Last night, I nearly fell off my chair while reading this piece in the Guardian Weekly, “Canada’s spy chiefs target anti-frackers,” by Stephen Leahy, (Feb. 22nd, 2013). Apparently “monitoring of environmental activists in Canada by police and security agencies has become the ‘new normal’… [and that protests] and opposition to Canada’s resource-based economy, especially oil and gas production, are now viewed as threats to national security.” The article further notes the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) admit “the vast majority of spying is done within Canada” under the guise of “domestic terrorism.”
Farmers and ranchers are the people most affected by oil and gas activity on their farms. Their land rights are being trampled on – appropriated through provincial and federal legislation. And now they are being monitored by the RCMP and CSIS, suspected of terrorism because they are resisting oil and gas development on their land and in their communities?
Can this be? Has Canada become a Petro-state?
I grew up on a farm in Alberta and have great memories of my childhood there. The community was vibrant and rooted in agriculture. Farmers and their families took great pride in being stewards of their land and invested in their communities.
But, life in rural Alberta no longer has the same idyllic flavour. During a recent visit, my father and I went for a drive on the roads surrounding the farm. What used to be a pleasant farming landscape just five years ago has morphed into a semi-industrial area. There are now more than twelve oil and gas sites within a four mile radius of the farm – each with its own claw-print of pushed-to-the-side top soil, big machinery, and holes reaching deep into the Earth’s crust. Each with its own fracking activity.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) increases the amount of oil and gas collected from a well by using highly pressurized liquids and solvents to shatter rock formations containing the oil and gas. If fracking occurs in improperly sealed wells, the toxic fracking fluids seep into the ground water. Indeed, farmers across the prairies are losing access to potable ground water due to fracking activity.
“In June,” my father said, “land-owners will no longer have the right to refuse oil and gas activity on their land.” He is talking about Alberta Bill 2, which will remove landowners’ opportunities to state their concerns at a hearing before an energy project is approved. The Bill also removes “public interest” as a statutory consideration in approving energy projects. Furthermore, Bill 2 removes a landowner’s ability to appeal an approved project to an independent review body.
Bill 2 is the latest in a series of bills the Alberta Government is using to gain access to and control over the province’s energy resources. Bill 2’s predecessors – Bills 46, 19, 36, 24, 50 and 8 – have all passed into law. Essentially, Alberta’s land use regime is being forcibly transitioned from agriculture to resource extraction. Keith Wilson, an Edmonton area lawyer, states – “The common theme to each of the Bills is that they concentrate power into the hands of Cabinet in Edmonton, limit rights to compensation, seek to remove the role of the courts, and diminish the adherence to the rule of law in Alberta.”
Even worse is the reality that companies investing in unconventional oil and gas wells in shale formations will not pay royalties for the first three years of the project. Instead they will extract as much oil and gas as possible in those first three years, leaving behind as little as possible on which to pay royalties.
The federal government has also seriously weakened laws protecting land and water, again helping companies to extract more resources more quickly. Omnibus budget bills C-38 and C-45 have changed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act. Ministers now have the power to approve pipeline and energy projects.
And now this – to find that the RCMP and CSIS are keeping tabs on people who are genuinely concerned about the effects of fracking, oil and gas activity on their farms, their communities and the environment. This is not the Canada I grew up in and is certainly not what Canada could and should be.
“What we need to realize,” my father pointed out on our drive, “is farms like ours can only survive as long as we have access to clean ground water for our livestock and for ourselves.” Indeed, the safeguarding of rural Canadians’ livelihoods and communities require this and criminalizing their stewardship efforts will get us nowhere.
Thirty-two year old Paul Slomp is a National Farmers Union board member. He lives in Ottawa where he raises grass-fed beef for 250 households.