Investigative Journalist Andrew Nikiforuk was in Lacombe discussing the negative impacts of fracking on rural communities. The talk was part of Burman University’s Herr Lecture Series. (Todd Colin Vaughan/Lacombe Express)

Journalist warns $260B worth of fracking liabilities could be dumped on taxpayers

Journalist Andrew Nikiforuk has studied the economic, environmental effects of fracking since 2004

Andrew Nikiforuk has dedicated himself to investigating the fracking industry in Canada, particularly in Alberta and British Columbia.

Nikiforuk, who spoke in Lacombe on Tuesday as part of Burman University’s Herr Lecture Series, argues the oil and gas fracking industry has created a financial challenge.

“It has driven down the price of both oil and gas. And at the same time, the technology is high cost,” Nikiforuk, an investigative journalist who has won seven National Magazine Awards and the Governor General’s award for non-fiction, said of fracking.

“Most companies that have gone into fracking are short of cash, highly indebted and barely making a go of it.”

Nikiforuk says indebted fracking companies are a problem for municipalities and the province because they don’t pay the taxes they owe, they do not reclaim aging oil and gas wells, and they do not pay their service leases to landowners.

This has resulted in more than $260 billion in liabilities for the province of Alberta.

“They are a drain on rural communities,” he said.

Nikiforuk said that no Alberta government has had a strategy to address the issue. He said the current government has chosen to blame low commodity prices on the federal government and environmental groups.

Nikiforuk said it is human nature to find a scapegoat, but believes liabilities will affect everyone.

“Two-hundred-and-sixty billion dollars worth of liabilities is going to be dumped on taxpayers and that should not be happening.

“The regulator said that wouldn’t happen. Well, I am sorry, guys — it is happening big time. The regulator didn’t do its job,” he said.

Nikiforuk also connects a relationship between fracking technology and the creation of earthquakes.

”About 80 per cent of the earthquakes in Alberta today are the product of fluid-injection in one form or another, whether that is wastewater disposal, acid gas injection or hydraulic fracturing,” Nikiforuk said.

The province has recently instituted a traffic light system, which is supposed to prevent large-scale earthquakes and hold companies responsible, but Nikiforuk said this not enough, due to the unpredictable nature of seismic activity.

”You can’t control the timing of these things and no one has a clue where all the faults are. This is a high-risk activity,” he said.

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