Kananaskis is a Gas

By: Doug Sephton

Kananaskis belongs to the people of Alberta.

Studies show that Albertans want Kananaskis protected from development. The gas companies are ripping up the wilderness, forcing wildlife and people out of the area.

Kananaskis Country was created in 1977 by Peter Lougheeds’s government. Approximately 4,000 square kilometres of wilderness on the Eastern Slopes of the Canadian Rockies were designated a multi-use recreation area. Parts of it are protected parks, but large tracks of land, including Sibbald and the Elbow and Sheep valleys are open for exploitation. Planners extended the multi-use concept to include resource development and agricultural interests. Recreational activities share the land with ranchers, forestry and gas extraction operations.

This probably sounded like a good idea to planners who must have feared repercussions if operators were forced to give up their leases for grazing, logging and gas exploration. But, it is not working out well. The rush for profits from gas extraction is overwhelming recreational activities, pushing hikers, cyclists and others out of the West Bragg Creek area where roads have carved up the wilderness so pipelines and wells can be built and maintained. Ranchers have withdrawn their cattle from their grazing leases. The roar of diesel engines has replaced the peace and tranquility of the wild lands.

View photos of the damage done to West Bragg Creek

What would Peter Lougheed think of the state of the Elbow Valley now? It must be like raising a child. You do all you can to provide for them. A huge investment made in infrastructure and human resources was dedicated to establish what would be a legacy that would survive economic boom and bust cycles. We and our children should be able to hike to the summit of Moose Mountain to see a panorama of peaks, not gas wells. But the pressure of development and the wear and tear of human and mechanical activity, puts the future health and well-being of Kananaskis at risk.

On the path of life, children face challenges and influences that shape their future. At twenty-eight years, Kananaskis is young compared to other natural preserves, like Banff. It is vulnerable to influences that could alter its future. Like a child fallen to the fix of drugs injected in their arm, Kananaskis could fall to the extraction of gas through wells drilled deep underground. The gas is going out, not in, but the dependence on the fix is much the same.

The gas companies have answers ready for any concern we might raise. They have sophisticated public relations procedures and environmental engineers to diffuse opposition to their projects. When Shell, Husky and Devon began their pipeline development project, they told us that they were reclaiming an old wellhead that posed a potential threat. Once machines and manpower were in place, they were able to obtain permits to upgrade existing wells and extend their pipeline. They even managed to get the Bragg Creek Environmental Coalition to acquiesce in exchange for adjustments to their plan and an agreement to monitor and repair damage done to the environment.

It turns out that gas companies have a different meaning for the word reclaim. Many of us might think it means to restore damaged land to its natural state. Apparently it means restoration of derelict wells into production. Petro-Canada is doing the same thing with their new well near the Moose Loop trail. (NOTE: Petro-Canada's test well came up dry in February, 2006. They have put further exploration on hold.) They claim that they are removing contaminants from an old wellhead. Oh, and while they’re there, they plan to drill 3 new wells. And although there is lethal sour gas that contains hydrogen sulphide (inhale twice and you're dead) throughout the area, they claim that there is no risk to human health, even though there are people playing several metres away and families living four kilometres downwind from the wellhead.

Residents have expressed their concern. As in the following comment, “We can expect continual truck traffic, noise and disruption of the heavily used recreation area of West Bragg Creek for how long? Not to mention the negative impact on local wildlife and the Bragg Creek itself and tributaries. In addition, are the leaseholders in this area working together to minimize impact? Shell is still reclaiming right of ways and roads and is supposed to remove bridges to return the area to the condition before their well reclamation and then the pipeline construction. Now Petro-Canada will go in and drill a well and then possibly a few more. Will they need to then rebuild the roads, construct new roads, bridges and pipelines?” And, another resident wrote, “The Petro-Canada development will without any doubt increase the existing traffic density as these wells will require at least daily visits, and further, frequent visits by service rigs, frac trucks, acid trailers and numerous other types of vehicles. The vehicles used in first creating the wells and thereafter servicing them, are huge & heavy. These monsters will transform West Bragg Creek Road into an industrial thoroughfare, with no safe shoulders, making travel a magnitude more dangerous for all of us.”

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It appears that the Shell reclamation project was the thin edge of the wedge that will disrupt and destroy recreational activities in West Bragg Creek and the Elbow River Valley. This will have a direct impact on our appreciation of the outdoor experience in Kananaskis. It will also affect the economy in Bragg Creek, which prides itself in being a “Gateway to Kananaskis”.

Where do we draw the line? How can we protect the interests of Albertans? In 2001, management of this unprotected area was transferred to Spray Lakes Sawmills Ltd., through a renewable 20 year Forest Management Agreement. A logging company decides how many and where to cut trees in our recreation area. The gas companies are pooping in our playground. It is hard to argue against them based on technical and environmental concerns – virtually the only arguments that the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board will listen to. The gas companies have infinite resources to undermine our efforts. We need to argue our case based on an unassailable right. Kananaskis is ours. A 1999 government survey found that 88 percent of respondents agreed that “the highest priority should be environmental protection and enhancement, even if this means fewer recreational opportunities for people”. The gas companies will tell you that they meet or exceed the most rigorous environmental standards. The photos accompanying this article show that they are ripping up the wilderness – destroying the environment. We need to tell the gas companies that they are not welcome in our playground.