When Emily Jobson sent out a call for survey respondents for her master’s theses on the socio-environmental impact of increasing water use for Duvernay development, only 3.2 per cent of those 1,360 canvassed chose to respond. However, the Chevron Corporation intermediate environmental specialist and grad student believes such minimal response could be interpreted as a positive opportunity for the industry to gain highly sought after social license.
“The low response rate could be due to a number of things,” she told this week’s Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) 2013 Water Forum, in describing her survey targeting Alberta’s Fox Creek and Whitecourt communities.
“It could be survey design, it could be the amount of time the survey was online — it was two weeks. It could be inability to do in-person follow up with the persons we distributed the survey invitation letters to, or it could be that 97 per cent of the people in the area have not formed an opinion one way or another yet.
“So this is where industry has a gigantic opportunity. If 97 per cent of people haven’t formed an opinion, they still have an opinion to form.”
According to Jobson, industry must work to provide that information to the public on water use issues because perceptions in the general public are not necessarily based on facts.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s not based on scientific fact; it’s based on what information they’re getting from the people they’re talking to,” she said, adding public perceptions often translate into what degree of social license the public will grant oil and gas companies for certain projects, and industry should not just assume it has the social license secured in areas where it has a long history of operations.
One reoccurring message she heard from survey respondents was that many of them believed water levels in the region’s lakes has been going down as frac operations progress.
“For instance, Smoke Lake in that area had local fishermen and hunters come up to me and say Smoke Lake has gone down by two metres in the past 10 years. That’s anecdotal, obviously, but that is what their perception is — that oil and gas water use is drawing down the local recreational lakes.”
Flowback reuse and use of saline water was another “hot topic” Jobson came across while conducting her survey, with those surveyed wanting their lack of knowledge on these matters to be addressed by industry.
“They get a lot of third-hand knowledge, but they’re not getting any information directly from the companies that are operating in the area.”
On the topic of groundwater contamination, Jobson said, her survey found people in general were more concerned about the impact of the actual fracturing on water supply than they were the disposal of effluent from production.
“Most people believe it is being disposed of responsibly. However … 91 per cent of people feel that the oil and gas industry should be required to recycle a portion of their flowback,” Jobson said, adding people tend to think industry is not doing enough to recycle flowback on its own, and therefore it might be time for regulators to mandate it.
According to Jobson, those surveyed generally believe companies are not sourcing water properly for their frac operations and people tend to believe there is not enough water for all users. However, she said those surveyed tend to believe companies were supporting communities impacted by their operations.
“We’re seeing that people see industry as doing a good job supporting the communities they operate in — so you have