Alberta a black hole for up-to-date fracking information

There have been more than 1,000 hydraulic fracturing operations in Alberta since January. But finding out what's happening in any region of the province right now is next to impossible.

'I would say it's being done elsewhere, so why isn't it being done in Alberta?' says anti-fracking activist

More than 1,000 fracking operations have been conducted in Alberta in 2017. (CBC)

There have been more than 1,000 hydraulic fracturing operations in Alberta since January. But finding out what's happening in any region of the province right now is next to impossible.

Numbers provided to the CBC by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) show between January 2017 and June 30, 2017, there have been 1,127 fracking operations conducted.

The AER says the holder of a drilling licence must inform the AER about its intentions to frack an oil or gas well five days before starting the work.

But the industry-funded regulator doesn't disclose where current fracking operations are occurring on its website.

Some of that information is available on the website FracFocus.ca, but only 30 days after the operation has wrapped up.

The site is a project of the BC Oil and Gas Commission, and according to information on the site, it is "intended to provide objective information on hydraulic fracturing, fracturing fluids, groundwater and surface water protection and related oil and gas activities in Canada."

A challenge

AER spokesperson Ryan Bartlett said it would be difficult to maintain an up-to-date list of Alberta fracking activity on the AER website because the length of time needed to frack a well varies from as little as "a couple of hours or multiple days" at a stretch.

"The exact start and finish dates tend to be dependent on a number of factors," said Bartlett.

"It could be the weather, it could be availability of equipment."

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting a mix of water, sand and other additives into the ground at high pressure. It causes cracks in the underground rock formation, allowing oil and natural gas to flow, increasing resource production.

The controversial extraction process has incited protests around the world, and resulted in several provinces, states and countries to declare a moratorium or outright ban on fracking.

A University of Calgary study published in the journal Science in November 2016 determined earthquakes west of Fox Creek, Alta., in the winter of 2015 were triggered by fracking near a fault system that industry and researchers didn't know existed at the time.

Potential earthquakes and effects on water have worried some residents who live near fracking sites.

Joshua Ludwig (left), with his late father Wiebo Ludwig in the fall of 2010, is concerned about the escalation of fracking near his property. (Ludwig family)

Seventy members of the Trickle Creek farmstead in northwest Alberta are concerned about the increased fracking they suspect has been going on in their region.

"It's kind of like an invasion," said Josh Ludwig, son of the well-known eco-activist Wiebo Ludwig.

"It seems like every time we take another look, there's more going on," added Ludwig.

The Ludwigs are especially worried about the impact fracking could be having on their water aquifer.

"I know everybody's beginning to realize water is a precious resource. Even though we have a lot of it in Canada doesn't mean we should treat it so recklessly," he said.

The Ludwigs and Alberta's oil and gas industry have a long and troubled relationship.

​In 2000, Wiebo Ludwig, former patriarch of the Trickle Creek community, was found guilty on five charges related to bombings and vandalism of oil and gas wells and served 19 months in jail.

Wiebo died of esophageal cancer in 2012 and the family has since kept a fairly low profile.

Line in the 'fracking sand'

Josh Ludwig says heightened worries about fracking have caused the community to speak out again and to "draw a line in the fracking sand."

But Ludwig wouldn't elaborate on what further action his family is willing to take.

"I don't know if I want to get into some of the details of what we would be planning to do to draw a line," he said. "We have some different ideas, but it is pretty clear to us this has to come to a stop."

Fractracker Alliance says there's a trend towards disclosing more information to the public about fracking (supplied)

The anti-fracking lobby group Fractracker Alliance was formed in 2009, after public-health researchers in Pennsylvania noticed public concern about fracking's possible effect on groundwater quality.

Samantha Rubright with Fractracker said there was no data available at that time about where fracking was happening.

Since then Fractracker has morphed into an influential international lobby group that catalogues maps and locations of oil and gas development.

Daily updates in Pennsylvania

"Now there seems to be a trend towards releasing that data," said Rubright who pointed out there are now many states which readily provide ongoing information.

Pennsylvania now has location and activity information on tens of thousands of unconventional oil and gas wells updated daily, according to Rubright.

"Those systems are already in place and can be replicated. I would say it's being done elsewhere, so why isn't it being done in Alberta?" said Rubright.

The AER points out while it doesn't publicly release current fracking locations on its website, it does sell an $11 quarterly products and services catalogue, which does provide some information of well locations and activity.

According to information on FracFocus.ca, only wells fractured after January 1, 2013, in Alberta are entered into the system, and entries may actually take longer than 30 days "as licencees develop a system to compile and report the information electronically."