ROSEBUD, ALBERTA -- (Marketwire) -- 01/17/13 -- Jessica Ernst, a 55-year-old oil and gas industry consultant and scientist from Rosebud, Alberta, returns to court this Friday to continue her multi-million dollar lawsuit against EnCana, one of the continent's largest unconventional gas producers, for negligence causing water contamination.
Her landmark lawsuit also alleges that the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), the province's energy regulator, breached her Charter Rights and failed to "exercise a reasonable standard of care, skill and diligence in taking reasonable and adequate steps to protect her well water from foreseeable contamination caused by drilling for shallow methane gas."
Recent Court of Appeal decisions show the ERCB has a history of not upholding its own laws and even the Royal Society of Canada chided the agency for a 2007 incident in which the regulator spied on landowners and damaged "its credibility as an independent quasi-judicial board."
In a court document filed on December 5/2012, the ERCB argues that it is exempt from liability for its actions in the Ernst case and that it owes no "duty of care" to landowners impacted by oil and gas development.
"I suspect that most Albertans will be shocked to learn that the province's oil and gas regulator is arguing that it is totally immune from legal accountability even if there is gross negligence and incompetence," says Murray Klippenstein, lawyer for Jessica Ernst.
Last December, an ERCB investigation found a company guilty of "accidentally" perforating above the Base of Groundwater Protection and contaminating groundwater near Grand Prairie but issued no fine saying the incident "posed an insignificant risk to drinking water resources" in a sandstone aquifer. One third of Alberta's population is dependent on groundwater for drinking purposes.
During the last decade, EnCana perforated and fractured hundreds of gas wells above the Base of Groundwater Protection at Rosebud. The regulators continue to allow EnCana to do this.
In December 2012, only after about 171,000 energy wells were already fractured in Alberta, did the ERCB release draft regulations.
The $33-million lawsuit effectively puts on trial the practice and regulation of hydraulic fracturing: the controversial blasting of both shallow and deep coal, tight sands, oil and shale formations with toxic chemicals, sand and water.
Neither EnCana nor the Alberta regulators have yet filed statements of defence in response to Ms. Ernst's lawsuits regarding complaints of water contamination that took place nine years ago.
EnCana, whose CEO abruptly resigned last week, has been the subject of many recent public controversies. It remains the subject of a major US government groundwater study in Pavillion, Wyoming linking hydraulic fracturing to aquifer contamination as well as an ongoing antitrust investigation in Michigan for allegedly colluding with Chesapeake Energy to keep land prices low.
EnCana received record fines from Colorado's Oil and Gas Commission for contaminating water in 2004.
For more information: www.ernstversusencana.ca/the-lawsuit.
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