Energy fight to be detailed

Energy fight to be detailed

By Kuhl, Nick on March 24, 2014.

Lethbridge Herald

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Jessica Ernst has ongoing lawsuits against Encana, the Alberta government and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).

Tuesday night, she’ll tell Lethbridge residents why – and why they could potentially be faced with similar legal issues in the future.

Ernst, who lives in Rosebud, about 100 kilometres northeast of Calgary, spent 30 years as an oilpatch consultant. But for the past decade she has been entangled with hydraulic fracturing and what she calls negligent and unlawful activities, as well as a violation of her Charter rights, by the oil industry and government.

She alleges that EnCana broke multiple provincial laws and regulations and, in 2004, fractured and contaminated Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers with methane, ethane and other chemicals. Ernst also says the province’s two groundwater regulators, Alberta Environment and the AER all “failed to follow the investigation and enforcement processes that they had established and publicized.”

She will be sharing her personal story, and the research she’s uncovered, during a talk titled “In Bad Faith” in the University of Lethbridge’s room PE250 at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.

“It’s the things people don’t say that I start to dig into. We’re the guinea pigs. Industry has admitted, as well as the regulators, fracking is an experiment. This new stuff that they’re doing is a really big, scary experiment,” Ernst said in a phone interview Sunday afternoon.

“Probably the most important part of the story is, this is what people can look forward to. You get nowhere. I’ve been at this since 2007 going nowhere. There’s no protection; there’s no help from this government. I’m showing people when you get fracked, this is what you can expect.”

In 2005, the Rosebud water tower was destroyed in an explosion caused by “an accumulation of gases.” In 2006, the government promised to provide safe alternate water to all harmed Albertans, Ernst said. But her water is still too explosive to flush toilets with and she’s been hauling water herself since 2008.

She went public with her case in April 2011. After waiting nearly three years, she said the government applied to have her entire claim struck, arguing “no duty of care” and immunity. The Justice granted the government’s late request and has set the hearing for April 16 in Drumheller.

“Three years later and I’m going backwards. We’re probably going to have to appeal because I expect he’s going to give the government what they want,” said Ernst, adding she’s not optimistic on the province’s forthcoming urban drilling task force, which will involve Lethbridge West MLA Greg Weadick, either.

“If they give urban Albertans protection form fracking, rural Alberta will be in an uproar because then you’re making a two-tier system,” she said. “I will, in the Q and A, hopefully bring that up. I’m looking forward to seeing what the questions will be Tuesday night.”

She did say there is some cause for optimism in dealing with fracking, however, as more and more people band together to say no.

“The positive is the community unity I’m seeing happen. Lethbridge is a good example,” she said. “The power of ‘no’ is incredibly powerful. And Lethbridge is saying ‘no’ with an exclamation mark.”