Fracking: Canada’s top court to review Alberta’s duty to citizens

Gas flare from drill rig near a home in Hythe, Alberta, Photo by Greg Locke © 2009

Gas flare from drill rig near a home in Hythe, Alberta. Photo by Greg Locke © 2009

By Chris Wood

Does a Canadian provincial government have any responsibility to protect your natural security? Nope. Nada. Rien. It can pretty much do as it likes, wrecking your water and any other part of the environment that it likes in the process. And you can just go pound sand.

That, in non-legal language, was pretty much what an Alberta Court ruled in the case of Jessica Ernst, a former oilfield biologist who lost the use of the water wells on her small ranch east of Calgary after a gas company hydro-fracked several drill-holes nearby. Ernst had appealed for help to the Alberta public agency that supposedly oversees its oil and gas industry, and was not only turned away but vilified for her efforts. The provincial court upheld the agency’s dismissal of Ernst’s complaint.

It was an astonishing ruling, but it’s about to get a second look. The Supreme Court of Canada has now agreed to hear Ernst’s appeal of the Alberta ruling. Its verdict, of course, is months away and impossible to predict. But the high court has already overturned a series of attempts by the federal government to illegally circumvent Canadians’ Charter-guaranteed Rights and Freedoms. It now has a chance to re-affirm that provinces also have an obligation to protect their citizens, and cannot simply set that duty aside in order to provide carte blanche to corporations.

To meet Jessica Ernst and learn more about her case and the risks and alleged benefits of hydro-fracking, read my article Risky Business: The facts behind fracking,  on Facts and Opinions. (subscription required)

References:

Risky Business: The facts behind fracking,  by Chris Wood, Facts and Opinions (paywall)

Search for “Ernst” for background and links to previous judgements in the Bulletin of Proceedings, Supreme Court of Canada, May 1, 2015

Landmark Fracking Case Gets a Supreme Court Hearing, The Tyee : http://thetyee.ca/News/2015/04/30/Ernst-Heads-to-Supreme-Court/

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