The local coalition Cochrane Area Under Siege (CAUS) held a second open house to address their concerns over hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Lochend area.
The meeting, which saw approximately 20 people attend, touched upon several issues CAUS believes poses a threat to residents of the Cochrane region.
One of such threats was the claim that oil and gas companies with fracking operations in the area – which primarily consists of the six Lochend Industry Producers Group (LIPG) companies – are not employing the use of incinerators to properly burn off excess gas.
Gary Tresidder, who spoke during the CAUS open house, alleged that the use of flare stacks were being used instead of incinerators, and that these flare stacks (which he also claimed utilized what is referred to as a ‘flare shield’ to mask the height of the flame that can be seen during burn off) do not reach a high enough heat to entirely dissipate excess gas.
“They’re very ineffective and inefficient,” said Tresidder, “and do not burn off the chemicals.”
He added that when there is a northerly wind, all those unburned chemicals get swept directly into Cochrane.
“This is in our backyard,” said Tresidder, “and it’s not going to go away unless we say something.”
The LIPG, on the other hand, contend that their companies are making every attempt to not only discontinue the use of flare stacks, which they say they ceased using a year ago, but to be as efficient as possible.
“We are continuing efforts to tie in wells and conserve solution gas, thereby minimizing the use of incinerators,” the LIPG responded in an email. “The LIPG has made a voluntary commitment to use incinerators instead of flare stacks for the combustion of surplus solution gas from wells in the Lochend area.”
Another claim brought to the attention of attendees during the CAUS meeting was the allegation that the group had caught an LIPG member company dumping frack fluid – water treated with a series of chemicals and pumped into the ground to fracture underlying rock to release oil and/or gas – onto the road and into a ditch…a charge the LIPG do not deny, but say it was an ‘isolated incident.’
“A trucking company driver, contracted by one of the member companies, did not follow proper company policy and government regulation,” said the LIPG. “The incident involved a truck driver stopping and draining what he thought was excess fresh water on the county road. Unfortunately, the driver was not aware that the tank had been used to transfer oil within the trucking company’s yard prior to being loaded with fresh water, and as a result, a trace of oil remained in the tank.”
The occurrence took place on Jan. 31 of this year on Township Road 284 and Range Road 31 in Rocky View County (RVC).
The LIPG stated that they moved quickly to clean the area and implement their emergency response plan. Soil in the ditch and road were tested for contaminants, resulting in a ‘small patch’ being removed and disposed of and restored to its original state within five days.
CAUS highlighted what was perhaps a turning point in how hydraulic fracturing was to be conducted, which occurred in 2003.
Tresidder compared pre-2003 operations with those following, and stressed some rather eye-popping assessments when looking at the increase in activity post 2003: single frack zones turned into multiple, with 10-60 per well; vertical wells became directional and horizontal; 375,000 litres of frack fluid per well swelled to 1-4 million litres per zone; and 1,500 horse-power pumps were beefed up to 50,000 or more.
“That’s an absolutely horrendous amount of pressure that takes years to dissipate,” said Tresidder.
Tresidder said that 650 of the chemicals used in frack fluid are poisonous and illegal in the United States, but continue to be used in Alberta.
He also claimed that 1-11 billion litres of water is used for fracking in Alberta each year.
The effectiveness of cement casings was another concern raised by CAUS.
The group said the oil and gas industry has admitted that 50 per cent of their casings – which surround the pipe that goes into the ground to stop any fluids from leaking into the ground – actually do leak.
“This is not hearsay,” emphasized Tresidder, “we’ve done our research.”
The LIPG, however, said they are unaware of any verified data that supports CAUS’s assertion of such a high level of leakage.
“All of LIPG’s wells are equipped with both surface casing and production casing,” said the LIPG, “which is cemented in place and provides for the dual protection of groundwater and the prevention of any completion or production fluids from coming to the surface on the outside of the casing.”
Road damage was also addressed during the meeting, particularly who pays for the repairs.
Despite a previous assertion that an energy company has donated $500,000 to RVC for road repairs, CAUS said that after their own research, no such payment had ever been made.
The LIPG indicated that all commercial hauling on RVC roads requires a Master Road Use Agreement and a $50,000 security deposit, and that any damage caused to roads must be paid for at the energy company’s expense.
“To date, the county and its residents have not paid for any damage incurred by oilfield hauling,” said the LIPG. “RVC has a Drilling Equipment Tax bylaw so that companies pay a one-time levy of approximately $16,000 for every oil and gas well drilled (over and above annual county industry tax responsibilities).”
Tresidder stressed a point that many in his coalition have said from the get-go, that they are not against the oil and gas companies, but rather that they want more research to be done on the safety of hydraulic fracturing.
“We’re happy you’re here in Alberta,” declared Tresidder, saying that with an estimated 8.5 billion barrels of sweet crude in the Cochrane area, it was understandable the industry’s desire to work in the region.
CAUS plans to conduct another open house at the RancheHouse on Oct. 27 from 9 a.m. to noon.
The group hopes more will join their cause, so that a moratorium will be put on hydraulic fracturing in Alberta until the practice is deemed to be safe.