Water Contamination Worsens: Ongoing Struggle over Public Safety
By Karin Friedemann, TMO
â€œOnly when the last tree has died, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, will we realize we cannot eat money.â€
– Cree proverb
Itâ€™s a lesson that canâ€™t be learned too early if you ask me. Support for Elsipogtog and other groups as they fight the good fight!
After seven months of anti-fracking protests led by the native Elsipogog tribe, Southwestern Energy (SWN), a Houston based energy company, has pulled out of New Brunswick, Canada, for the time being.
â€œWe canâ€™t allow any drilling, we didnâ€™t allow them to do the testing from the beginning,â€ said Elsipogtog War Chief John Levi.
The decision to delay further shale exploration in the area was the result of relentless and passionate demonstrators who blocked Hwy 11 with burning tires and with their own bodies, in order to prevent trucks from passing.
Levi said word that SWN is leaving is no cause for celebration just yet. SWN is ending its exploration work, but will return in 2015. This pause will at least give the exhausted protesters a break.
â€œWe went through a lot,â€ he said. â€œWe need some time for this to sink in and think about everything, think about what we went throughâ€¦People did a lot of sacrificing.â€
Despite this small victory, things continue to get worse. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that â€œaccording to figures from a National Energy Board (NEB) data set obtained under access-to-information by CBC, the rate of overall pipeline incidents has doubled since 2000. By 2011, safety-related incidents â€” covering everything from unintentional fires to spills â€” rose from one to two for every 1,000 kilometers of federally-regulated pipeline. That reflects an increase from 45 total incidents in 2000 to 142 in 2011.â€
On January 26, a natural gas pipeline in Otterburne, Manitoba owned by TransCanada exploded at 1:05am into billowing flames which burned for twelve hours before it was finally extinguished.
A nearby resident, Paul Rawluklives told reporters, â€œAs we got closer, we could see these massive 200 to 300 meter high flames just shooting out of the ground and it literally sounded like a jet plane… Massive, like absolutely massive… And bright, I mean it lit up the sky.â€
â€œIt was like the sun coming up,â€ said neighbor Tyler Holigroski.
There were no reported injuries, but 4,000 people had no heat for several days during the bitter -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) weather while the pipeline was being repaired. Several homes were evacuated as a result of the explosion and roads leading into the site were closed. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the National Energy Board are investigating.
The nearby Beaver Lake Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation tribes are currently in litigation with the Canadian federal and provincial governments to not only halt expansion of mining operations but to revisit the original permitting of the sites altogether, due to egregious violations of Treaties 6 and 8, to which these First Nations are signatories.
Meanwhile in Texas and Oklahoma, a grassroots environmental movement is also growing due to personal safety concerns about fracking and because the danger of transporting the oil and gas.
â€œThis pipeline is a big accident waiting to happen, â€ says East Texas landowner Mike Hathorn. â€œA spill is going to happen on this pipeline somewhere.â€
He has good reason to worry. Methane gas has already leeched into the drinking water in North Texas. Scientist Geoffrey Thyne said the contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing continues to spread to more wells.
Energy company Range Resources claims there is no evidence the gas in the water and the gas it is producing is the same, using a common legal loophole that takes advantage of the fact that most homeowners do not test their well water until after they suspect a problem. But the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Duke University scientists have done detailed isotopic analyses that demonstrate that the chemical mixture found in local residentsâ€™ drinking water did indeed originate from Range Resourcesâ€™ drilling.
Even without doing any testing, local residents say the water contamination is obvious.
Steve Lipsky, who lives in an upscale subdivision in Weatherford, Texas complained to the Railroad Commission that his water was bubbling. The agency found methane in Lipskyâ€™s water. Lipsky showed news reporters how the well spigot – with water flowing – would ignite when exposed to flame!
The Associated Press (AP) reports that the EPA issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 demanding that Range Resources resolve the problem and supply Lipskyâ€™s family with water. But in March 2011 the Railroad Commission ruled Range Resources was not to blame. Range thus refused to comply with the EPAâ€™s order, which landed the company in court. Range settled in March 2012 and the EPA withdrew its order. The company agreed to conduct testing for a year.
A separate isotopic study of drinking water by the National Science Foundation showed five times the level of methane in some water wells than what Range Resources had admitted to.
â€œWeâ€™re seeing high methane concentrations and that result alone indicates to me that EPA closing the case was premature,â€ Rob Jackson told the AP.
Elizabeth Struhs, Lipskyâ€™s neighbor, fears for her family. â€œWe had good water before they came here,â€ she said, referring to Range Resources.
Finally, in Michigan, four activists from Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands will be going to trial on felony charges this week because they hindered the construction of an Enbridge pipeline by attaching themselves to construction equipment last July near Stockbridge, Michigan. That same pipeline ruptured in 2010, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River.
Lisa Leggio, one of the protesters facing trial, used to swim and go kayaking in the Kalamazoo River before the oil spill.
â€œPeople were made to leave their homes and the ones that couldnâ€™t have become sick, have died, and are dying. The wildlife is sick and diminishing. Enbridge, the corporation responsible, is not being held accountable and is not even sure how and if it can properly clean it up. And the current dredging process currently active poses a GREAT threat to our drinking water and environment, so much so that some towns are fighting the dredging and winning,â€ she said.