Fractures Form as Fracking Makes Way into NWT

The following article on the controversy over fracking in the NWT appeared in the Northern Journal on January 6, 2014. It points to the role played by the Council of Canadians NWT Chapter in bringing this issue to prominence.

Fractures Form as Fracking Makes Way into NWT  
Northern Journal, January 6, 2014

The political landscape was the first to fracture last year as debates over future fracking in the territory split clear divisions between those for and against the controversial petroleum extraction process making its way into the Sahtu region.

Tensions were already mounting as 2013 kicked off following MGM Energy’s decision to cancel its winter drilling plans when its proposal to carry out the first hydraulic fracturing in the NWT was referred to environmental assessment in the fall.

Business lobbyists crying foul about the burdensome regulatory system set the scene for the next exploratory fracking application made by ConocoPhillips, which after some delays and deliberation edged its way through the approvals process last summer without requiring a full environmental assessment.

Backed by business owners in Norman Wells, ConocoPhillips’ proposal to drill two exploratory wells was given the green light by the Sahtu Land and Water Board (SLWB) in June – an approval the company credited to its community consultation process.

That approval did not stay criticism, however, as it emerged later that summer that the water license issued by the board allowed ConocoPhillips the right to withhold chemicals considered “trade secrets” when disclosing its frac fluids to the regulator.

The newly formed NWT chapter of the Council of Canadians quickly launched a campaign demanding full disclosure of all chemicals used for fracking in the NWT, putting in a formal request to NWT Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger under the Environmental Rights Act to look into the matter.

Meanwhile, the National Energy Board (NEB) – still charged with regulating oil and gas in the NWT – released its own new filing requirements in September, eliciting praises from fracking critics who remarked that the new rules put additional pressures on companies to ensure projects would meet health and safety requirements.

While the new rules kept chemical disclosure voluntary, the NEB’s announcement came with pledges from industry that companies would fully reveal the list of chemicals.

Despite additional and somewhat onerous requirements, ConocoPhillips received final regulatory approval from the NEB in November, and like a chain reaction, let Miltenberger off the hook for a GNWT investigation.

The NEB was not the only agency deliberating fracking in the NWT throughout the fall, as a Northern delegation composed of MLAs, municipal government and Aboriginal leaders made its way south to Saskatchewan and North Dakota to check out the bustling billion-dollar Bakken play.

While the trip alluded to some of the social problems that have tagged along with the enormous industrial boom in the region, the promise of prosperity was enough for Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya to change his tune on the fracking bogeyman staring down his region.

Still, some MLAs returned to the NWT with more questions than answers, with Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley critical of the “biased” nature of the southern field trip, which ignored a nearby wellbore failure and pipeline spill in the region.

And as fracking protests in New Brunswick stole the national spotlight in October, Yellowknifers hit the streets in solidarity, sending a clear message of “No fracking way” to the territorial government.

Of those, the Council of Canadians continued to cry loudest for obligatory chemical disclosure and a full environmental assessment for future fracking applications.

As the year came to a close, ConocoPhillips moved steadily forward on exploring the 87,000-hectare parcel of land in the Central Mackenzie Valley under the watch of a handful of other industry interests, all eyeing up their own parcels and hoping for quick access.

The company plans to begin its winter drilling by the end of January.

Whether or not industry successfully creates fissures in the underlying geology has yet to be seen, but as far as politics in the North go, those cracks are already visible.

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Posted on January 7, 2014, in Fracking, In the Media, Water. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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