Protecting Water -- An Election Issue

Residents Organize to Protect the Clearwater River

Well-digging taking place near the Clearwater River.

Residents of Clearwater County in Alberta have been waging a fight to protect the Clearwater River, a tributary of the North Saskatchewan River which supplies drinking water for the prairies. The Clearwater River is located near Rocky Mountain House in central Alberta.

The global energy giant Repsol Oil and Gas Inc.[1] applied to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) in March 2018 for a 10 year licence to divert up to 1.8 billion litres of water per year, not including other temporary licences from the Clearwater River. The water will be used for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with 280 wells drilled over 18 years. This is more water than the total amount used by all current fracking operations in the county, residents point out.

Organizers of the group formed to protect the water point out that their community was not even notified about the application because they were not considered "direct stakeholders." This shows how the conception of public interest has been stripped from legislation governing the regulatory bodies, and the arbitrary powers of the regulator to decide when and whom to inform of an application before it.

Two women who have lived in the area for many years decided to knock on doors and inform their neighbours when they became aware of Repsol's application. As a result of their efforts, more than fifty residents came together to oppose the application, and to urge the province to require Repsol to use recycled wastewater.

Organizers stress that they are uniting in action irrespective of their "political stripe" to protect an important water supply and aquifer. They explain that they are not opposing the oil and gas industry, and indeed include people who have worked in the industry all their lives. "I never said I was against oil. I just know that we can't live without fresh water," one activist said.

The regulator dismissed the residents' concerns and approved Repsol's application in January 2019. Alberta Environment defended the decision, stating that "water diversion licences are granted to applicants when sufficient water is available to meet both ecosystem requirements and the rights of existing licence holders."

The term "water diversion" is extremely misleading. Fresh water used for fracking is injected deep into the ground to displace the oil and gas that is being drilled and most of the water remains there. A study conducted at the University of Alberta and funded by Natural Resources Canada concluded that most water used in fracking is not recovered. The study states, "It was determined that up to 30 per cent of water injected during hydraulic fracturing can be recovered to the surface after flowback operations. The remaining water appears to be trapped in the rock matrix and complex fracture network."[2] At minimum, 70 per cent of the fresh water used will not be recovered.

This is what is so concerning to residents. The water is not only being withdrawn from the river, but from hydrologic cycle.[3] Water that does return to the surface is contaminated with fracking fluid and very expensive to remediate. This water is hazardous to humans if it contaminates drinking water, as well as to aquatic life.

Clearwater residents are continuing and expanding their fight and speaking to other communities in Alberta to alert people to the dangers and the need to protect the water supply for the prairies. Most recently, citizens active in the Clearwater Coalition made a presentation sponsored by the Warburg Pembina Surface Rights Group in Warburg, a community southwest of Edmonton.

Fracking and Earthquakes

Another serious concern about fracking is that it is causing small and medium-sized earthquakes. Repsol shut down its fracking operations near Fox Creek in 2016 due to a 4.6 magnitude earthquake caused by hydraulic fracturing near a fault system which was not previously identified. Hundreds of small and moderately-sized earthquakes have taken place in the Fox Creek area in recent years since fracking operations began.

A study published in the journal Science, shows that small earthquakes can continue to occur months after fracking has stopped, occurrences which are not addressed anywhere in Alberta regulations.

"Balancing the Economy and the Environment"

The energy regulator has made the well-worn claim that it is balancing the economy and the environment. In fact neither the problems of the economy or the need to defend Mother Earth are being addressed.

The outlook that taking care of Mother Earth including water and development of the socialized economy are innately in conflict is nonsense. Humanity is part of nature, not separate. Humans depend on nature and through work, transform nature to serve their needs. But the relationship between humans and nature is reduced to what the oligopolies like Repsol have decided suits their private interest and motive for maximum private profit.

The stranglehold of the oligarchs over decision-making and the motive of production for private profit is harmful to humans and to Mother Earth. Both Mother Earth and human beings who are part of nature require a solution to this problem. The block is the domination by the financial oligarchy and capitalist system under which Mother Earth and human beings become collateral damage to greed and the pursuit of private interests.

The people must become the decision-makers and set the direction of the economy in a manner that protects the environment and affirms the right to be of the peoples of the entire world.


1. Repsol Oil and Gas Canada Inc. is a subsidiary of the Spanish global corporation Repsol S.A. Originally known as B.P. Canada Ltd., the company was renamed Talisman Energy when B.P. sold off its majority ownership in a public offering. Talisman became one of Canada's largest independent oil and gas companies. In turn, Talisman was bought out by Repsol for approximately U.S.$13 billion in 2015. Repsol had net income of CDN $2.319 billion in the first half of 2018.

2. Understanding the Fate of Non-recovered Fracturing Water and the Source of Produced Salts for Optimizing Fracking Operations, University of Alberta, 2017, Natural Resources Canada.

3. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the hydrologic cycle as: "the sequence of conditions through which water passes from vapour in the atmosphere through precipitation upon land or water surfaces and ultimately back into the atmosphere as a result of evaporation and transpiration."

(With files from the Narwal and CBC.)

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 13 - April 13, 2019

Article Link:
Residents Organize to Protect the Clearwater River


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