Fracking review urged after well blowout

Tuesday, Jan 24, 2012 06:00 am | VICTORIA PATERSON
Submitted photo
Submitted photo
Workers clean up at the site of the oil well blowout that occured near Gleniffer Lake on Jan. 13.
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The oil well blowout that occurred near Gleniffer Lake on Jan. 13 has the Alberta NDP’s environment critic calling for a study on hydraulic fracturing safety.

“Premier (Alison) Redford and her Conservative government must immediately commit to an independent, transparent scientific review of the practice,” said Rachel Notley in a press release reacting to the blowout, during which fluid was sprayed into the air.

“The expert group made responsible for the review should be made to include recommendations on the need for a full or partial moratorium in the course of their study,” she said.

Notley argued that the Progressive Conservatives in conjunction with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers are trying to “sell Albertans on the ‘commercial potential’ of hydraulic fracturing” while other places are studying the safety of the process.

“It’s time for the Government of Alberta to remember who it represents – Albertans – not the oil and gas industry,” she said.

Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Luke Ouellette was not available for comment.

Bob McManus, a spokesperson for Alberta Energy, noted the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) has “stringent regulations” and is always reviewing different technologies.

“In that sense there’s an ongoing study,” he said.

“We don’t yet know exactly what happened,” McManus said of the local incident.

The well blowout occurred about 25 kilometres west of Innisfail, half a kilometre southwest of where the Red Deer River flows into Gleniffer Lake.

According to ERCB spokesperson Darin Barter, two wells came into contact with each other and that caused the blowout.

He said a hydraulic multi-stage frac being operated by Midway Energy Ltd. appeared to have impacted a nearby oil well operated by Wild Stream Exploration Ltd. Both companies are based in Calgary.

Barter said the situation caused a release of fracturing fluids, including crude oil, frac oil, water and sand. He said something underground put the two wells in contact with each other.

Barter said it was a “unique” situation, which was echoed by Cara Tobin, another ERCB spokesperson during a followup interview.

Tobin said there had been four other incidents with hydraulic fracs since 2005 that the ERCB is aware of, but added that’s in comparison to 167,000 hydraulic wells that are being operated.

“That’s a very rare occurrence,” Tobin said.

When asked about the NDP call for a study on the safety of hydraulic fracturing wells, she made the same observation as McManus that the ERCB has regulations no matter which technology is being used.

“The ECRB has very robust regulations,” Tobin said.

She said the five incidents involving hydraulic wells, including the Gleniffer Lake blowout, are being studied by the ECRB.

There is an investigation of the Gleniffer Lake blowout being done by the ECRB that Tobin said won’t be complete for some time yet.

She said some misting did occur but an environmental company had been out to the site and said there wouldn’t be an adverse effect on the vegetation affected by the blowout, which she said was mostly “hardy” poplar trees.

“The low temperatures were actually quite helpful,” Tobin said, adding that because the ground was frozen the fluids weren’t able to seep into the soil.

“The majority of the spill is already cleaned up,” she said.


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