Originally Published on The ECOreport
The first indication sounded like a jet plane taking off, only it kept reoccurring day and night. Then there were the blinking lights. Her taps started whistling like there was a train coming. She developed “terribly caustic burns” after bathing. Ten years later, Jessica Ernst still does not know what chemicals Encana used when they fractured into her community’s water supply. Her lawsuit against Encana and the Alberta government agencies that failed to protect her has become famous. How uncommon is her story? A number of reports from British Columbia suggest fracking could be more dangerous than we realize.
No Confirmed Cases
According to a spokesperson from BC’s Oil & Gas Commission, “There have been no documented cases of groundwater pollution in BC associated with the process of hydraulic fracturing.”
To which Calvin Sanborn, Legal Director the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Center, responded, “The politicians will tell you there are no confirmed cases of water contamination, that’s because they haven’t hired anyone to look.”
Sanborn supervised the 2014 study that concluded,
We don’t really know what toxins were in the waste water, or how much may have leaked into ground water or surface water. … Wastewater from fracking operations can contain radioactive materials, toxic metals like lead and arsenic, carcinogens like benzene and hexavalent chromium, chemicals used in fracking and high concentrations of salts.
According to statistics on page 11, more than 100 billion gallons of waste water have been injected into the province. This “wastewater is not tracked after disposal” (and) the fate of this massive quantity of wastewater is unknown.”
An event more chilling passage, on the next page, states there are:
…few requirements for natural gas wells at this time, and no requirements for disposal of produced water. The lack of previous regulation is concerning because many old wells are currently in operation today; indeed … the majority of wastewater has been injected into old wells. Age is a factor in well integrity because the tube of cement casing surrounding disposal wells can degrade over time, creating a potential risk of leaks into surrounding layers of rock or aquifers …”
May Cause Earthquakes
This is important because of the danger that disposal wells and hydraulic fracturing wells may cause earthquakes.
In what is becoming a well-known investigation, the BC Oil and Gas Commission concluded that 38 earthquakes, ranging from 2.2 to 3.8 on the Richter scale, “were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing faults.”
The Environmental Law Center added that the workers on Horn River:
…were fracking at even lower pressures than they are now. Disposal well injection occurs at lower pressures: therefore, while disposal operations may also induce seismicity, such seismic events are usually too small to be detected at the surface. However, if wells or fractures intersect with and reactivate existing deep faults, it can cause a larger seismic event. This happened recently with the Cuadrilla shale gas operations in the UK, which triggered two earthquakes. Finally, while induced seismicity itself is troubling, seismic events are also relevant to wastewater disposal – earthquakes may result in the creation of more fractures in deep bedrock horizons, generating new pathways for wastewater to move between layers of rock.
If There Is A Problem
So if there is a problem with water contamination, where is the proof?
Amanda Frank, Policy Analyst for the Center for Effective Government, says it is very difficult to obtain unless you have ongoing water monitoring data that started two years before a permit is issued. This is a requirement in Maryland’s proposed fracking regulations.
“Unless operators have actually done pretesting of this water you really can’t say fracking did it. You might be absolutely sure, but you don’t have the scientific evidence,” she said.
However BC’s Oil and Gas Commission say, “There is no regulatory requirement for groundwater monitoring in B.C. unless specified by a permit.”
The is no regulations for setbacks from private wells, which compares poorly with the 2,000 feet called for in the Maryland regulations.
“I don’t know that a 2,000 foot setback would completely cut out cases of water contamination, but its a better practice than what is happening in other states and can hopefully reduce those instances,” said Frank.
The Maryland regulations have been put on hold because the state legislature has just voted for a two year moratorium on fracking.
How long will it take for places like British Columbia to start adopting similar measures?
Photo Credits:A fracking wastewater storage site located on the Farrell Creek road between Fort St John and Hudson’s Hope, BC. Note the “no smoking” sign! by Joe Foy, Wilderness Committee; Red triangles show NRCan reported epicentres, Bovie and Trout Lake Fault zones noted. Liard Basin to west of Bovie Fault. Blue star indicates location of Kiwigana seismograph array form the BC Oil and Gas Commission Report, Investigation of Observed Seismicity in the Horn River Basin (August 2012); Fracking site as seen from the air, near Fort St. John, BC. by Jeremy Sean Williams, WiIderness Committee
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