Thursday, 29 September 2011 08:02

Blood Tribe members express concern over fracking on reserve

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By Susan Quinlan
Southern Alberta
Three Kainai band members were recently arrested, as part of a blockade intended to draw attention to and prevent Murphy Oil from continuing their fracking operation on the Blood reserve.


Lois Frank, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers and Jill Crop Eared Wolf were subsequently charged with trespassing and intimidation.

Although concerned about what she perceived as denial of her civil rights or the right to speak publicly, Frank emphasized the focus of the protesters’ concern was not the arrest.   

“It’s not about ‘poor Lois in jail’ — my air has gone bad; my water has gone bad. People have got to stand up now. Farmers and ranchers, you thought BSE was a problem ...

“We’re getting calls from all over; the Northwest Territories, B.C., New Brunswick, Michigan, California, Washington, Washington DC and Ireland. This went viral,” said Frank, referring to interest from environmental groups and others who became aware of the protest against drilling on the reserve.

“ ... it’s about the environment and how that’s going to affect all of us ... It’s going to affect the crops, the water; it’s going to affect all of us around here … What about the wildlife and cattle?

“The issue is we were not consulted in this deal, and other deals have been signed as well ... Nobody argued (against it) because they didn’t know what it was all about ... there was no discussion as to what’s in the chemicals.”

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, is a method of oil and gas extraction that involves pumping diesel or water along with a combination of chemicals and sand, into a reservoir with such force that the reservoir rock is cracked, releasing any trapped oil or gas.

Kerry Guy, P.Eng., manager, Natural Gas Advocacy for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the process of fracking has been carried out in western Canada for 50 years with the drilling of 167,000 wells and no incidents of drinking water contamination.

Although some of the fluid injected does return to the earth’s surface, it’s then disposed of according to Energy Resources Conservation Board rules, said Guy.

In addition, Guy said, “there should be no reason why any of these additives or chemicals should enter the air.”

When asked if he would be comfortable living on the Kainai Reserve, given the fracking operations now underway, Guy said he would.

Lethbridge College instructor Braum Barber said  fracking fluids come back to the surface following initial injection, but much of the fluid remains in the ground for years.

“All have the potential for contaminating water on the surface and underground.”

In addition, there’s the issue of gas and chemicals continuing to escape wells decades after production operations have concluded, said Barber.

Even if retired wells are properly abandoned, the ground continues to shift and over time the concrete cracks, allowing gas and other toxic fluids to escape, added Barber.

“As time goes on we can expect more and more of these abandoned wells to leak. Fifty years down the line, what are the implications of having thousands more wells abandoned?

“I understand these companies are responding to our demand for energy. Even at the low price of $4/GJ, I wonder if they’re exploiting the resource before there’s too much public opposition.”

Barber said the Kainai Earth Watch Group is requesting a “go slow” moratorium on drilling on the reserve, so more scientific information can be gathered and band members can be better informed about the effects of fracking.

Among the many reports Barber referenced for information on the environmental and health effects of fracking was that of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, published in April 2011.

In that report, the committee stated fracking had been the subject of both enthusiasm and increased environmental and health concern, given that the process, coupled with advances in horizontal drilling technology, has allowed industry to access natural gas reserves previously considered uneconomical, particularly in shale formations.

As a direct result, natural gas production in the United States in 2010 reached the highest level in decades, with the Energy Information Administration claiming the U.S. now has access to enough natural gas resources to supply that country for approximately 110 years.

The report stated as the use of hydraulic fracturing has grown, concerns about its environmental and public health impacts have as well grown, particularly regarding the content of the fluids used, as they enter drinking water supplies.

Although some of the components used in fracking were common and harmless, such as salt and citric acid, some were extremely toxic, such as benzene and lead. Among the 750 chemicals and other components used in fracking was methanol, the most widely-used chemical and a known hazardous air pollutant.

Twenty-nine other chemicals listed were known or possible human carcinogens regulated under the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act or listed as hazardous air pollutants under the U.S. Clean Air Act.

The information gathered by the committee showed between 2005 and 2009, the 14 leading hydraulic fracturing companies in the United States used more than 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 compounds of which more than 650 contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act or listed as hazardous air pollutants.

Overall, these 14 oil and gas companies used 780 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products, not including water added at the well site, between 2005 and 2009.

The committed noted their report represented the most comprehensive national assessment to date of the types and volumes of chemicals used in fracking.

They also noted although fracking had opened access to vast domestic reserves of natural gas, questions about the process persisted and were compounded by the secrecy surrounding the chemicals used in fracking fluids.

Meanwhile, Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board recently loosened regulatory requirements regarding how many wells can be drilled in this province, and given the vast amount of shale in southern Alberta, Barber expressed concern that the environmental integrity of the region may be compromised given the likely increase in fracking operations.

With the expected demand for energy doubling by 2035, not even the extremely low current price of gas mentioned previously is preventing fracking operations from slowing, said Barber.

“I dread what will happen here.”

Meanwhile, explained Frank, the agreement signed with Murphy Oil by Blood Chief Charlie Weasel Head and council have brought fracking to the reserve.

“Two thirds of the land is leased out; they’re coming up everywhere. There’s one on the way to Cardston; it looks like a little city.”

Frank said she and other concerned band members had been trying to educate fellow band members over the past year, regarding the extent of the extraction operation and the damage it will cause the environment.

They’ve also expressed their concerns to the Energy Resources Conservation Board and Indian and Northern Affairs; levels of government that subsequently recommended the group take their concerns back to the Chief Weasel Head and council.

An attempt was made to contact Chief Weasel Head and Kainai Public Relations Officer Rick Tail Feathers, for comment regarding Frank’s concern, but a response was not received by press time.

“Indigenous groups are the most vulnerable; they’re all living in poverty. There’s no jobs in this; they’re only using us as security guards and grunts to haul away the toxic stuff … We have enough social problems; now we’re going to add cancer and other illnesses?

“The earth has rights. We think we have dominion over the world … when they started fracking I thought, ‘the earth has rights. What are we doing? We’re going to pay for it, as human beings’.”

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