Citizens’ Group Calls for Fracking Investigation

by Laura Busch

(Reprinted from Northern News Services, September 9, 2013)

As the date of the first horizontal hydraulic fracturing program in the NWT draws closer, alarms are sounding over a clause in the water license issued by the Sahtu Land and Water Board (SLWB) that states ConocoPhillips does not need to fully disclose the chemical content of its fracturing fluid if the mixture is deemed a “trade secret.”

“People don’t really understand what they (the company) are doing,” said Tulita’s Begaa Deh Shuh Tah Got’ie Chief David Etchinelle of the project that was approved in June.

A citizens’ organization also takes exception to ConocoPhillips not needing to fully disclose what chemicals they will be putting into the ground in the Sahtu.

“It’s in the public interest to know exactly what’s being pumped into the ground,” said Peter Redvers of the NWT Chapter of the Council of Canadians.

Most industries, including the oil and gas industry, are required to clean up any contaminated waste that is released into the environment.

“What is it about fracking that allows these companies to contaminate large volumes of water, to create a real toxic soup, and then simply release those into the environment?” he asked. “Underground, I’m sorry, is still part of the environment.”

On Aug. 29, Redvers and fellow council member Lois Little submitted a request under the NWT’s Environmental Rights Act calling on Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger to conduct an investigation into the use of undisclosed chemicals in fracking operations in the NWT.

Miltenberger told News/North he will conduct an investigation, and expects to release written results within the 90-day time limit set out in the act.

“Every person, every resident in the Territories has the right to protect the environment and the public trust,” he said, quoting the act.

This is the first time the minister has received this type of request during his 11 years as environment minister.

Etchinelle said the land across the river from his community, where most industrial activity in the Sahtu is happening, is important hunting and trapping ground for his people.

“They’re just making decisions without (consulting) anybody,” he said. “You’ve got to be honest about what you’re talking about. I really don’t support it and I hope they don’t do anything with that kind of stuff (fracking) across there.

“I know if they do that, they’re going to destroy the area. Not only the land but the animals that live on it and all of the little birds.”

He has been on the land in that area since he was young. The last time he went moose hunting, however, he noticed they didn’t look as healthy as they normally do and were covered in ticks that he had never seen before.

“All the stuff like that since the company started working, and they don’t even say anything about it,” he said. “They just keep doing what they were doing, and they don’t even know the area.”

His main concerns are for the elders, who don’t understand what is happening with fracking because no one has ever visited their community to explain it in their language.

“Our elders grew up across there and they’ve been travelling across it their whole life and they’re still looking after it,” he said. “I really hope people can understand what the fracking means, and about the chemicals.”

In response to concerns raised during the public consultation process, the SLWB inserted a condition in the land use permit for ConocoPhillips to report any chemicals to the SLWB and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada seven days prior to use. The water license also stipulates a risk assessment of any additives be submitted to the board 60 days before operations start, and all chemical additives and the amount of water used must be disclosed within 30 days after the fracking of each well is complete.

However, a sub-clause of the water license offers what could be a loophole, stating “Where the specific identity of a chemical ingredient is considered a trade secret, a more general identification is to be used consistent with the (Material Safety Data Sheet).”

Redvers questioned why a company, facing very little competition in the region, would need to keep the type and quantity of chemicals they are using secret.

“Who exactly is this information being protected from?” he asked, pointing to scientific research showing that of the chemical additives known to be used in fracking, 25 per cent could cause cancer; as many as 50 per cent could affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems; and more than 75 per cent could impair sensory organs and a person’s respiratory system.

Contrary to Redvers’ claim, Rob Evans, director of communications for ConocoPhillips, stated in an e-mail response that “all chemicals to be used during hydraulic fracturing are disclosed in our application to the (SLWB).” He also stated all necessary emergency information would be available on site in case of an incident.

When asked to clarify whether that means ConocoPhillips does not plan to exercise its legal right to keep chemicals used in fracking fluid a secret, Evans likened disclosure of fracking fluid additives to disclosing all the ingredients used by a bakery on a given day.

“You are baking a cake, muffins and a pie. The disclosure is the total amount of eggs, flours, sugar, etc., for everything you are baking, but the proprietary piece is how much of each ingredient goes into the cake, muffin or pie,” he stated.

While the company plans to fully disclose the total amounts of all chemicals used in fracking fluid in annual reports, how those chemicals are combined to make up individual fracking fluid additives is considered a trade secret.

For Redvers, this does not clear up the issue of wanting all information about what is going in the ground when on the public record.

“The original draft (water) licence required full disclosure and it was Conoco that actually raised the issue and, in essence, asked for the addition of the clause relating to trade secrets,” he said. “We want a straight answer on what is going to be disclosed and to whom.”

News North Sept 16 Cartoon

(Reprinted from News/North, September 16, 2013)

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Posted on September 11, 2013, in Democracy, Fracking, Healthcare, In the Media, NWT Chapter Updates, Water and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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