March 18th, 2014

News and letters:

In yesterday’s Guardian,  from the Island Nature Trust board:

Province needs water management plan
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on March 18, 2014
A Reader’s View
Domestic, industrial and agriculture water use is rising across Canada, putting many rivers and lakes under increasing strain. As an organization that works to protect natural areas across P.E.I., Island Nature Trust is concerned that any increase in the number of high-capacity groundwater wells will affect fish and wildlife in the province negatively. How much water can be withdrawn while still maintaining healthy natural aquatic ecosystems? It takes the expertise of hydrologists, engineers and biologists to understand and predict the changes in fish habitat in response to altered flow regimes/water systems.
Conservation practices such as longer crop rotations that include forages, better residue management and strip cropping increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil. The presence of organic matter enhances the soilʼs structure, thermal, and nutritional regimes; and decreases wind and water erosion. Healthy soils hold moisture better than those with low organic material. In other words, soils with high organic matter need less water for healthy plant growth.
Withdrawing water from existing ground water supplies at times of the year when those water levels are at their lowest and at a time when 100 per cent of the surface water flow is from groundwater (springs) will further reduce the volume of ground water flowing into springs, streams, rivers and estuaries. Reduced water flow coupled with high levels of nutrients currently found in the very potato-rich watersheds to be irrigated in central P.E.I., will lead to increased over-nutrification of water systems and then to an increase in anoxic events.
Wildlife in all parts of waterways will be affected by less water and by the associated issues such as eutrophication and anoxia. Extracting more groundwater from P.E.I. is about so much more than simply water volume issues. The permanent loss of high volumes of water in an already fragile aquifer at a very sensitive time of year will have negative impacts on aquatic animals and plants, including those harvested by humans.
Human health is important, and the high nitrate level found in groundwater in many wells in high potato production areas is a serious concern to the health of Islanders. However, wildlife and natural areas often take a back seat to human needs and health issues. In many jurisdictions fish and wildlife management agencies sit on the sidelines of important water management decisions.
On behalf of the health of our natural systems, including springs, streams, rivers, their riparian zones and estuaries we strongly encourage the P.E.I. Government to adopt a provincial water management plan to effectively integrate water quantity, quality and wildlife management and to maintain the existing moratorium on high-capacity deep water well construction.
Fiep de Bie,
Island Nature Trust,
Board of Directors

The paper printed it in the lower right page under the heading “A Reader’s View” when of course Ms. de Bie is representing the views of the organization.

At first glance, from New Brunswick, this headline sounded at-least-not-bad:

Impact of shale gas development on groundwater to be studied

New Brunswick Energy Institute investing $500K in two-year study, set to begin in April

but then I received this comment from Bradley Walters in New Brunswick, who finds and sends out news about the fracking issue in New Brunswick with another article (blue is his, bold is mine):

Here are more details on the proposed NB study. It sounds like this intends to be little more than an assessment of baseline conditions of well water, with a focus on naturally-occurring methane contamination. In itself, that is not such a bad idea, but it is hard to see what good would come of this given they will presumably not be establishing baseline measurements for the various toxic chemicals actually used in fracking and/or liberated from deep underground as a result of fracking (e.g., heavy metals, radioactive elements, etc.). Also troubling is that this will likely be used to distract us from the many other risks and impacts associated with a shale gas industry (air pollution, habitat damage, surface water pollution, noise pollution, waste water pollution, etc.).  –Brad



Testing Energy institute to spend $500,000 over two years to develop water quality baselines in four areas in southern New Brunswick that are earmarked for possible shale gas development


FREDERICTON – The New Brunswick Energy Institute plans on spending more than $500,000 on research looking at well water quality in areas where industry wants to develop shale gas.

The institute, under fire for being funded by a pro-development Tory provincial government, said Monday the research would go toward establishing a proper baseline before any more wells are drilled.

It will take place in four areas of southern New Brunswick where exploration or development of the controversial industry is underway: Sussex-Petitcodiac, St. Antoine-Shediac, Harcourt-Richibucto and Boisetown-Upper Blackville.

Kerry MacQuarrie, a civil engineering professor at the University of New Brunswick, was selected as the project lead for the two-year study on about 500 private wells.He said it was important to find out the water quality before any further development takes place because sometimes people don’t realize there’s naturally occurring pollution with no human cause.

“This will be totally voluntary and it will be up to the homeowners that we contact whether they want to be involved”MacQuarrie said in an interview. “I would assume that people would be interested to know what the quality is for their drinking water, but there won’t be any obligation for anyone to take part.”

MacQuarrie is well aware of the controversy surrounding the industry and the institute itself. Between opinion polls and the province’s two major political parties, New Brunswick society appears to be split on the merits of shale gas development, which relies on hydraulic fracturing. The long-term consequences of fracking are still not completely understood,with critics,such as the Liberal opposition, saying a moratorium should be in place until more studies can be carried out, whereas the Tory government and other shale gas supporters argue that development, with certain safeguards, should go ahead to create more jobs and wealth.

   “This is a research study, and it’s not really linked to any particular interest group or industry group,” MacQuarrie said. “I have no links with the shale gas industry or anything like that. I’ve been doing ground water research in the province for over 20 years and I publish that in peer-reviewed scientific formats. People probably will take issue that it’s related to the shale gas issue, but I think it’s something worthwhile to do because it seems a lot of the concerns that have been raised are related to ground water quality and the potential impacts on that.”

Stephanie Merrill,freshwater program director with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, works for the environmental organization that has campaigned heavily to stop shale gas development. She welcomed the idea of further study Monday, though she qualified her support by saying she would have to first see a detailed work plan and explanation of the research methods.

She agreed that baseline studies were important, all the more reason, she said, for a moratorium on exploration and development.

“There should be a decision made right now to halt the further work of companies’ with exploration leases and licences while this kind of work is undertaken. That would go a long way in providing an increased level of trust with the public, so they can put aside the question of whether the work is supporting the industry versus having information for providing good solid information for whether the industry should go ahead”

MacQuarrie acknowledged the researchers would have a bit of trouble with their baseline data if the industry continues to develop over the next two years.

“I have no idea to predict what the industry might do in the next couple of years,but I’m guessing it would only be a handful of wells, perhaps, that might be drilled. But again, I have no inside information or any clue about that.”

The team, which will consist of MacQuarrie and as many as eight research students, will send mail-outs or hold meetings to pick about 500 private well owners in the select areas. To ensure their results are not contaminated, they want to establish their baseline using wells that are at least one to two kilometres away from any existing oil or gas wells or seismic tests that have already been conducted. Natural gas is currently extracted at the McCully fields near Sussex and dozens and dozens of different hydrocarbon wells have been drilled since the 19th century,most of them now abandoned.

The researchers want to look at newer private water wells built within the last 20 years when provincial regulations became stricter and data was collected on the wells. They also want sites that are nicely spaced apart with different geology so that they get a better variety and breadth of data. The study will run from April 2014 to April 2016, when a final technical report will be submitted.

The project will be the first large-scale examination of natural methane gas occurrences in private water wells in the province, with the objective to collect and report baseline domestic water quality data. The focus is on groundwater quality parameters that are most relevant to the potential impact on shallow groundwater from unconventional shale gas production.

Early results from the project will be provided in an interim progress report on the institute’s website. It is intended on being the beginning of a series of water studies that the institute will be funding relating to energy development.

MacQuarrie described the work as labour intensive and requiring a good deal of expertise to properly obtain and analyze samples.He said they’d probably work in concert with researchers at Université de Moncton, who have already begun work on collecting data on wells that might be contaminated by radioactive materials caused by deposits such as uranium.

The institute plans on spending $532,000 overall on the study.


March 16th, 2014

Another installment of “Let the Potato Board Educate Islanders on the Deep Well Issue”:
Guardian ad, Saturday, March 15th, 2014 — a quarter page in size (with annotations):

Oh, so it’s OK.

This is the The Education Plan — take what the Department of Environment officials said (“We have the capacity for Dozens and dozens and dozens of wells.”) and basically ignore scientists, watershed people, and volunteers who have looked at most of the same data and more and most certainly don’t come to that conclusion.  They are attempting to reassure a public which does cares about the health and fate of these farmers, but is growing increasingly uncomfortable with how this sector does business with its effects on land and health, and with ever-increasing demands to “level the playing field.”

This educational installment, point by point (any errors of interpretation are my own):
First the point being made by the Potato Board, and then what presenters have said at the Standing Committee meetings:
“The Science” Point #1:   “Prince Edward Island has one of the highest groundwater recharge rates in Canada, with recharge rates double of those in other agricultural parts of the Maritime provinces.”
Actually: A lot of rain (remember how many swimming pools per square inch or kilometer?) does not mean that the rain gets to groundwater.  This has been mentioned by several presenters at the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry.

The Science Point#2: Supplemental irrigation uses a very small fraction of our water supply.
Actually: this is likely true, but only a very small fraction of our water supply is actually available for our use.  Do we know all the factors to choose that this commodity is more worthy than any other needs for our water?

The Science Point#3: Supplemental Irrigation will have negligible impact on the available groundwater supply, as water will be drawn — at most — a few weeks per year, and not at all in some years.
Actually:  These high capacity wells pull up about 800 gallons per minute, I think I have read.  And they can run non-stop to get to all the fields.  That’s about a million gallons a day, multiplied by 18-27 days per year (Innovative Farms Groups information) — at the driest time of year, when the streams are running on mostly basewater (groundwater input)  — that’s about 34 million gallons of water from one well, which services about 200 acres, I think they said.  Most people would not call that negligible.

The Science Point#4: New wells would be regulated so that wells would not be approved that are beyond the capacity of the local watershed.
Actually: At least three different presenters have said that the assessment of capacity to allow the draw off water is completely wrong in the provincial 2013 water extraction policy; and that the department chose to ignore or “cherry-pick” the analysis and recommendations from the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) and other sources, namely that the water could be drawn off until stream base flow (levels only from groundwater) hit 35%.  The CRI cautioned never to let irrigation happen when the baseflow is all there is — only extracting water when there is at least a certain percent of streamflow (from rain) in local streams.

Now these assessments are my inferences from listening to every presenter to the committee after the Environment Minister and her entourage.

Last spring, Horace Carver was criss-crosing the Island, listening to Islanders,reading every previous commission, every roundtable, every task force and action committee, and after very long and hard thought, came to his conclusions thatincreasing potato acreage is not going to improve soil or the bottom line.

From his report The Gift of Jurisdiction: Our Island Province:
The Commission does not doubt, as they claim, that many potato producers are doing a good job when it comes to protecting against soil erosion and maintaining an acceptable level of soil organic matter content. However, the following facts cannot be ignored:
1.    Potato yield is related to soil quality;
2.    A significant number of potato producers do not comply with the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act;
3.    The precise number of acres not in compliance is unknown since the Department of Agriculture and Forestry does not verify compliance through field checks;
4.    There have been no successful prosecutions since the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act was proclaimed in 2002; and
5.    Soil organic matter, a principle indicator of soil quality, continues to decline.


The Commission recommends:
3. That the aggregate land holding limits of 1,000 acres of land for an individual and 3,000 acres of land for a corporation apply only to ‘arable land’ – a term to be defined in the revised Lands Protection Act – and that the maximum amount of non-arable land holdings be set at 400 acres for individuals and 1,200 acres for corporations.

The Commission Recommends:
4. That before any future increase to the arable aggregate land holding limits is considered, government and the agriculture sector must
commit to actions and report satisfactory progress to

  • Through collaborative research, identify barriers to profitability and quantify the relationship, if any, between farm size and profitability;
  • Improve compliance with the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act, improve soil quality, and reduce losses from soil erosion; and
  • Evaluate and report on the potential impact on rural communities of further farm consolidation.

The Commission believes the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act has the potential to bring about significant improvements in soil quality, crop yields, and farm profitability.
But, as the hollow instrument that it is now, the Agriculture Crop Rotation Act lacks force and will never be effective until the agricultural community itself takes ownership of the problem and required solutions. To do nothing is not an option.

As a further comment on the subject of aggregate land holding limits, the Commission realizes there are some who believe the decision on “How much land is enough?” should be left to those who currently own and control the most land. History teaches us that the Lands Protection Act was brought in for the express purpose of providing all Islanders, through their elected representatives, with a say in the matter. In this regard, the Commission believes nothing has changed.

Amazingly clear analysis and strong words.  

Comments on the PEI Extraction Policy presentation

The second is enclosed in this e-mail and what was read aloud at the last meeting: comments on the PEI Extraction Policy presentation written by Dr. Scott Rice-Snow, a hydrologist at Ball State University who was an adjunct professor with the Institute of Island Studies and lived on PEI for half of last year.

I've had the chance to look at some of the web postings about the high-capacity well proposal, including the Ministry of Environment PowerPoint. The 'science' presented so far is certainly limited, and I can't claim to know all regulations in place for PEI groundwater that might be escaping coverage, Here are some thoughts:

The island-wide average 7%-used statistic seems to be getting most of the press, but is basically useless for evaluation of the water extraction conditions in any one part of the island, and therefore for setting water policy for the whole. Evaluation should be at least focused to the particular watershed. The Environment presentation makes this clear, and shows that particular watersheds on the island are already overstressed.

The criteria given for water extraction, that would presumably be applied if the moratorium is lifted, are focused on maintenance of the majority of local stream base flow. They don't address other concerns, such as change in concentration of pollutants in groundwater, lowering of water levels in nearby wells, and coastal salt water intrusion in aquifers. If the island decides to allow high-capacity extraction proposals, evaluated case-by-case, it would be important to broaden the bases for refusal.

The argument "It's all (mostly) just going right back into the ground anyway" won't have any validity if water is being transported from one watershed to another. (This adds to concerns about the quality of the returned water.) Transporting irrigation water across watersheds might become a lot more common as an answer denial of local extraction permits.

Any big well will create a 'cone of depression' in the water table surface that could lower water levels in nearby wells, and possibly shift directions of groundwater (and pollutant) flows in the surrounding area. These effects should be simulated, and open to public comment, prior to a permit.

If a proposed well is in a headwaters area of a basin, it's especially important to ask for a water budget for only that part of the watershed. Even if the watershed-wide water balance fits criteria, the smaller area's groundwater levels could lower considerably, and portions of nearby streams go dry. A big well near a watershed divide can draw in groundwater from adjacent watersheds, reversing previous directions of groundwater flow. If a proposed well is far downstream, near salt water, then local salt water intrusion into the aquifer is a key concern.

Of course, the variety of problems that could occur in specific locations might be brushed over at this stage of the debate, but they do bear on what protections should be in place before a ban is lifted, and in considering the cost/benefits of lifting the ban at all.

February 11th, 2014

Federal and provincial thoughts:

From David Suzuki, and worth sharing:

(Today) is Budget Day in Canada. It’s when the federal government lays out its plans for your money– which programs and services it will introduce or expand and which it will cut or shut down.

Budgets are about choices–choices about what kind of country we are and what kind of things we value as a society. So while a lot of coverage will focus on what is or isn’t in this year’s budget, it’s important to look at this federal budget as a continuation in a long line of choices.  So let’s ask: “What choices have been made so far?”

Clearly, the answers aren’t good.
» 1.5 billion in cuts to the environment by 2016.
» 5 oil spill response offices closed across Canada.
» 8.4% cut to rail transportation safety.
» 99% of rivers and lakes now exempt from federal regulations.
» $56 million in cuts to Canada’s food inspection system.
» 35 government libraries closed.
» More than 5,000 job losses at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and » Agriculture Canada over the next three years.
» Over $298 million in government advertising since 2009-2010.
» » » » » All while federal fossil fuel subsidies add up to more than $1.38 billion.

These budget choices paint a picture, and it doesn’t look good for the health of our communities and the people and places we love.

(The) federal budget will represent another set of choices about what kind of Canada we are leaving for our children and generations of children yet to come.

And he is only discussing scientific and environmental choices!

Later this week, the first of several Thursday afternoon provincial legislative committee meetings regarding the high capacity well issue is taking place:

Thursday, February 13, 2014 Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry
1:30PM   Coles Building   –   Pope Room 

Topic: The committee will receive a briefing on the subject of deep well irrigation from Hon. Janice Sherry, Minister of Environment, Labour and Justice and Attorney General; Jim Young, Director of Environment; and Bruce Raymond, Manager of Watershed and Subdivision Planning.

These are open to the public as spectators, as those of you who attended ones in previous years regarding Plan B or fracking know; the public sits off to one side and is expected to be quiet.   

This committee is not meeting next Thursday, February 20th, but they are on the 27th, when the Citizens’ Alliance and the group it help form regarding this issue will have a few minutes before the committee.  (The group is called the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Waters, and has representatives from most of the Island groups opposed to the moratorium being lifted.)

To Frack or not to Frack…

This is an article written by Jack MacAndrew submitted to the Maritime publication Rural Delivery (DvL Publishing) and printed in the January/February 2014 issue, which I just received; and I reprint here, with Jack’s permission:

        by Jack MacAndrew
          “Fracking” – No , it is not a euphemism for another “F” word not usually employed in polite company, or in a family magazine such as this.
          It is, in fact , a made-up word – a grammatical invention, so to speak, conjured up as a bit of technospeak to describe a process by which natural gas may be extracted from the depths of planet earth, to the benefit of anyone who cooks their food, drives an automobile and huddles for wintertime warmth; not to exclude shareholders in multi-national energy companies who may get unspeakably rich from this resource belonging to all of us.
          We have always had this habit of adding the letters “ing” to a noun, so as to turn it into a verb: as in fish-fishing, truck-trucking, helicopter – helicoptering.
          In the case of fracking, there is no noun. There is no such a thing as a frack; no animal, vegetable or mineral known as a frack. You can’t see one, touch one or box one to send off to grandma on her birthday.  Fracking, is a total grammatical invention, invented so you don’t need to keep saying – ” hydraulic fracturing”- which can give you a headache if you say it often enough. 
          There is just – ” fracking “; and for many ( for instance,those farmers in Ohio owning those cows whose tails began to drop off), that is fearsome enough.
          There are a lot of people in Atlantic Canada who don’t want big energy companies from away to come fracking down here, no matter what economic puffery and job projections the politicians and proponents offer as bait.
          Indeed a recent poll tells us that about 70 per cent of Atlantic Canadians are ag’in it.
          In Nova Scotia , the legislature has placed a similar restriction on fracking activity, at least until an independent committee verifies “…there is no risk to drinking water, human health, the climate or communities”.
          That is a very steep hill for proponents to climb. The committee will report back to government some time in 2014.
          Newfoundland/Labrador has responded with the same sort of stance; and in Quebec, a moratorium has been in place for some time.
          There’s a ban in place in Massachusetts, and New York State, and in France as well.
          But not in New Brunswick, as you may have noticed in your newspaper or on television newscasts lately. 
          Nosireebob… not in your New Brunswick. The government of that fair and picturesque province (“The Picture Province”, I believe it is nicknamed in tourist advertisements ) has turned over 1.4 million acres of its land mass to the subsidiary of an American owned company (Southwestern Energy) called SWN Resources Canada so it may zip about in large white trucks sinking test drills and using other seismic technology wherever it believes the underearth may secrete pockets of gas in beds of brittle shale rock.
          ” Get to ‘er lads…”, invited Premier David Aylward, “… fill yer boots !”…all for a promise by the company to spend 47 million dollars in New Brunswick along with the unproven estimate of 1000 jobs and 1.5 billion big ones in economic activity; a price some would argue is merely a contemporary version of selling a birthright for the proverbial bowl of pottage. 
          And never no mind that more than 60 per cent of herrin’chokers of all political stripes said in a poll they did not want fracking in their province.
          That would include members of the Elisipogtog First Nation, who pointed out to the provincial government that it had no business giving SWN permission to bore test holes on their territory ,for a very simple reason-the provincial government does not own that land and has no right to do so without their consent. The aboriginal people have never ceded it to any government under any treaty.
          In November, months of peaceful protests ended and the barricades came down with massed and menacing police riot squads facing unarmed women and band elders, and according to one observer” …. shot rubber bullets at the mothers and the grandmothers, at the children”.
          The protests were deemed by pundit Rex Murphy “…a rude dismissal of Canada’s generosity …” 
          The warrior societies sent in their own troops to defend their people on Indian lands.
          Then the whole shebang went south in a hurry.  
          The Prime Minister of Canada condemned the state use of riot squads to disperse and arrest peaceful protesters in the Ukraine. 
          He was so absorbed watching the massed cops in full riot gear over there, he didn’t seem to notice massed cops in riot gear assaulting women and elders protesting on the Elisipogtog Reserve.               
          Police cars were burned in reprisal, and more than 40 Aboriginal and Acadien protesters were arrested.  Most have since been released . Some are still facing serious charges. 
          SWN has now packed up its gear and driven away, presumably to some place more receptive to their activity.
          But opposition to the fracking of New Brunswick has not gone into hibernation . Instead ,core groups are organizing and expanding the coalition of church groups, environmentalists, and other like minded souls to take on Premier David Aylward when he leads his government to the polls on September 14.
          And in the other three Atlantic Provinces, those independent committees will be holding public meetings and reviewing such scientific literature as exists.
          Which takes us to an explanation of what hydraulic fracturing (1.e fracking ) is, and what it does, and why it upsets so many people and makes them sick.
          Here’s the recipe for what is admittedly a toxic brew.
          A slurry of so-called ” Slick-water ” is mixed up in a giant blender. The recipe calls for 90 per cent water; 5 percent sand ; and 5 percent chemical additives (acids , sodium chloride, polyacrylamide, ethylene glycol, borate salts, sodium/potassium carbonate, glutaraldehyde, guar gum, citric acid, and isopropanol, amongst other nasty stuff.
          It’s that 5 per cent of chemical additives which can cause a lot of misery should it permeate and pollute water drawn from underground aquifers.
          The acid , by the way , is used to make the rock structure more permeable.
          That’s a special fear on Prince Edward Island. If you kick a rock in New Brunswick, chances are you’ll break a toe. If you kick a rock in PEI chances are you’ll break the rock.  Already permeable sandstone, do you see.
          Anyhow, having mixed up your mess of slurry, you then dig a hole in the ground that could be as deep as 6000 metres ( 20,000 feet ), dump it into the hole , and then pump it horizontally into shale rock at a pressure high enough to crack the rock.The slurry then moves further into the shale , fracking away as it goes along , releasing any gas trapped in pockets along the way.
          The slurry and the natural gas then flow back up the borehole to the surface, where the millions of litres of slurry ( now termed ” wastewater “) is diverted into plastic lined tanks dug into the earth’s surface , and the gas is channeled into holding tanks. 
          A new study says that scientists who theorized that layers of impermeable rock would keep shallower aquifers pure are wrong in their conclusions; and that natural forces and fractures underground will allow chemicals to foul groundwater ” just a few years…”.
          Nova Scotia has already had that experience.
          In 2007 the government issued a permit to Triangle Petroleum,  allowing the company to 
explore the presence of natural gas in Hants County.Triangle drilled five exploration wells , three of which were fracked. The company used and then stored 14 millions of litres of wastewater in artificial , plastic lined ponds.
          Millions of litres of that highly polluted wastewater remains in those ponds.
          It contains everything from known carcinogens to radio active material.  Nobody knows what to do with the wastewater. Some of it was secretly released into the environment. Some of it has leaked from one of the ponds.
          Indeed, the wastewater from fracking poses an enormous environmental problem all by itself. 
          A report on that experience, entitled ” Out of Control: Nova Scotia’s Experience with Fracking for Shale Gas” ,was  prepared by the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition ( NOFRAC)and released in April of 2013.
          It said : ” At this time there is no scientific evidence indicating that any method of disposal of fracking wastewater is environmentally safe “: and that , ” Emerging science is exposing unexpected and serious risks”.
          The report posed two choices for government ; press on with a trial-and-error learn as we go approach to shale gas development; or, slow down and look at all the costs and benefits , and especially the reality that if things go wrong , they may be unfixable.
          The report notes that some of the effects of fracking may only become evident years later ; after the fracking company is long gone, and it’s responsibility impossible to prove.
          The people of Hants County know this better than anyone.
          NOFRAC recommended either a ten year moratorium, or an outright ban on fracking.
          During the months to come , both sides of the issue will undoubtedly produce volumes of documentation to prove their case .
          The anti-frackers will have a rich record to draw on .
          In Blackpool, England, a fracking company named Cuadrilla Resources admits : ” It is highly probable that the hydraulic fracturing ( of a well ) did trigger a number of minor seismic events”- in other words – mini-earthquakes.
          In Louisiana seventeen cows died after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid; in Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached and 70 of them died while the others got sick;in Hickory , Pennsylvania , Darrell Smitsky got rashes on his body from exposure to toluene, acrylonitrite, strontium , barium and manganese;and in Washington County , Stacey Haney’s dog and goats died, while her son and daughter suffered stomach and kidney pain along with nausea and mouth ulcers. Glycol and arsenic will do that to you.
          The incidence of human and livestock ailments after exposure to fracking fluid and/or wastewater is extensive.
          The case for fracking can only be expressed in vague, ambiguous forecasts, and promises made according to complex economic models.
          The case becomes a spin doctor’s challenge. 
          It’s hard to convince people of an economic nirvana, when the other side counters with documented horror stories of individual suffering.
          Which by itself raises an essential question – on which side does the burden of proof rest – with the frackers ,to guarantee no harm will result to people , their animals or the environment on the road to economic benefit; or the anti-frackers , maintaining there is no safe way to exploit the reserves of shale gas under our feet; and no particular need to do so in any case.
          And this question emerges – We now know what happens when we send noxious gases skyward.  So what does it do to the underearth environment when hundreds or thousands of explosions take place underground in a few hectares of land mass ?
          We do not know with any certainty , and the penalty we would pay for challenging and changing the very foundations of planet earth evolved over eons of time – could be severe and irreversible. 
          The anti-fracking crowd will document hundreds of cases of visible harm; from benzene in the bathwater to cows without tails in the barnyard.
          There is that matter of “unintended consequences”, should the energy companies frack away to their bankers’ joy .
          And if they come at the expense of farmers and country people, what recourse will there have when the well goes sour and the water is undrinkable for them or their livestock?

**The one fact I am not sure of is legislation this spring in the PEI Legislature about fracking, based on Minister Sherry’s comments from a couple of weeks ago.

I would also mention that Rural Delivery, if you haven’t ever read a copy, is a great publication (as are the sister publicationsAtlantic Forestry, etc.)
The website is here, with older stories, but new monthly or bi-monthly issues are available at the feed stores and some bookstores.  It’s quite a good connection about people interested in living and working in their communities.

Can you see a pattern?

Sometimes charts help you see patterns.

Repeating History

event Plan B High Capacity Wells
Department and Minister responsible Transportation, Vessey Environment, Sherry
Minister punts to Stantec consulting PEI Potato Board
which writes, and then retracts, *approval* of Plan B Says it’s not their job, but is part of team
with Cavendish Farms hiring former MLAs/Premier’s staff as consultants
and that results in dozens and dozens of letters
from concerned, articulate
dozens and dozens of letters
from concerned, articulate Islanders
Minister’s spokesperson duties shifted to Steven Yeo, chief engineer Bruce Raymond, manager of watershed planning
who says Plan B is needed for safety.
It will meet or exceed TAC Standards
There is capacity for “dozens and dozens
and dozens of wells.”

Quote from Minister

George Webster, Agriculture Minister, regarding high capacity wells: “We need much more consultation with the public so they are informed.”

Once again, Consultation results in the populace being Educated.


But here is the quote we need:
“Fumigation of soil, more high capacity wells, soil erosion, nitrates in ground and surface water, fish kills (better to call them river kills) and multiple, annu al anoxic events in our waterways across PEI. We have tied it all together so many times and brought it to our politicians, planners, farmers, industries, road builders and more. We will continue to do so, but we need to keep improving the awareness of the connections. Our wildlife, natural areas and our own health depend on us not making this situation worse. Do what you can to prevent future damage.”
 – Jackie Waddell, Island Nature Trust

Ian Petrie Blog Post re: PEI Deep Well Irrigation

A Man On a Mission

I’ve always respected Daryl Guignon. He spent his working days and now his retirement teaching and advocating on behalf of the natural world.  And he’s done most of it not from the comfort of an academic’s office or university classroom,  but with hip waders on, in the cold and wet,  outside. He was always first on-site when there was a fish kill, or some other environmental crisis. He’d speak quietly but passionately about what had happened, and if asked, why. He’d never condemn farmers as a group, and would often acknowledge that many farmers are doing a better job protecting the environment.  Now he’s become the principal opponent to issuing new permits for deep water wells, and he’s definitely making headway. 

On Tuesday Environment minister Janice Sherry threw the issue back to the Potato Board, saying it has to convince the public that the science is sound, and irrigation can be done with minimal environmental impact. That followed revelations that the Board and Cavendish Farms had hired two former Liberal insiders (Chris Leclair and Cynthia King) to lobby MLA’s (the Liberal caucus essentially) about the merits of the plan.  Both of these developments indicate a proposal that’s in deep trouble.  Asking the Potato Board to convince skeptical Islanders is like asking Don Cherry to convince people sick of hockey violence to start liking it, it ain’t going to happen. In my opinion the Board has taken on an advocacy role in this not because all of its grower members want it but  because the public would be even more hostile if it were just Irving owned Cavendish Farms making the case.

And let’s be honest, Cavendish Farms does have a case to make. All its major competitors in the french fry racket work with growers who have access to irrigation. Cavendish itself operates a plant in Jamestown North Dakota and  buys from growers there who use irrigation, so the company knows the benefits. It also knows what can happen if there is a serious drought on PEI. In 2001 Cavendish had to import millions of pounds of potatoes from Maine and Manitoba to keep its big customer Wendy’s happy with french fries that droop over the front of the box (that takes big brick-like potatoes).  That’s when it started lobbying the provincial government to increase the use of irrigation here. Climate change, and the worry that sufficient rain can longer be counted on, has made this more critical.  Again let’s be honest, the real benefits of irrigation go to Cavendish too.  Unless we have several drought years in a row, the economics for potato growers investing in irrigation is very marginal.  And many growers worry that if new permits are allowed Cavendish will make having irrigation a condition of getting a contract, and that will be too expensive for growers with small contracts.

Daryl Guignon and others have also made important arguments against the plan. Much of the science on groundwater, including the limits to how much water and flow a stream can lose and still maintain aquatic life, comes from other places.  That’s not to say the science is wrong, but this isn’t dryland farming with huge sections of land devoted exclusively to agriculture. There’s hardly a watershed here that doesn’t have to support businesses, people’s homes, and wildlife, and there’s a strong feeling that despite the jobs and farm income that comes from producing french fries, one can’t take precedence over the other.

And Guignon is especially insistent that irrigation can’t be used to make up for poor soil quality. Healthy soils with adequate organic matter absorb rain and hold it for dry periods. Beat up soils that are hard packed cause rain to run-off somewhere else, usually ditches and low points in fields,  taking much needed moisture and soil particles along with it.

And there’s no question that the potato industry is guilty until proven innocent when it comes to environmental promises.   Fishkills, nitrates in groundwater, dead zones in rivers,  don’t generate  a lot of confidence. It may be the sins of the few causing the punishment of the many,  but that’s just the way it is, and no amount of lobbying or political arm twisting is going to change that.