ALEX McCUAIG, Medicine Hat News, April 18 2012
An outspoken critic of coalbed methane fracking has won a comprehensive and long fought decision for the release of information regarding the natural gas recovery practice.
Rosebud resident Jessica Ernst launched a freedom of information (FOIP) request in 2008 for water well data after she claims her well water became contaminated by fracking activity near her residence.
The privacy commissioner's decision released Monday states Alberta Innovates — formerly the Alberta Research Council (ARC) — "had not established that it had exercised its discretion reasonably when it elected to withhold information."
The adjudicator ordered the release of information pertaining to reports done by ARC related to groundwater contamination by coalbed methane development in Wheatland County.
Arguments made by Alberta Innovates to retain the information as private, part of trade secrets or as matters harmful to economic interests were categorically denied by the adjudicator.
The adjudicator also ordered the refund of more than $4,000 paid by Ernst for the FOIP request.
"It is a strongly worded order," said Alberta Innovates spokesperson Rob Semeniuk, "we have received it and reviewed it and will fully comply."
He added that there will be disclosure of the information requested along with a full refund of the money paid by Ernst.
Ernst has toured communities in several provinces and countries speaking out on fracking practices. She has also filed a $30 million lawsuit against EnCana, Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) and the Alberta government, claiming they were responsible for contaminating her water supply.
Those allegations have not been proven in court.
In a telephone interview from Prince Albert where she's speaking against fracking activities, Ernst said she was surprised as anyone of the order out of the privacy commissioner's office.
"It not only rules in my favour, it goes way beyond — I'm speechless," said Ernst.
"It is a powerful ruling for all Albertans and mostly for the little ordinary ones because for decades now the landowners that suffer the abuses, pollution and noise on their land have done so quietly and in pain... This ruling shows this has got to stop."
Ernst said the reason for her request is to attempt to prove a conflict of interest existed in a 2008 ARC review of methane contamination complaints in the Rosebud area.
That report concluded methane occurrences in the aquifer was due to natural causes.
"I did that FOIP not for me but I did it for all Albertans," said Ernst.
And she added she is not going to stop requesting data that she believes will show fracking activities is causing issues with the province's ground water supply and aquifers.
"This is billions of dollars at stake. If word gets out that fracking is contaminating water all around the world, all Hell is going to break loose," said Ernst.
A webpage on EnCana's website dedicated to addressing the concerns raised by Ernst states the company is committed to addressing stakeholders concern.
"Encana firmly believes Ms. Ernst's claims are not supported by the facts and her lawsuit is without merit," the webpage reads.