Below is a recent story published in the Camrose Booster on the Alberta Voices project. Check out the story for an update on what we’ve been up to!
AlbertaVoices research will be shared in the fall
AlbertaVoices will be heard on the subject of fracking. Ever since a conference on fracking was held in Camrose, several local university graduates were determined to examine the problems more closely.
The group’s aim is to give voice to those with troubling experiences with hydraulic fracturing in this province. Landowners’ opinions are being heard through film and online, starting in the fall. “It is interesting to see how the oil and gas industry view hydraulic fracturing differently than landowners,” said Rajan Rathnavalu, of AlbertaVoices. “The government and industry are pretty consistent in messaging that it is very safe. In hearing lots of stories from landowners who say otherwise, we wanted to get the word out. Landowners are at a disadvantage at getting the voice out against industry and government.”
The AlbertaVoices crew includes former University of Alberta, Augustana campus students Hans Asfeldt, Alison Bortolon, Rajan Rathnavalu and professor Dittmar Mundel.
“We wanted to provide a voice and forum where landowners can share their stories and opinions. It helps other people understand that fracking an be dangerous for our water and all life,” said Rajan. “We want more awareness of what is happing in the ground. We applied for some funding and we received help from people in Camrose to gather stories (mainly Hans and Alison) and share tem online for others to view.”
The videos and stories will be available online starting in September.
“We’ve been to landowners’ places in Camrose, Ponoka, Cochrane and Athabasca. We are all humans and we have to share the Earth. That brought reality for us when people showed us their contaminated water. People have to bring in water to drink, shower and give to their animals,” said Alison. “One that I learned about is how the flaring that takes place causes respiratory problems. Some days in Cochrane it is a struggle to just walk outdoors.”
Alison has found water contamination, respiratory problems, hair loss in women and full body rashes from places close to where fracking has occurred.
The landowner’s solution is just to get away some days. “My passion and interest in the AlbertaVoices project is inspired through being able to be a window to share the voices of those affected in hydraulic fracturing, and being able to share their human experience,” said Alison.
Themogenic gas has been found deep in the ground. It comes up because it is being drilled. “It doesn’t come up naturally. There is themogenic gas in their water. There doesn’t seem to be a commitment to finding out who has done it. When the government investigates, they only check a few wells and some are a considerable distance from the farm,” said Rajan. “Then they conclude that it is inconclusive.”
Rajan wants others to avoid fracking by talking about the problems. “My research related to fracking arises from my concern for how we treat each other and the world around us and my belief that, if a community works together, anything can be accomplished,” said Rajan. “Industry doesn’t want to be proved as the bad guy and government receives a lot of revenue, so they don’t want to be as well. The government regulatory system is biased towards industry.”
Rajan is looking for a commitment to understanding what is happening first. “We can start with baseline testing. It is not that expensive to do rigorous baseline testing. Then you can determine conclusively what are the effects of gas, or where it comes from,” explained Rajan. “Secondly, we need a commitment for transparency. When you test for water, you have to test for specific chemicals. If you don’t know what you are testing for, it’s like shooting an arrow in the dark.”
The third factor is a commitment to fairness. “It is clear in talking to landowners that the government is in favour of industry. Is that the truth? Well according to landowners it is,” added Rajan. “The government will say there have been 170,000 wells fracked without incident. But, in even their own records they admit some problems. They admit it in public and do not even honour what they know. Without transparency, fairness and honesty we don’t have any to protect our water.”
Neighbours must stay united. “Landowners can say no, but if the neighbour beside them says yes, then they can drill and they can’t do anything about it,” said Alison. “Landowners feel like they are backed into a corner, especially if they don’t have the mineral rights. People feel trapped and helpless.”
Rajan said landowners must put certain conditions into the land lease agreement. “You can ask for baseline testing and where they place the wells. It is increasingly harder to say no fracking,” he added.
“Flaring is a problem because it causes health issues,” said Alison. “We talked to a farmer who lost nine animals. If the animals get sick, then it gets into the food system in our beef, chicken, milk and pork.”
AlbertaVoices wants to report its findings on its website, so everyone can share members’ opinions. “With pipelines, Germany has a higher standard than what we have here. We need to learn from others,” added Rajan.
The group is currently in an editing phase to add the information to the website. “We also welcome others to add their stories and write in,” said Rajan. “We want to start the conversation about fracking.”
AlbertaVoices is funded primarily by the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life. The Ronning Centre and its private donors have generously made this project possible by providing honorariums to Hans and Alison for their work over the summer.