By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION–Environmental concerns are beginning to bubble to the surface in the wake of SWN Resources Canada’s shale gas exploration work and some New Brunswickers are turning to the Mi’kmaq for help.
One couple, living on the outskirts of Moncton, saw the sudden appearance of coliform bacteria in their well water after SWN’s thumper trucks rumbled across their front door. Near Rogersville, a senior citizen, in his 70s, discovered water bubbling up through a seismic testing shot-hole in the bush behind his property.
Both reached out to the Mi’kmaq battling it out on the highway with SWN.
Roger Pierskalla, who lives with his wife along Hwy 126 near Moncton, said a company hired by SWN to conduct the well water tests after the thumper trucks rolled by phoned to tell them they should immediately boil their water before drinking and contact the regional health inspector’s office.
Tests results showed his well water had three units of total coliform forming colonies per 100 ml, far above the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines’ maximum acceptable standard of zero. While coliform bacteria may not pose an immediate threat, it can indicate the presence of other dangerous microorganisms. The drinking water guidelines are set by a federal-provincial-territorial committee.
“I was upset, this is our lifeline, you can’t live without water. In one form or another, you need water,” said Pierskalla, 68.
Then he received a letter from Stantec.
“Based on this detection, we recommend you boil your drinking/cooking water or sued bottled water until the issue had been addressed,” said the letter, dated July 25.
Pierskalla’s water was tested twice, once in April 2012 and in the same month the following year. The tests were both conducted by Fredericton-based Stantec, which had been hired by SWN to conduct the sampling. In both those tests, Pierskalla’s well water came back with zero total coliform forming colonies.
When Stantec tested the well water again on July 23, 2013, after thumper trucks had rolled across Peirskalla’s front door, the results showed the presence of the bacteria. He was forced to shock chlorinate his well. He also called the regional provincial health department’s regional health protection office, which did not call back to follow up.
“That never went anywhere after that. Nobody came out to check anything or do anything since,” said Pierskalla.
Pierskalla’s wife recently got in touch with people in Elsipogtog saying she had proof that the thumper trucks had ruined their water.
“They are part of our land here, they look after our land,” said Pierskalla, who traces his ancestry to Wabanaki Confederacy chiefs. “We have proof that these things do create changes in our water, we have it here…this their testing and this is their results.”
About 80 km north up and off Hwy 126 near Rogersville, a 75-year-old man was recently walking through the bush behind his property when he noticed a swamp had sprung up from nowhere. He noticed that the water was bubbling up from a hole in the ground beneath a tree tacked with a metal plate indicating it was one of SWN’s exploration lines.
The hole, called a shot-hole, was drilled by SWN contractor Geokinetics as part of seismic exploration work using explosives. The company drills holes then fills them with explosives. Data is then gathered off the detonation.
The man, who did not want to be identified, reached out to his friends who knew people in the Mi’kmaq-led anti-fracking camp. Samples have since been taken to a lab for testing.
APTN National News visited the site and water was clearly bubbling to the surface, creating a mini-swamp which had an oily sheen in some.
According to Maxime Daigle, a former oil and gas worker with experience across Western Canada and the U.S., the drill likely punctured through into an aquifer and the company failed to properly seal it.
“It’s disrupting the aquifer flows that people are depending on to get their water supplies for their house,” said Daigle, wearing rubber boots and standing ankle-deep in the water and muck.
He said the aquifer was now at risk of contamination.
“You pump down the bentonite and hope for the best and as you can see it’s not working,” said Daigle, who has been deeply involved with the Mi’kmaq in opposing shale gas exploration.
Bentonite is a type of clay used to seal shot-holes.
Pierskalla, who works at a call-centre, said he doesn’t believe the risk posed by eventual shale gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is worth the money it’ll potentially bring the province.
“If we have this kind of change in my water here, this is going to affect the water from all of this province and if there is no water to drink in this province, people are going to be leaving anyway,” said Pierskalla. “I don’t see where there is a profit here…I only see negatives”