Fracking’s impacts on Alberta farming families: Lost hair, dead cows
Read this Oct. 21 feature from TheTyee.ca, examining the real world impacts of shale oil fracking on farming families in Alberta.
Nielle and Howard Hawkwood do not welcome the west wind at their 40-year-old cattle ranch just north of Cochrane in the foothills of the Rockies anymore.
The polite couple, whose family has farmed in the region for 100 years, will tell you why with a quiet sense of disappointment and an uncomfortable clarity.
The west wind now often carries flared-off pollutants from many of the 70 tight or shale oil wells in the region. All use the controversial technology of hydraulic fracturing with horizontal wellbores to access unconventional hydrocarbons in the nearby, booming Cardium tight oil play.
“It’s an absolute disaster,” says Nielle Hawkwood, a 64-year-old retired speech and language pathologist. “It’s a public health disaster. It’s an environmental disaster. It’s a disaster for future generations. And it’s very, very difficult to come out and say that when some members of the community are gaining income from this.”
Her 58-year-old husband, Howard, just calls it “the wild, wild west. There is no one to police it or investigate it.”
Driven by royalty holidays, low-cost water and high oil prices, about a half-dozen Calgary-based oil companies — including Lightstream Resources (formerly PetroBakken) Pengrowth Energy, TriOil and Tamarack Valley Energy — rushed into the foothills north of Cochrane just five years ago and started a drilling and fracking frenzy.
Using large volumes of municipal water, sand and fracking chemicals — including gelled hydrocarbons such as diesel fuel, condensate and kerosene — the companies have drilled down into a 2,000 metre deep formation. They blast the deep rock with highly pressurized fluids horizontally, up to two to five kilometres from the vertical well. Each well can require as many as 25 high-pressured fracture jobs to break up the concrete-like formation which is riddled with natural fractures.