‘Turning a blind eye:’ Oilpatch impacts concern mayor of Alberta town

By on January 14, 2016


Jim Ahn, Mayor of Fox Creek, Atlanta (Photo courtesy of Town of Fox Creek website)
Jim Ahn, Mayor of Fox Creek, Atlanta
(Photo courtesy of Town of Fox Creek website)

FOX CREEK, Alta.—The mayor of an Alberta town in an area of heavy hydraulic fracking is expressing concern over the oil industry’s impact after yet another earthquake hit his community.

“Fox Creek town council is very concerned,” Jim Ahn wrote in a letter to reporters Wednesday. “It seems industry and the provincial government have been turning a blind eye as to what has been going on in our area.”

Fox Creek, a resource town that relies on oil, gas and forestry for its jobs, was hit Tuesday by a quake that measured 4.8 on the Richter scale—big enough to rumble buildings and shake pictures on the wall and count as the strongest ever recorded in Alberta.

It was the town’s 367th seismic event since January 2015.

The Alberta Energy Regulator hasn’t definitively linked the activity to the amount of fracking in the area, but it has implemented special regulations and is conducting research.

Earthquakes aren’t the only thing Ahn is concerned about.

“We have industry pulling water from our rivers, streams and lakes at rates we feel far exceed their capabilities to replenish themselves,” he wrote. “We do not want to be left with swamps that were once prize trophy lakes.”

The town has had to spend $300,000 to truck in water after levels in the aquifers it normally depends on fell too low, said Ahn. It has received whistleblower reports of drilling rig leaks that could affect Fox Creek’s water supply and received contradictory messages from those involved.

In an interview, Ahn said the town’s frustration is mostly with the regulator for, too often, not telling Fox Creek about what’s going on.

“They just leave us in the dark.”

When the regulator does communicate, it doesn’t consider the realities of a small town, the mayor suggested.

Council must apply—and pay—to get specifics on who’s drilling for what, and where. The regulator approves water withdrawal licences and gives the town—which has a volunteer council that meets twice a month—10 days to respond, Ahn said. And when it does, it’s ignored.

“Even if we oppose the application, it still goes through.”

Fox Creek is trying to sell itself as a good place to start a business and raise a family and news about well blowouts and earthquakes doesn’t help, Ahn said.

“We have spent millions of dollars to try and attract people to come here … what we do not need is negative headlines.”

Ahn said council has invited Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to visit the town and speak with council about its concerns. Notley has not yet replied, he said.

Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd said in a statement late Wednesday afternoon that she will be in touch with Ahn to discuss his concerns and how they can be addressed.

“Families in Alberta expect our energy resources to be extracted safely and sustainably. When this seismic event was recorded, operations ceased immediately. This was done in direct response to seismic activity regulations that the AER has in place. Companies in the area know these regulations well and co-operated willingly,” she said.

An AER spokeswoman said in a statement that the town’s water level concerns should be addressed by Alberta Environment and Parks.

“The AER responds to all stakeholder concerns, including those of municipalities, ensuring accurate and timely information is provided as soon as it is available. For example, implementing Subsurface Order #2, and the traffic light protocol last year, was a direct and swift response to an issue that we saw needed addressing specifically in the Fox Creek area,” the statement said.