It took some persuading, but Nova Scotia Environment (NSE) has committed to testing the soil surrounding a Kennetcook-based fracking waste container that leaked.
Representatives from the provincial departments of environment and energy joined the MLA of East Hants and about 40 spectators for a community meeting at the White Hall on Noel Road Oct. 21.
The meeting was called days after the public learned seven million litres of fracking wastewater from the holding ponds in Kennetcook was treated at the Town of Windsor’s sewage treatment plant and flushed into the Minas Basin — before government officials were aware the brine water contained naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs).
A lively question and answer session ensued once Ken Summers, a Minasville resident belonging to the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition (NOFRAC), presented an overview of the hydraulic fracturing-related activity the Denver-based Triangle Petroleum Corporation conducted in Kennetcook and Noel once approval was granted by the Department of Energy in 2007.
The government is still searching for a way to safely separate the radioactive materials from the wastewater so the containment ponds in Kennetcook can be emptied.
“It was Health Canada guidelines that NSE researched… and determined that there was nowhere in this region that this water could be processed because of the exceedences (sic) of radioactivity levels,” Summers said.
What chemicals were in the fracking fluid?
When the public took the floor, they asked what chemicals are in the millions of litres of fracking wastewater that still sits in the Kennetcook holding ponds, three years after Triangle Petroleum stopped using the controversial shale gas extraction method in East Hants.
Sandy MacMullin, an executive director with the Department of Energy, said the fracking liquid Triangle Petroleum pumped into the ground to draw shale gas out of rock formations consisted of a wide range of chemicals that are commonly used in the oil and gas industry.
“Most of the chemicals that you would find are in your normal household products that you would use, not that that makes it good,” MacMullin said.
Headmitted some of the chemicals may raise a few red flags, but said the ongoing government review of fracking is going to take “everyone’s best interest” into consideration.
Brent Baxter, a senior tech advisor with NSE,stressed that the water contains low levels of radioactivity.
“It’s above what we call the Health Canada uncontrolled discharge limit,” he said.
“The uncontrolled level isn’t something that is going to cause you to develop cancer, you’re not going to get three-eyed fish.”
Atlantic Industrial Services (AIS) is in the process of conducting filtration tests to see if the Debert-based treatment facility can reduce the amount of NORMs in the wastewater contained in Kennetcook, Baxter said.
Government takes flack for frack waste
East Hants MLA John MacDonell reminded his constituents there is a ban on fracking in the province until the government’s review of the extraction method is complete in 2014.
He said the study will determine if, or how, fracking will continue in the province.
“If we’re going to do it, we want to make sure that it’s done right.”
One man replied that it is important to acknowledge that even low levels of radiation are cause for concern when it is present in millions of litres of wastewater.
“Dumping it out in the Bay of Fundy is not the right thing to do for any community,” he saidd, alluding to the water that went through the Town of Windsor’s sewage treatment plant withapproval from NSE.
Baxter said the Department of Environment is still learning about fracking.
“We take additional steps when we learn the issues,” he said.
“You solve the problem after you start a problem,” Ashley Crabtree, of Kennetcook, offered.
“Yes,” Baxter responded. “There may have been some oversights in the past but that’s why we’re studying this to see if we can do something better now, but also do something much better in the future.”
Angela Pelton, of Kennetcook, said she worries the fracking process impacted her well water, and may cause additional health complications in the future.
“About two months after the fracking started, we lost all of our well water. And when we got our well water back, 24 hours later, we can’t drink it anymore. It’s… orange,” she shared.
“It’s ridiculous, and we had it tested and we were told we would have to drill another well, which is another $10,000.”
Baxter said it is important concerns about fracking, and information about the impact it is believed to have had on the area, are relayed to the government while the review is underway.
Public demands better monitoring
Summers said it appeared the government failed to adequately monitor the impact fracking has had on soil in the area.
“Why should we have confidence when the government standards are improved that they’re going to be enforced?”
He called for a more transparent review process that involves parties operating outside of the government.
“The whole review is being left to the departments. We don’t know anything about it. We hear nice, reassuring things when issues come up, but we hear nothing about it. There’s a major question of whether this should be left to the departments involved,” Summer said.
“If you want the confidence of the people of Nova Scotia, I think we’re going to have to have a more [open] review here,” he said, to applause.
When residents started inquiring about the risks of living near lagoons containing large volumes of fracking wastewater, Norma Bennett, a district manager with NSE, said the sites are being watched.
“There’s not a lot of risk to having these ponds in Kennetcook because we are monitoring them.”
However, when Summers asked if any soil testing had been done, Bennett’s initial response was, “I can’t answer that,” and that quickly changed to “No, because the ponds are lined.”
The public documents section of NOFRAC’s website contains a letter the advocacy group acquired through freedom of information legislation that shows NSE informed Triangle Petroleum the KC-1 holding pond in Kennetcook had been leaking in August 2011.
Summers said soil testing “makes good sense” to him as someone who has noticed that it is wet around one of the holding ponds.
“We, the public, are going to pay for those mistakes that somebody else is making,” said David Lake, of East Walton.
Bennett said the requested soil testing is not in the NSE’s management plan for the site but the department will “have conversations” about the need for testing the area.
Crabtree said residents of Noel and Kennetcook are largely concerned because they are unaware of what chemicals were in the fracking fluids used in the area.
“We can’t make decisions that are based on facts, so I think that’s a big fear factor,” she said.
Heather Ettinger, of Noel, demanded a commitment to testing the soil around the containment ponds.
“When they tell you that there is a problem, that one of the water tanks is leaking, your comment — we don’t know if we’ll test the water or not — is unacceptable,” Ettinger began.
“You represent us. If there is a problem, your answer should say “Ya, we’re going to get that tested right away’ because it will help you down the road protect somebody else at least… there’s no protection there for us because we’re the guinea pigs.”
Ettinger inspired an enthusiastic round of applause when she said concerned voters deserve definitive answers.
“We want to hear that you’re going to do something for us; that’s why we’re here today,” she said.
“Our answer is we will test it,” Bennett said.