Marcellus Shale

Ernst to God, “Canada’s Lying!”

Last week I attended a presentation in Ithaca, New York, Tompkins County. The Unitarian Church in Ithaca hosted Jessica Ernst of Alberta, Canada to come in and speak to the public on her experience with the natural gas industry in Canada. Tony Ingraffea also spoke briefly, introducing Ernst.  It proved to be quite a revealing experience and offers some real insight into the rise and fall of the anti-natural gas movement.Setting the tone, the woman introducing both Ingraffea and Ernst asked the audience for donations to pay for their travel expenses imploring everyone to contribute by suggesting the largest donation each member could make the better. She then threw in a plug for wind energy and Ingraffea took over from there.

Tony Ingraffea Gives His 2¢ (About What It Was Worth)

Yes, you heard it correctly, right from Tony Ingraffea’s mouth: “Dish, Texas – Dryden, New York – Dimock, Pennsylvania!” Ingraffea asked the audience what these have in common. One audience member mentioned contamination, and away he went, which just proves how much the audience really knew about natural gas exploration. Dryden, New York has never seen a horizontal natural gas well and has actually put a natural gas ban in place, which is now a subject of litigation at the New York State Appellate Division.

He never got into any detail, other than to say these people shouldn’t back down from their stand on natural gas, in a transparent attempt to fire up the crowd. He described what natural gas exploration means to him and then just touched on what Ernst was going to cover in her presentation.  All in all it was a bit like a high school pep rally for the main event to follow.

Lawsuits Help Activists Go the Distance

Let’s begin with the background. Ernst is from Canada, Rosebud to be exact. In Canada, individual home owners do not own their mineral rights, the Canadian government does. This is where it all gets confusing! Ernst is suing EnCana (a gas company), the Alberta Canadian government, and the energy regulator. You can view Ernst’s presentation below.

Jessica Ernst

While Ernst’s presentation is a little difficult to follow, the main concept was her complete lack of trust in anyone at at all. She asserts, without evidence, her water well was contaminated by natural gas exploration in shallow coal bed methane formations.  However, it was high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale, that was, supposedly, the subject being discussed and which attracted the crowd. The relevance of coal bed methane development to New York’s discussion on permitting of Marcellus Shale wells escaped me. Especially considering we don’t have any coal bed methane deposits in our state. But, I digress.

Strangely, Ernst noted the government had suggested she had access to records and potentially could have manipulated them as she pleased, especially given that she worked in the oil and gas field for decades.  Whether this is true or not, and I have no idea, it must take a lot for a government to suggest something of this magnitude and it was puzzling to hear Ernst herself discuss it.  Apparently, after the government, and EnCana, worked with her on several occasions, they actually banished Ernst because she was so difficult.  It was all so unusual and made me wonder how much more there must be to this woman’s story.

Several of her slides were far too small to even read and she skipped through many during her presentation. She stated several times the regulations in Alberta were beyond the best in the world. She said over 50 delegations from across the globe have visited Alberta to learn how the Energy Research Conservation Board regulates the industry.  Listening to her it’s nearly impossible to say the ERCB is incompetent, yet that’s what she later implies. Given the implied claim, let’s detour quickly and take a look at some quick facts and figures regarding recent compliance in Alberta!

2010 Compliance Statistics
Inspections and audits: 18,575
Compliance rate: 98.6% (a record high number)
Number of operations shut down: 62

Now that you’ve watched her presentation and checked out the numbers above, click here to see what the ERCB had to say about Rosebud, Alberta, Canada. It’s a very interesting study if you have a few moments to read through it, especially its conclusions. Here is the overall conclusion:

The Alberta Research Council’s overall of the evidence from the reviews of the AENV and AEUB files, along with a new review and evaluation of additional data and aspects, is that the energy development projects in the areas most likely have not adversely affected the complainant water wells.

Hmm…  There seems to be a disconnect in what Ernst alleges.

She also implied people in America would never see a penny from the natural gas industry. Clearly, she has her facts on this wrong as well!  See any number of our blog posts for the rebuttal on that absurd claim, including here, here and here.

Most of her extremely long presentation was focused on her opinions, as she targeted EnCana, but her  presentation implied it all could happen anywhere to anyone, like someone claiming to have been abducted by aliens and screaming “they could come after you, too.”  EnCana responded to Ernst which is summarized in this article. Here’s an excerpt from the statement with the Alberta Research Council (ARC)’s findings on the situation in Rosebud (emphasis added).

In response to public concern from individuals in the Rosebud area, Alberta Environment retained the Alberta Research Council (ARC), now Alberta Innovates, to complete a groundwater investigation. Encana co-operated fully with both Alberta Environment and ARC and provided them with all available information. When the investigation was completed in January 2008, Alberta Environment released a report showing the water wells were not affected by CBM development. Rather, the quality issues were predominantly due to naturally occurring methane, poor water well construction and maintenance issues.

Now, it was, indeed, starting to sound a little more like Dimock, so maybe Tony Ingraffea was correct – these false accusations pop up everywhere only to be found groundless later when science catches up to to the baseless claims of natural gas critics.  Natural gas exploration is happening all over the United States and there is still not a single proven case of hydraulic fracturing polluting a water supply, as we have pointed out numerous times.  But, hey, do facts matter.  Not if your Jessica Ernst.

Question and Can’t Answer Session

The final part of this meeting was the question and answer section. It was apparent the entire audience, which was packed full of anti-natural gas activists, was disappointed in the answers Ernst gave to their questions.

One audience member asked Ernst how many people were getting sick and dying from the water in Alberta,  yes that’s right dying.  Turns out this was a very typical question from this crowd. Ernst answered there hadn’t been any reports yet because it had only been one decade.  Ernst is, essentially, saying “just wait a little longer, the problem is right over the next hill.” The crowd in the back seat wasn’t impressed.

It was fairly obvious the crowd was upset with the answer.  Ernst was asked if she had seen any disease spring up from contamination there.  Astonishingly, she mentioned Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Crohn’s Disease.  MS is described as follows:

“Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects women more than men. The disorder is most commonly diagnosed between ages 20 and 40, but can be seen at any age. MS is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this nerve covering is damaged, nerve signals slow down or stop.

The nerve damage is caused by inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the body’s own immune cells attack the nervous system. This can occur along any area of the brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord. It is unknown what exactly causes this to happen. The most common thought is that a virus or gene defect, or both, are to blame. Environmental factors may play a role. You are slightly more likely to get this condition if you have a family history of MS or live in an part of the world where MS is more common.”

While this description mentions environmental factors may play a role, the context is to suggest there are certain parts of the world where this is more common.  There is no implication natural gas exploration has anything whatsoever to do with the disease.

As for Crohn’s Disease:

“The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. It is an autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder is a condition that occurs when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue.”

You can view the whole question and answer segment below.

It’s difficult to find words to ascribe to Ernst’s suggestion natural gas development could cause these serious diseases, about which the the world’s scientists say they can’t determine the cause. “Shameless” doesn’t seem to be adequate in this instance.  She claims Canada lies, Encana lies and everyone else but her lies and yet spews the most ridiculous statements imaginable.  There’s something wrong, very wrong, in this woman’s presentation.

Ernst seemed extremely unorganized and even paranoid.  That’s a strong assertion, I know, but I was there. I know what I saw and when a person stoops to blaming MS on natural gas because there’s no proof of anything else, well, let’s just say the proof is in the pudding.  The question and answer segment proved to be very frustrating to our anti-natural gas friends when they didn’t receive the answers they wanted to hear. It yielded a complete unraveling of the Ernst narrative and I suspect no one is going to rely upon her as a credible source, at least no one who doesn’t claim to have been abducted by aliens.

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