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Stories

Tom Kyle

Emily Eaton

 

Tom Kyle and his family have been farming one section of land south of Manor, Saskatchewan for more than 115 years. In the 1980s the oil industry arrived and drilled several wells and installed a battery on his farm.  In 1989 one of the tanks on the battery leaked salt water that contaminated the lease site and surrounding fields. He has been trying to get it cleaned up ever since without luck. Since 1989 many different companies have owned the battery and each company has failed to fully remediate the site.

Tom explained that when a new company takes over they send in new environmental consultants to study the site. Over the years the studies have piled up while the salt water contamination continues to spread further into his fields. More than 7 acres of land are now affected, as well as the creek that runs through the farm. He has complained numerous times to government regulators and appeared before the Surface Rights Arbitration Board on the matter, but has not had any luck having his land properly remediated.

Salt water contamination is a persistent problem for farmers as it impedes the growth of crops. For every barrel of oil extracted in the Southeast of the province, up to 90% of it is highly salinated water. This water is stored at battery sites and then taken away to disposal wells where it is discarded deep underground. Salinated water is easily spilled when tanks overflow, small pipelines carrying produced water to battery sites leak, or human error results in spills when it is transferred from tanks to trucks.

Tom is exasperated from running after companies, following up with environmental consultants, and complaining to government regulators. He is worried about the water well on his farm as several of his neighbours’ water wells and dugouts have been contaminated by salt water. He claims it’s not a matter of if, but when, he will no longer be able to drink the water from his own well. According to Tom, the oil industry did more damage to his land in five years, than the farm operation has done over 115 years.

Marilyn Wapass

Emily Eaton

In August of 2013, Marilyn Wapass and a small group of women from the Thunderchild First Nation, set up camp on their ceremonial Sundance grounds in order to defend the site from seismic testing already underway. In the process of preparing cut lines and setting off seismic explosions, prayer cloths that hung in trees had been torn down and desecrated; according to protocol the lodges and cloths from previous years must not be removed from the site. In setting up camp on the grounds, Marilyn and the other protestors were also making a statement that the Chief and Council had not conducted adequate consultation before they signed the exploratory permit. The protestors felt this was partly because the nation stood to gain through their equity interest in Tonare Energy should the oil company proceed with extraction. In response, band officials sought and won a court injunction, which forced the land defenders to leave. But their 21-day protest has, at least until now, stopped oil drilling on the sacred site, though there is still slant drilling taking place on the Nation. Marilyn and supporters continue to fight the matter in court.

According to Marilyn, the Sundance is the most significant ceremony for many Indigenous cultures and the grounds themselves are exceedingly sacred, in part because they host the lodges and prayer cloths of previous years. Until the mid 1900s the federal government prevented Indigenous Peoples from engaging in Sundance ceremonies, and so the Sundance is also bound up in relations of colonial domination and resistance.

Terry Crush

Emily Eaton

Terry Crush farms 9 quarter sections at Lone Rock, Saskatchewan, in the Lloydminster heavy oil region of the province. Since 1968 there have been 39 wells on his land and one satellite battery. In nearly 50 years of oil production, Terry reports that there have been 137 spills of salt water and oil from the producing wells and battery, six of these were major spills that caused permanent damage to his land.

On one occasion a two-inch pipeline spilled from 5pm to 9:30am the next morning, the water running across a half-section and into his slough. According to Saskatchewan regulators, salinated water accounts for up to 90% of the product that is extracted from deep formations when producing oil. It impedes vegetative growth and damages soil; therefore, Terry’s soil and crops have been significantly damaged by the long-lasting effects of spilt water and leaking storage tanks.

Terry is also the acting president of the Saskatchewan Surface Rights Organization, an organization that was formed after World War Two to advocate for farmers and ranchers who own only the surface rights to their lands, and therefore have no recourse to stop oil companies from drilling and accessing leased oil and gas rights below farmers’ land. Many farmers in the province find themselves in this position, since more than 75% of the oil and gas rights are owned by the crown that sells them for exploitation to oil companies. Many Saskatchewan farmers and ranchers have become unwilling hosts to the oil and gas industry.

Terry has appeared for himself and others over 40 times in front of the Surface Rights Arbitration Board in attempts to obtain compensation for damages from the oil and gas industry. He sees the surface rights legislation as woefully inadequate since farmers don’t have the right to say no to a well, and since compensation is limited by the legislation. He’s also frustrated by what happens when a well reaches the end of its productive life, and believes Saskatchewan needs stronger regulations for site reclamation and clean up.