Fracking regulations stringent, misconceptions abound: expert

Lack of information | Some jurisdictions lack proper regulations, raising public fears

Some Albertans complain that the provincial energy industry is not well regulated, but the watchdogs at the Energy Resources Conservation Board disagree.

Bob Curran of the ERCB said ground water protection, drilling and hydraulic fracturing are highly regulated.

“Some of the complaints are based on what is happening in other jurisdictions. Their regulations are not the same as ours,” he said.

“We have very clear and stringent regulations in place that are protective of ground water regardless of what type of well you are drilling.”

For example, cement casings must be built around wells, and all companies are required to disclose the kind of fluids they are using during fracturing. Companies are also required to conduct base line tests on water wells if landowners request it.

Fracking is gaining international attention, but the technology has been around for decades. About 167,000 drills have been fractured in Alberta.

“This is a very common technology utilized in Alberta,” Curran said.

“It is just because of problems in other jurisdictions that suddenly it has come to the fore here, but we haven’t experienced any of those problems here in Alberta.”

If they did occur, he said, the ERCB has the power to shut down facilities but not levy fines.

Mike Dawson, president of the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources, agreed that there are misconceptions about what is allowed in Alberta.

“Obviously, when you do anything there are potential risks, but it is really important for the ranchers and others to have a really good understanding of the factual information rather than relying on misinformation. That is a critical component.”

He said the industry is not without its faults.

“What has gone wrong is that the industry has been late in terms of providing the information about the technologies that are used in an easy to understand manner,” he said.

“Because we haven’t been out in the forefront of telling people this is what it is going to be and this is what the risks are, people are left to their own devices.”

Companies are required to inform landowners of what they are doing, but farmers and ranchers may have already checked websites and are familiar with issues that have occurred elsewhere.

“Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying the industry is pristine in any way,” he said.

“I am saying that industry needs to ensure that the stakeholders are provided with factual information.”

The fracking problems that do occur are often caused by faulty well construction.

“Be that as it may, that is still no excuse for companies to have a poorly constructed well. Companies have to strive to improve their operations,” he said. “We think as a whole the industry can improve. It is important that all of the employers and employer representatives are armed with the factual information about the technologies and what the risks are should there be a mistake.”

Some jurisdictions have placed a moratorium on fracturing and shale gas drilling until they learn more, but Dawson said this may be to appease the public rather than research the technology.

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