Andrew Nikiforuk knows her story quite well, from the account of Jessica Ernst’s fight for justice in his book, Slick Water, which was published in 2015, and won the National Society in Science Award from the U.S. National Association of Science Writers in 2016.
“After 14 years of battling Alberta regulators and the fracking industry over a water well contaminated with methane and chemicals, Jessica Ernst says she feels incalculable grief and anger. On April 1, 2021, her tortuous legal crusade — which included a controversial detour to the Supreme Court of Canada — came to an end with no resolution. What one Alberta lawyer dubbed “the legal saga of the decade” is over. Court of Queen’s Bench Judge J.T. Eamon accepted applications from Encana and the Alberta government to dismiss the case due to inactivity on the file for three years.”
“The former oil-patch consultant went on gruelling speaking tours organized by community groups in Ireland, England, New York, Nova Scotia, Yukon and Newfoundland to inform citizens about the realities of fracking. Almost every jurisdiction she visited ended up banning fracking or putting a moratorium on the highly disruptive technology.
Her legal case also played an indirect role in driving a $10-million water piping project to communities whose aquifers had been heavily impacted by shallow fracking and other issues in Alberta’s Wheatland County. The project, funded by taxpayers, has delivered safe water to the Albertan communities of Redland, Rosebud and others where extensive fracking changed both well water quality and supply more than a decade ago. “I consider that water project a much greater vindication of my lawsuit than anything that could have happened in court,” said Ernst, who lives outside Rosebud hamlet, and was not provided safe water.
Ernst’s protracted battle began in 2001 when Encana, then one of the most powerful corporations in Canada, and several other energy companies drilled and fracked thousands of shallow wells in coal-bed methane and sand formations around central Alberta. That activity — what industry called “carpet bombing” — was followed by hundreds of complaints about dramatic changes in groundwater quality and quantity throughout the region.
Ernst’s initial objections to fracking near her home in Rosebud raised many eyebrows. For starters, the regulator didn’t like industry critics, and the oil-patch environmental consultant was well known. The scientist even cancelled her work with Encana, then a major client, to prove her displeasure with the company’s conduct. After her own well water was contaminated with explosive volumes of methane and other chemicals, she eventually decided to sue Encana, the Alberta government and the oil and gas regulator, then known as the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board, for gross negligence.
The landmark case attracted global attention for several reasons. It happened just at the beginning of North America’s contentious shale gas boom and fracking revolution. Her $33-million lawsuit also effectively put the technology of hydraulic fracturing on public trial — a development neither the Alberta government nor industry wanted or welcomed.”
In Jessica’s May 19 blog post, we see scores of reader comments that were left below the Nikiforuk story in the Tyee.
Comments below Andrew Nikiforuk’s story included these:
From Rosebud, Alberta: “Oh man you’ve gone through a lot, thank you for your fight for safe drinking water in our town, and so so much more.”
From Ontario: “Gandhi thought that in the end tyrants always fall….I sure hope so.”
From Alberta: “The storm you’ve been through is something right out of Tolkein that I can’t even imagine. Love and Hugs.”
From British Columbia: “poor Jessica… she’s a prophetess. Prophets never win against their opponents… but they save their souls in the process. My hat is off to you , Jessica , and I bow to the truth that stands where you stand. I hope you can feel the blessing from another world , where you belong. Thank you , Jessica , on behalf of the mute , the invisible, the many poor voiceless sisters and brothers… We always felt the way you do , but didn’t think we could make a difference … but you did. ‘When injustice becomes law , the just become outlaws.’
From Nova Scotia: “Jessica, I am devastated for you. You are my hero none the less! Your courage and perseverance is unmatched and I am so grateful for the attention you brought to the fracking outrage. I hope you are well in other ways and I send my love to you.”
From the U.S.A.: “Jessica, This is a heartbreaking conclusion to your incredible work. I want to thank you for taking on this goliath at incredible personal cost. I wish your legal case had a different outcome, and trust you know that your work has inspired and supported so many people around the world. With deep respect and gratitude.”
From Ireland: “The case was important but what you have achieved while fighting it is so much bigger than even the oil and gas industry in Canada. People weren’t really following the case Jessica. They were following you. Your testimony about what happened to you and more importantly how you fought back despite the size and powerful nature of the oil and gas industry has awakened and inspired communities around the world. You’ve managed to do that at scale. I remember Tamboran’s CEO making a comment that there was only one woman in Canada that didn’t like the [frac] industry. He forgot to mention how powerful you are.”
From Wales: “Hi Jessica, I just wanted to send some love and solidarity for everything you’ve gone through. We managed to get fracking (as good as) banned in Wales, and the work you did made a contribution to our battle. And although the conclusion is lunsatosfactory from a legal point of view I’m glad the ordeal is over for you. Love and peace.”
From New York: “What a horror story. You have my utmost respect and deepest gratitude. Solidarity from New York City.”
From British Columbia: “That was a good article on you by Andrew in the Tyee. Indeed, you won in the realm of public opinion despite the corruption in our political and legal systems. You remain an admirable symbol of dedication and conscience in all who know you.”
From the U.S.A.: “Jessica, Just seeing this and am at a loss for words. I… feel it hard to breathe while reading Andrew’s (as always) eloquence of reveal of all your struggles. Your quote below says it all. QUOTE: “The oil and gas industry can break the law. Their regulator can violate the law and punish those harmed. And it is all supported by a legal industry that enables the abuse while punishing harmed citizens, dragging them through the courts and taking their money. It’s a dirty system, and that’s my summation.” END QUOTE
BUT for us that call you hero, your extensive wins in the court of public opinion and your extensive worldwide outreach has provided for the protection of so many others —and Mother Nature. You remain part of the struggle and I stay tuned for your next move and how to support you and all of us in the down and dirty of exposing the truth. With love and so much respect and gratitude.”
From Michigan: “Oh, Jess, this is just terrible. I read the article out loud to… I can’t believe that Klippenstein bailed on you like that!!! Jess, people donated to you because they wanted to support you. It’s not your fault that the lawyers left the case and left you high and dry. More than that, how are you doing financially? Do you still have your home? Are you able to accept donations now?”
Jessica replied: “Yes, I still have my home, frac’d as it is (I hauled water yesterday and unloaded it to compressor noise assaulting me). In writing in 2019, Klippenstein even threatened me with losing my home by the defendants taking it in costs, if I didn’t let him “wind” my case down, which shocked me to my core and which I will never forgive. Yes, I can accept donations (two came in winter, that I will not deposit), but I won’t – in good conscience. For those that want to donate to me, use the money instead to help provide drinking water to frac harmed families elsewhere and or to work keeping frac’ing out of your community. Thank you!”
Back to Bob’s comments:
On her web site, Jessica shares these photos with the caption: “This is how Encana gets rid of its waste in my community.”