A vile and dirty business



Gwen Johansson lives in what used to be idyllic surroundings a few kilometres west of Fort St. John in B.C.'s northeast. Lately, though, the tranquillity of her home overlooking the placid Peace River has been shattered by an intrusive flow of traffic.

Often operating around the clock, heavy-bodied tanker trucks pull off Highway 29 and line up at the riverbank to drop in thick hoses and gun high-volume pumps that suck up thousands of litres of water in just a few minutes. 'They're hauling out of there day and night,' Johansson told the Georgia Straight by phone, 'one loading, two more waiting. You can see the amount of water that's going out.'

You may be able to see it, but you can't measure it. No public agency requires the truckers or their employers to keep a tally of the water they extract from the Peace and other streams for delivery to the scores of gas wells being drilled at any one time in the area.

Estimates based on Peace drilling activity, however, suggest that the giant sucking sound could reach as high as 135 billion litres a year. That's enough water to fill a line of tanker trucks parked bumper to bumper around the equator-five abreast.

Biologist Jessica Ernst says that after gas wells were 'fracked' near her Alberta home, gas came out of her tap water-so much so that she could light it on fire.  Colin Smith

You're also not allowed to know what gets mixed in with the river water before it's injected into the ground under staggering pressure in order to fracture solid rock and release the hydrocarbons trapped there.

Drilling contractors insist the mixes they use are trade secrets. The Oil and Gas Commission, British Columbia's decade-old one-stop shop for gas and oil oversight, isn't curious. 'The question I ask in reverse,' said the OGC's leader for corporate affairs, Steve Simons, in his Victoria digs-the temple to sustainable building, Dockside Green-'is why? Why is it important to know?'

Well, perhaps because the chemicals the same international gas-field contractors have injected in the United States and elsewhere in Canada using the same fracturing technique have been linked to a string of contaminations-culminating in events as bizarre as a house explosion in Ohio and the flammable water that flows from faucets in the high-prairie hamlet of Rosebud, Alberta.

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