The National Farmers Union has submitted feedback to the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) Consultation on its Proposed Regulatory Approach for Unconventional Oil and Gas Development.
The use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the oil and gas industry already had a significant effect on agriculture and farmers in Alberta. As the ERCB states, “Since 2008, approximately 5,000 horizontal wells have been drilled in Alberta using multi-stage hydraulic fracturing to enhance oil and gas recovery.” With the projected growth of unconventional resource extraction, the NFU agrees that a thorough and strictly-enforced regulatory regime is necessary to prevent serious harm.
The adverse impacts of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, include increases in noise, dust, light pollution, air pollution, traffic on and damage to country roads, damage to fields, loss of productive acres, interference with wildlife habitat, social impacts due to influx of transitory workers, loss of recreation opportunities, potential water shortages, chemical spills on farmland and into surface waters, and reduction in property values. The danger of irreversible contamination of groundwater and resulting loss of wells used for watering livestock, irrigating crops and domestic consumption is our most serious concern.
In many ways, fracking is not compatible with the safe, healthy production of wholesome food. If fracking is to be done, it must be carried out with extreme care by operators and with effective, impartial oversight strictly enforced by a regulatory body that makes the health of Albertans and our environment the top priority. We submit our comments in this spirit.
Read the full brief for the detailed explanation and rationale for our recommendations.
The NFU recommends:
- the Precautionary Principle be the overarching principle that informs the regulations.
- protection of farmland, health, wildlife, biodiversity, and recreation values be added to the outcomes included in the ERCB’s regulatory mandate.
- the due diligence defence be eliminated, or at a minimum, limit the defence by creating a two- tier regulatory scheme that imposes absolute liability for administrative penalties and strict liability for criminal prosecutions.
- administrative penalties accurately reflect potential damage. Require fracking operators to provide security deposits sufficient to clean up groundwater pollution and pay substantial fines or damages.
- citizens be explicitly permitted to prosecute fracking operators for statutory violations where the Crown is unwilling to do so.
- no regulatory authority be delegated to industry.
- companies be required to include a tracer in their fracking fluids so any potential groundwater contamination can be easily linked to a specific fracking operation.
- individuals directing fracking operations are held personally liable for statutory and/or common-law violations.
- freshwater-bearing geological formations are excluded from drilling altogether: if a play is situated below such an aquifer it should be off-limits for fracking.
- “affected parties” be interpreted broadly so that all who believe they are affected can make their case and present evidence.