Encana Ignores CFB Suffield Rules and Damages Sensitive Wetlands at Suffield

Alberta Wilderness Association

News Release: March 7, 2007

Encana failed to follow the rules of Canadian Forces Base Suffield for protection of wetlands while drilling, a coalition of environmental groups has learned. The company drilled a well in a known wetland near the federally protected Suffield National Wildlife Area, and refused to remove it until given an ultimatum by the Base. The groups are asking the federal government to prohibit all new industrial activities in the Suffield National Wildlife Area.

"Greed seems to exceed common sense and the rules with these guys," says Cliff Wallis, Past-President of Alberta Wilderness Association. "Not only did they drill a well where they shouldn't, they argued to keep it in place. There seems to be an overblown sense of entitlement on the part of this industry giant which does not bode well for their proposed drilling in the National Wildlife Area." EnCana is proposing to drill up to 1275 wells as part of a shallow gas infill program in the Suffield National Wildlife Area.

Documents received through the Access to Information Act reveal that the well was drilled in a wetland clearly identified on maps in Nishomoto Flats at 7-27-17-5 W4 in October 2004. The industry had previously been informed of the Base's expectations related to protection of wetlands. The Base Commander, upon learning of the infraction, immediately requested the removal of the well, which was not complete or producing at the time; but EnCana took no action. The Suffield Environmental Advisory

Committee, composed of representatives from the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, Alberta Environment, and the Canadian Wildlife Service also advised in May 2005, after visiting the site, that the well should be removed.

The Base issued three formal written directives and made several verbal requests to remove the well over 11 months, all which went unheeded. Finally, officials from the Department of National Defence told EnCana to remove the well by the end of September 2005 or be barred from the Base. The company argued that removing the well would represent the loss of a valuable asset and a waste of the resource. However, the Base refused to back down out of concern for the impacts of drilling, pipeline installation, operations and reclamation activities on the wetland. On the eve of the deadline, EnCana finally removed the well.

Federal policy on wetlands stipulates no net loss of wetland function, which means zero industrial activity in wetlands on federal land. Provincial guidelines require a minimum setback of 100 m from wetlands in the grassland region. "Wetlands like this are prime hotspots for at-risk species," says Julie Gelfand, President of Nature Canada. "But this potential breeding ground has been compromised by EnCana's lack of corporate environmental responsibility."

"EnCana has shown a cavalier and insensitive attitude towards these biologically productive habitats," says Dawn Dickinson of the Grasslands Naturalists. "This kind of attitude inspires no confidence in the corporation's declared commitment to environmental protection. The Base Commander is to be commended for standing firm behind his ultimatum to EnCana to remove the well from the wetlands. The federal government should just say no to EnCana's plan for the National Wildlife Area."

In the documents EnCana argued it only had to comply with Federal and Provincial Statutes and their contract rights and that the Base does not have the authority to deny access due to damaging environmental impacts. However the Commander of the Army made it clear that individual Base Commanders are accountable for the environment on their Base. A February 2005 DND Order/Directive states, "Degradation needs to be properly assessed, monitored and remediated. All must comply with federal, provincial and local legislations. Failure cannot be entertained."

The Suffield National Wildlife Area is a 458 km2 protected area located inside the 2690 km2 Canadian Forces Base near Medicine Hat, Alberta. The Suffield National Wildlife Area is an internationally significant grassland encompassing fragile sand dunes and sand plains. It provides secure habitat for more than 1100 native prairie species, including 13 federal Species at Risk and 78 provincially listed "at risk" species.

Coalition members include:

For more information, contact:

  • Cliff Wallis, Alberta Wilderness Association: 403-271-1408, www.albertawilderness.ca
  • Dawn Dickinson, Grasslands Naturalists: 403-526-6443
  • Daniel Casselman, Nature Canada: 613-562-3447, Ext 225, www.naturecanada.ca
  • Sandra Foss, Federation of Alberta Naturalists: 403-932-2947, www.fanweb.ca