. Do you want to invest in something that leaves you vulnerable to international markets, or invest in an economy that makes you strong and resilient?”

After a short-lived boom, Saskatchewan communities are suffering the bust now.

Leaking wells

Here in Albert County, bad water is common surrounding the century-old Stoney Creek oilfields. But it’s often blamed on ‘natural occurrences’ because the oil- and gas-bearing rock comes close to the surface. Can anyone be certain?

What the industry does know for certain—and has for decades—is that methane and other gasses really do migrate through well casings, existing fissures and faults to water-bearing rock, and to the surface. A 2018 study says methane emissions from leaking wells are 60% higher than previously thought. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas contributor to global warming. It’s released throughout the entire extraction process via truck traffic, drilling, flaring and leaking wells.

In 2012, one Stoney Creek homeowner discovered methane and barium had entered their water.  Another continues to suffer the ill-effects of gas flaring from a nearby well, which highlights two other problems:  air pollution and government inaction to protect citizens.

Everyone shares the impacts

Fracking removes massive amounts of fresh water from lakes, rivers and aquifers, destroying our most valuable renewable resource for a non-renewable resource. Heavily fracked areas in the west are experiencing drought and farmers are losing traditional water sources while industry sucks rivers and lakes dry.

Frack zone north of Athabasca River, Alberta (click on map to access Google Earth location).

In recent years, over 1300 peer-reviewed studies have documented the environmental and health harms. Heavy truck traffic, noise and flaring, air pollution, stress and congestion on existing roads, fragmented landscape…How does an industrial zone co-exist with a Fundy Biosphere Reserve and world class eco-tourism destination?

The economics

BC spends more on industry incentives than it collects in royalties. The Saskatchewan government subsidizes the industry with billions, while reducing budgets for education, libraries and parks. Costs for cleaning up abandoned or orphaned wells in Alberta and Saskatchewan will most likely by borne by taxpayers, not industry.

Meanwhile, Vermont’s clean energy labour force has increased by 29% since 2013, employing over 19,000 workers. Massachusetts has an $11.4 billion clean energy sector with 109,000 workers. And they’re moving in the right direction. Away from fossil fuels.

We don’t have to pay for jobs and economic recovery with the health and well-being of our families and our environment. We don’t have to soil where we sleep.