OLDS — New fears about the potential risks from hydraulic fracking brought more than 100 people through a winter storm to look for both answers and solutions during a meeting at the Harmattan Community Hall on Monday.
A mountain of pink, heart-shaped cookies and bowls filled with Hershey Kisses did little to mitigate the tension among landowners whose fears surfaced on Jan. 13, when fluids from a hydraulic fracture being performed on an oil well immediately west of Gleniffer Lake blew out the top of a neighbouring well on the other side of the hill.
The damage was not limited to the well and the pasture in which it was drilled, said Calgary-based Tom McGee, manager of the stakeholder engagement office of the Energy Resources Conservation Board.
The blowout painted the entire oil and gas industry with a very broad brush, McGee said during a break in a special meeting of the Sundre Petroleum Operators Group, set up to act as a liaison between local citizens and oil companies operating within the region it covers.
SPOG officials had called the Monday night meeting to begin upgrading the way issues are resolved between oil companies and the SPOG community, which includes parts of Clearwater, Mountain View, Red Deer and Big Horn Counties.
Hydraulic fracking has been around for years, said McGee. The idea is to create fissures in the formation and then collect the oil and gas that seeps into those fissures.
What’s different now is that the fracs can be performed horizontally within the target formation, raising new issues that did not exist when oil companies were limited to vertical fracs.
Since the Gleniffer Lake blowout, ERCB has issued bulletins warning oil companies to be more cautious in their calculations and to be more vigilant in looking around the neighbouring area for potential impacts on other wells, he said.
Landowners who participated in the meeting generally agreed that Alberta needs a viable oilfield industry, including Mountain View County Reeve Paddy Munro, whose division covers the Harmattan district, located between Olds and Sundre.
Munro brought three pages of questions with him to the meeting, but said afterward that he got very few answers.
Among them, he is urging that the chemicals used in fracking, which are considered company secrets, be publicly disclosed.
“Otherwise, you can’t test for them,” he said.
Fracking chemicals include acids and biocides along with other chemicals that turn water into jelly and still more that return it to a liquid state.
Rural landowners are deeply concerned not just about the amount of water being used in the fracking process, but in the potential for highly toxic chemicals to enter the aquifers from which they draw their water, he said.
Chris Huhn, who farms seven quarter sections of land within SPOG’s geographic area, said Alberta taxpayers don’t see enough benefit from the wells that are subsidized with their tax dollars. He and Munro both stated that the province pays $200 per linear metre for new drilling, but receive only five per cent in royalty during the first year of production and three per cent after that.
Hydraulic fracking is a routine step in setting up well for oil and gas production, according to a video shown during the meeting. The SPOG area alone will see 370 new wells this year, on top of the thousands of wells that already exist, creating more potential for a breach similar to that which blew out the well at Gleniffer Lake, said Munro.
Cattle producer Dave Brown, a founding member and recently-appointed chairman of SPOG, said there must be clearer more open lines lines of communication between oil companies and the people in whose neighbourhoods they are drilling their wells.
Ultimately, the goal is to create an environment that is of mutual benefit to everyone who, including oil companies, landowners and other stakeholders, said Brown.