Northern Journal Article on Frac Fluid Disclosure
The following article on the need for mandatory and full disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing appeared in the Northern Journal on November 18, 2013.
Frac fluid disclosure must be obligatory, critics warn
by Meagan Wohlberg
November 18, 2013
The NWT’s environment minister may be convinced that voluntary disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing is sufficient, but critics of the controversial method of petroleum extraction say industry’s short track record in the North is already pointing away from transparency.
Peter Redvers, co-chair of the Council of Canadians’ NWT chapter, said the entire debate over frac fluid disclosure arose in the territory because oil company ConocoPhillips, recently approved to drill two exploratory fracking wells in the Sahtu region, asked permission to keep some chemicals secret through a proprietary rights clause.
“There will be some privilege taken with respect to trade secrecy because it was ConocoPhillips that asked for that. After the draft license was floated, ConocoPhillips indicated that it would be wanting to withhold information and the Sahtu Land and Water Board essentially agreed to that in the final permit,” Redvers said.
New filing requirements laid out by the National Energy Board (NEB), which is currently tasked with regulating fracking in the NWT, do not obligate companies to disclose the chemical makeup of their frac fluids, but instead make the decision a voluntary one.
Though ConocoPhillips has promised publicly to disclose the chemicals it plans to use in the Sahtu, along with the list of chemicals used after each frac, Redvers said he simply does not believe that information will be to the detail the public wants.
“We know that ConocoPhillips is not particularly open to revealing those chemicals to the extent that we want, which is the full chemical analysis as well as the volume,” he said. “Voluntary just doesn’t cut it. It’s not reasonable that citizens of the NWT should have to rely on the generosity and goodwill of companies to disclose what it is they’re doing on the land because, frankly, the record hasn’t been all that great in that area. Disclosure has to be mandatory and it has to be done at the pre-screening, as a component of an environmental assessment.”
Redvers, along with Council co-chair Lois Little, recently requested Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger look into the chemicals planned for use in ConocoPhillips’ fracking project under the Environmental Rights Act, which demands the minister investigate potential threats to the environment or public health and safety.
Though originally indicating he would look into the matter, Miltenberger later flip-flopped following the NEB’s decision to approve the ConocoPhillips project in late October, saying federal legislation trumps that of the NWT.
The minister was later challenged in the legislature by MLA Bob Bromley, who asked the same question posed by the Council in its disappointed letter to Miltenberger following his refusal: “Is the minister of the opinion that the release of unknown contaminants into the environment does not constitute a threat to the environment and the public trust?”
Miltenberger said he had faith in the existing regulatory regime to address the concerns being raised by the Council.
“What I am satisfied with is that we have a process under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, with the boards, with the environmental assessments that were done, the Sahtu Land and Water Board, with the NEB that addressed the issues,” he said.
“(The Environmental Rights Act) does not have the ability to overrule federal legislation just from a legal point of view, and even if it did, I don’t believe that would be a requirement because I don’t think there are the concerns raised.”
But Redvers argued that an environmental assessment never took place in the case of ConocoPhillips – a “major failing” that casts doubt on the minister’s certainty that environmental and public safety concerns do not exist.
“How do we know what the impacts are if we haven’t assessed those, and if we don’t even fully know what the chemicals are or the volumes are? All of that needs to be on the table upfront, prior to any permit or license decisions, and that didn’t happen with ConocoPhillips,” he said. “That was a failing on the part of a number of agencies.”
Redvers said the Council is awaiting a formal response from Miltenberger addressing its questions and has contacted all the territory’s MLAs to urge movement at the political level on the issue. Legal recourse is also under consideration, he said, though he noted that it may be more realistic to look at ensuring better accountability when it comes time to assess the next fracking proposal.
“When we look at future fracking applications, and there may be some coming up in the relatively near future, then I think it’s absolutely imperative that those go to environmental assessment, at minimum. You just can’t allow industrial development that has such huge impacts on freshwater resources in the NWT to sort of sail through,” Redvers said.
Posted on November 19, 2013, in Fracking, In the Media, Water and tagged ConocoPhillips, Hydraulic fracturing, National Energy Board, Sahtu Land and Water Board. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.