A Cautionary Tale for Michigan from Jessica Ernst, Canadian scientist suing EnCana for water contamination

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Encana's State Pioneer 1-3 deep frack well in Michigan's Pere Marquette State Forest, Missaukee County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma. January 2012.




Jessica Ernst, a scientist from Alberta, Canada, shared this comment letter with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation and with Ban Michigan Fracking, to warn of the dangers of gas drilling.  We need more truth-tellers like Ernst.
EnCana is the same company that is fracking in Michigan.

If you are a lease holder, or thinking of signing away your mineral rights, please read Ernst’s letter (below). Don’t sign a lease. And contact us and join the fight to ban fracking in Michigan.

This injection well, Weber 4-8, in Mayfield Township, Grand Traverse County (Michigan) is the disposal site for the waste from several of Encana's deep shale frack wells in Kalkaska and Cheboygan counties. Photo by Ellis Boal. January 2012.



[January 11, 2012]

Jessica Ernst
Box 753 Rosebud, Alberta Canada T0J 2T0

To the NY Department of Environmental Conservation

Sent via http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/76838.html

Frac’ing Inhumanity

I hiked in New York State most weekends in the fall as I was growing up in Quebec. I love New York. You have much to protect from the new brute force highly risky and toxic hydraulic fracturing. Please stop believing industry’s lies, promises and assurances. Please stand up to the corruption seething around the world, especially in our politicians and captured energy regulators and do the right thing – say no.

I am a scientist with 30 years experience working in Western Canada in the oil and gas industry. I am suing EnCana, the Alberta Government and energy regulator for unlawful activities (www.ernstversusencana.ca). Albertans are told we have the best in the world regulations and regulators. My statement of claim tells a compelling tale of drinking water contamination cover-up and how even the best regulations and laws do not protect families, communities, water, lands and homes from hydraulic fracturing. I consider it part of this submission; it is available to the public on the case website at the above link.

I had an incredible supply of fabulous water. I miss it everyday. The new frac’ing is a global issue, a scary Hellish one. I live it; I’ve been a frac guinea pig for a decade.

The historic record (1986, attached after my submission) on my water well in a regulator commissioned report states: Gas Present: No. Prior to the arrival of experimental, brute force hydraulic fracturing (2001) in my community, only 4 of 2,300 historic water well records noted the presence of a gas that could be methane within about 50 square kilometers around my water well.

After EnCana fractured my community’s fresh water aquifers, there was so much gas coming out of my well, it was forcing water taps open making them whistle like a train. Bathing caused incredibly painful caustic burns to my skin. As water wells went bad community wide, we got the same promises fractured communities get everywhere. For example: “We only fracture deep below your drinking water supply, deep below the impermeable layer to prevent gas from migrating into your water.” They reminded us that Albertans are blessed with “World Class, Best in the World” regulators and regulations, while quietly deregulating and taking our rights away to accommodate the inevitable frac impacts.

My water is too dangerous to be connected to my home; the isotopic signature of the ethane in my water indicates the contamination comes from EnCana’s gas wells. In 2006 in the Legislature, the Alberta government promised affected families a bandage – safe alternate water “now and into the future.” They broke that promise and ripped the water away. I drive more than an hour to haul safe water for myself.

I learned that when you’re frac’d, there’s no after care. What happened in my community is reportedly happening everywhere they frac, regardless of company or country.

Affected citizens are abandoned.

Americans are fortunate to have the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and federal health officials (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) that warned Pavillion citizens to stop drinking the water. EnCana frac’d hundreds of metres more shallow around my community than the EPA reports the company did at Pavillion. EnCana was also stingy here with surface casing. Alberta’s regulator found much more methane in my water than the EPA found at Pavillion, and some of the same man-made toxics. Is that a frac coincidence?

And like at Pavillion, and in so many contaminated communities in the USA, the company still has not disclosed all the chemicals they injected, and our regulators and governments refuse to make them

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. Hexavalent chromium was found in a regulator monitoring water well; the regulator didn’t share this with my community, it was gleaned it through my Freedom of Information request. In another regulator monitoring water well, they found no water, only methane and ethane – so much so that the gas was forcing the lid open – like the gas did to my water taps. Did they warn anyone? No. They commissioned reports that ignored all the damning data and the historic records, and used unsubstantiated claims of gas in other water wells to blame nature.

I see no help from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, American Petroleum Institute, Groundwater Protection Council or FracFocus and its newly released Canadian cousin. I do not believe that multinationals keep chemical secret for proprietary reasons. I believe they keep them secret because companies know their drilling and frac’ing – waterless or not – is irreversibly contaminating groundwater, and they do not want anyone to be able to prove it.

Recently, EnCana drilled more gas wells around my home and under my land. I thought of farmers around the world as I watched EnCana dump their toxic waste on my neighbor’s agricultural land and pump undisclosed chemicals labeled flammable down their gas well to be fractured above the Base of Groundwater Protection near my home.

Even the best laws and regulations will not protect New York’s water and people from this arrogant, bullying, deceptive, uncooperative, “bad neighbour” industry.

Shamefully, the revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) on highvolume horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is nowhere near O.K., never mind the best. I get “Best in the World.” Look at what Poland gets. What does New York get? Who will de-flame and purify your water, and detain your corrupt state and corporate officials?

I’ve learned that frac’ing is hideous, but what follows reveals true inhumanity and greed. Please find my comments with supporting documents attached. Thank you.


Jessica Ernst, B.Sc., M.Sc.

Grassroots Ban groups in New York make headway

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The New York Times reports on the strength of the ever-growing grassroots citizens movement to ban fracking in New York state while “name brand” groups like Sierra Club and others are — surprisingly to many — pro-gas and/or pro-regulation. This is a great article about how the pro-ban anti-fracking movement is making much more sense to people than the professional green groups’ acceptance of compromise and their pro-gas stance. Ban Michigan Fracking faces the same obstacles here in Michigan. 

Join with us to register your community organization to call for a ban on fracking in Michigan by contacting us Drilling Critics Face a Divide Over the Goal of Their Fight, 1/10/12

Published: January 9, 2012


With a deadline looming this week for the public to weigh in on gas drilling in New York State, the antifracking movement itself has become divided over what its goal should be: securing the nation’s toughest regulations, or winning an outright ban?

Kate Sinding says the Natural Resources Defense Council’s position on hydrofracking had evolved.

The question is pitting brand-name organizations like the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Nature Conservancy, which are working nationwide for stringent rules, against an ever-growing universe of grass-roots groups demanding a prohibition on the kind of intensive shale gas drilling being proposed in the state. And it is reflecting the tightrope being walked by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo between an economically potent industry and many landowners eager for drilling on one side, and on the other a movement that has become one of the most powerful environmental and citizens campaigns in state history.

Whatever the result, the split among the industry critics reflects how the opposition has exponentially hardened since fracking emerged as a statewide issue in 2008.

“When we started out, what we wanted was more information on what this means for New York,” said Wes Gillingham, program director for Catskill Mountainkeeper, one of the first groups to focus on the issue. “No one had any thought about calling for a ban. But the more you find out about gas drilling and how it’s been practiced by the industry today, the more you realize it can’t be done safely. It would just be a disaster for New York State.”

Mr. Gillingham said he had worked closely and effectively with national groups. Still, he said: “For the average person on the ground over the Marcellus Shale who is living with this issue, the fact that the national groups are not saying, ‘Not here, no way,’ is shocking to them.”

Wednesday is the deadline for comments about the state’s proposed drilling regulations and environmental impact statement to guide gas development in New York. So far, the State Department of Environmental Conservation has received 20,800 comments, far more than any other issue in its history. Officials say they do not know of any other issue that received 1,000 comments.

Drilling could start up after the state adopts new regulations, perhaps this spring. After previously indicating his agency expected drilling to resume at some point this year, Joseph Martens, commissioner of the conservation department, said in October that it was not clear whether any drilling would proceed this year.

Representatives of national groups, like Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Roger Downs of the Sierra Club, are widely regarded as key players who asked the right questions and provided the technical expertise that helped produce what has, in effect, been an almost four-year moratorium on new gas drilling in New York State. At issue is a process called high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, which involves injecting millions of gallons of chemically treated water underground to break up shale formations and release natural gas.

Questions about the safety of the process have helped move some environmentalists from an enthusiastic embrace of gas to a much more measured one that still sees it as an essential part of the available energy mix.

“I guess I would say that, in fairness, the N.R.D.C.’s position has evolved — in New York and more broadly as well,” Ms. Sinding said. “So we’re very concerned not only with having the best regulations in place, but with the extent to which drilling is going to be allowed to happen at all in the state.

“But we haven’t called for a ban because we continue to believe that, in all likelihood, some amount of drilling is going to happen, and it’s important to be present at the table so we have regulations that ensure that whatever is done will be done as safely as possible.”

Many of those involved said it was unlikely that Governor Cuomo would turn his back on the gas industry and ban drilling in the rich Marcellus and Utica shale deposits covering much of the economically depressed southern and western reaches of the state. But a push for local and statewide bans has become an increasing focus of the opposition.

Drilling critics have far outnumbered supporters during the public comment period, but the conservation department has also heard from the gas industry and landowners who hoped to lease their property for drilling. Many of them say New York has already delayed for too long, and is paying a price.

“I think the governor’s office recognizes that this has gotten much beyond the science and has become an emotional issue or a cause célèbre for certain elements,” said Dennis Holbrook, executive vice president of Norse Energy in Buffalo, who has been active in the industry in the state for 35 years. “It’s time to move the process forward.”

National environmental groups have a complicated history with natural gas. Several, particularly the Sierra Club, have seen it as a bridge fuel toward renewable sources that was cleaner than coal and oil, and a preferred alternative to common mining practices. The relationship between the gas industry and some environmentalists has frayed as the potential impacts of gas drilling, particularly the effects on drinking water supplies, have become apparent in the Western States and in Pennsylvania. Now some former advocates of gas see it not just as an alternative to oil and coal, but also as something crowding out renewable resources like wind and solar power.

But many fracking critics still see the old ties at work.

Claire Sandberg was one of the two founders of Frack Action, which started up in 2010 largely because some antifracking activists worried that established environmentalists seemed resigned to living with gas drilling.

“I think the national groups got themselves in a real bind,” she said. “They entered into a marriage of convenience with natural gas because it was too daunting to try to take on coal and gas at the same time. Now they find themselves with a mutiny on their hands.”

“It’s time for the environmental movement to grow a spine,” she added

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Many close to the process say that the fight will become far more complicated than simply deciding whether to ban or to regulate. Options in between could include a ban until further studies are done; rules so tough they amount to a de facto prohibition; bans in parts of the state, like those close to water supplies; regulations that would keep out all but the most responsible companies; and allowing drilling to resume with a pilot program in an area with a history of drilling.

Some involved with the issue say that despite differences, diverse fracking opponents have found ways to work together, and that they will almost certainly need the technical knowledge and the procedural savvy of longtime environmentalists, as well as the passion of the grass-roots groups.

“You have a lot of bricks being thrown at the national organizations, but I don’t really think there’s as much difference as some people want to see,” said Bruce Ferguson, a founding member of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, which supports a ban. “No one wants to see fracking go forward under the current regime or the way it’s being done in Pennsylvania. Everyone agrees on that.”

Energy giant gets $2.2 billion from China to frack in Michigan, Ohio, and other states

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Fracking for shale gas in Michigan may intensify. Devon Energy, an energy company out of Oklahoma, obtained $2.2 billion from China this week for its fracking operations in the U.S., particularly in Michigan. Devon owns 300,000 acres in Michigan. Devon also constructs and operates pipelines, storage and treating facilities and natural gas processing plants. This stunning development helps unmask a common industry-perpetuated myth that shale gas drilling in the U.S

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We need a ban more than ever. Please join us by signing our online petition against the frack reform bills that will have the gas industry itself pay for a frack study…. We already know fracking is not worth the costs to our health and environment.

Here are some of the news reports about the Sinopec/Devon deal:

Sandra Steingraber calls on everyone to do something big and heroic: “We can stop fracking. It can be stopped and it must be stopped.”

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Dr. Sandra Steingraber, ecologist, cancer survivor and acclaimed author, speaking around the country on cancer and its environmental risks, made this statement at a symposium in September opposing fracking in the Finger Lakes region of New York

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It will be our mantra for 2012.

Listen to Steingraber’s magnificent, inspiring talk about fracking and its known damages to our health and environment: