Minister to Investigate Secret “Frac” Fluids

by Meagan Wohlberg

(Reprinted from the Northern Journal, September 9, 2013)

Peter Redvers, co-chair of the NWT Council of Canadians chapter, says the issue of fracking and what fracking fluids are made up of is of interest to all citizens.

The new NWT chapter of the Council of Canadians is demanding Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Minister Michael Miltenberger launch an investigation immediately into what chemical agents are being used in the territory’s sole fracking project.

Peter Redvers and Lois Little, co-chairs of the NWT Council chapter, addressed a request to Miltenberger last Tuesday citing the Environmental Rights Act, which permits any two NWT residents to call on the minister to carry out an inquiry into matters that violate protection of the environment and public trust.

Miltenberger is obligated to look into the matter and respond within 90 days.

The two Yellowknife residents argue that allowances made in the water license issued to ConocoPhillips to frack two wells near Tulita, which permit the company to refrain from naming chemicals considered “trade secrets,” are violations of public safety and the environment.

“We believe that because the issue of fracking and, particularly, fracking fluids and how they’re used, where they end up and what they’re made of is of interest to all citizens,” Redvers told The Journal last week.

ConocoPhillips’ five-year exploratory drilling program, given the green light in June, marks the first time horizontal hydraulic fracturing – an unconventional and controversial petroleum extraction process – has been approved in the territory.

While the water license requires that ConocoPhillips disclose the list of chemicals it uses for each frac, a recent investigation by the Northern Journal revealed a lack of information listed on the required Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and online chemical disclosure sites for each product used in the process, some of which related back to proprietary rights retained by the company.

Missing information included Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) registry numbers, known health effects, and both the names and quantities of each additive present in chemical solutions, which are often listed instead by brand name or generic use.

Redvers said secrecy in the case of fracking is a risk to both public health and the environment, and signals that the oil and gas industry receives “special treatment” compared to other industrial sectors.

“As for any question with poison, the question is always what did they ingest? If that’s secret, that creates real problems,” Redvers said. “The other part of it is if there’s a spill from any one of the tanker trucks, etc., how do you respond to that if treatment is required? How do you know what’s gone into the water and how do you track how far it’s gone – how do you monitor it? That’s the same with what’s gone into the fracking wells and doesn’t come back up – well how can you do long-term monitoring (if you don’t know) what you’re monitoring for? You need to know the chemical signature of the contaminant.”

The Council is putting the onus on Miltenberger to investigate the chemical composition of all fracking chemicals, as well as concerns with the MSDS sheets and the legality of proprietary rights, in general.

“One aspect of that investigation that we hope might occur would be to determine whether or not fracking fluids, in fact, deserve proprietary protection. Why would they be a trade secret if, in fact, the knowledge and use is ubiquitous throughout the industry?” Redvers asked. “The whole industry is using the same or very similar types of material by all accounts…very successfully. So how can any one formula give the competitor advantage when everyone else is doing the same thing with the same results?”

Miltenberger told The Journal he will issue a response to the request within the mandated time frame, but said he first needs to look into how the aging Environmental Rights Act might interact with existing regulation.

“This act was written in 1988, so about 25 years ago. Subsequent to that, of course, we have the legislation that we’re currently operating under, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA). We have to look at the linkage between those two pieces of legislation and how they relate to each other,” considering the ConocoPhillips project was recently approved by a board legislated by the MVRMA, he said.

That being said, Miltenberger said he will also look into the concerns around public safety and the environment raised by the Council.

“I’m going to look at all the relevant facts and information, lay out some of the legal considerations that I need to check out…and talk to the appropriate folks to do all the things we need to make the most informed response possible as the minister responsible,” he said.

The GNWT is currently in the process of formulating its own list of best practices meant to guide regulators in assessing fracking projects in the territory, for which no specific regulations currently exist. Right now, the National Energy Board is responsible for fracking in the NWT with the land and water boards.

Those guidelines, expected to be completed in the coming months, would not be legally binding, and the environmental review board would have discretion over whether or not to enforce them as mitigative measures.

Still, Miltenberger said the GNWT expects the guidelines to be taken seriously.

“The regulators have the regulatory authority, but we as the government will be standing on our political and moral authority and our ability to influence processes as we put our document on unconventional hydraulic fracturing out for the regulators and everybody to know and see, including industry and all citizens, what our expectations are as a government,” he said.

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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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