Alberta to consider testing water near fracking sites
Energy companies are not required to test water quality
The Alberta government is considering expanding its mandatory water well testing program to include areas near fracking activity.
Currently, the program tests water quality for gas sites that use the coalbed methane extraction method, which was popular several years ago. However, it does not require water quality testing at sites where oil and gas are extracted by fracking.
"Right now, the program does not apply to those particular types of activity," says Steve Wallace, a groundwater policy advisor with Alberta Environment. "However, we are certainly considering expanding our [coalbed methane] requirements to hydraulic fracking."
While coalbed methane developers must test all active water wells within a minimum 600 metre radius of a proposed coalbed methane well prior to drilling, there is no specific testing requirements for other oil and gas extraction methods.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers recommends that any water wells within a 250 metre radius of fracking sites be tested for water quality but companies can choose whether or not to do this.
Some Albertans are concerned that the chemicals used in fracking could be affecting the quality of their drinking water.
Nielle Hawkwood lives near Cochrane and says she no longer drinks the water at her ranch.
"Our eyes are irritated, our nose is irritated, I've lost a lot of hair," she says.
She lives near fracking sites and is concerned that chemicals may be leaking into her well.
"The chloride levels are really fluctuating," Hawkwood says. "This is untreated well water. We are wondering why there are chlorides at all."
She has hired an independent testing company but the firm can't search for all the chemicals involved in fracking.
Her husband, Howard Hawkwood, says he is concerned about the effect his livestock's drinking water will have on them.
"I have no idea what it does to their meat, their quality," he says. "Reproductive system is a major issue because right now we're calving."
Wallace says that a group of experts from across the country is studying the issue and will present their recommendations to Alberta Environment later this month.
"We've lived here for 32 years," says Nielle Hawkwood. "We've always assumed our water was wonderful and fresh and clean, that the air was fresh and clean, and now we have serious doubts about that."