Jessica Ernstâ€™s water emits bubbles and hisses, sends out a thick cloud, and ignites when near a fire source, such as a lit match, says the Canadian Press. The news source described Ms. Ernst, who blames nearby fracking operations for her water woes, filling a water cooler bottle with plain water from her garden hose as a sort of science experiment or magic trick in which a lit match causes a loud â€œpoofâ€ and, then, a blue flame.
“I’ve done that hundreds, probably thousands, of times and I can’t help but move,” she said, the Canadian Press quoted. The second time, she reveals a longer, yellow flame. “I might just have to take this act on the road to pay for my legal fees,” she joked.
Ernst filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against energy-giant EnCana, Alberta Environment and the Energy Resources Conservation Board. She accuses the company of negligence and unlawful activities, said the Canadian Press. Ernst, 54, is an environmental consultant for the oil and gas industry and says her water has been tainted as a result of fracking performed at shallow gas wells drilled in the Rosebud area eight years prior.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is an environmentally menacing shale gas extraction process that involves a cocktail of fluids, including chemicals, that are injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits. With the exception of diesel fuel, companies in the United States are not required to disclose chemicals used in fracking fluid because of a loophole in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
Earlier this year, a report compiled by Democratic congressional staffers found that millions of gallons of dangerous chemicals, some cancer causing, were shot into wells in over 13 states during fracking activities from 2005 to 2009. According to the report, a number of frackers acknowledged injecting a total of 10 million gallons of â€œstraight diesel fuelâ€ during fracking, and another 22 million gallons of fracking fluid containing at least 30 percent diesel without having received permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The 2010 documentary film, â€œGasland,â€ showed how the drilling of natural gas is affecting communities in the US. “It’s a mainstay of the industry,” says Mike Dawson, president of the Canadian Society for Unconventional Gas, quoted the Canadian Press. “The low-hanging fruit is gone from many of the oil and gas opportunities and so companies are now focusing their efforts on less productive wells. They require hydraulic fracturing,” Dawson added.
Ernst began noticing issues in 2004, including skin rashes and skin cracks and whistling noises from her water taps. She discovered that her water was contaminated with methane gas after having it tested. “The tap in the kitchenâ€”there was so much gas coming out of it, I couldn’t close it. I actually had to go to the barn and turn my well off in order to be able to close the tap,” the Canadian Press quoted. Ernst learned about gas well drilling in the Rosebud area where she lives and said she “started putting two and two together,” the Canadian Press quoted.
Ben Parfitt, a researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said “The question is whether or not the appearance of gas at high levels in her water was linked in some way to the escalation in industry fracking activities,” quoted the Canadian Press, which explained that Parfitt authored a University of Torontoâ€™s Munk School of Global Affairs-commissioned fracking report. Says Parfitt, where there is fracking there have been “significant problemsâ€¦. The incredible force that is required in these fracking operations is opening up channels in underground formations in ways that the industry either couldn’t foresee or didn’t foresee,” quoted the Canadian Press. “You’ll end up with cracks and contamination corridors that allow for gas to migrate, that allow for contaminated water to migrate, that allow for the sand used in the fracking process to migrate. That’s what gives rise to situations that Jessica Ernst and others are encountering,” Parfitt added.
Some gas producers tout the benefits of this practice as enabling the US to tap into its natural resources and improve the economy with an influx of jobs and money; the dangers and catastrophic consequences of this toxic process that decimates human, wildlife, atmospheric, and aquatic environments and health are typically ignored.