ERNST: EnCana - fracking lawsuit! Lawyers abandon case!

ERNST: EnCana - fracking lawsuit! Lawyers abandon case!

Postby Oscar » Thu Apr 28, 2011 5:31 pm

----- Original Message -----
From: Elaine Hughes
To: SK Premier Wall ; Sask Environmental Society ; Sask EcoNetwork ; Council of Canadians
Cc: SK Liberal - Leader - Ryan Bater ; SK Green - Leader - Larissa Shasko ; SK NDP Caucus ; SK Party Caucus ; Sierra Club Prairie ; Sierra Club - US ; Sierra Club - Can. ; SDWF ; Sask. Wildlife Fed. ; Safe And Green Energy ; Pollution Probe ; Pembina Institute ; Nature Canada ; Lake Ontario Waterkeeper ; Mosset, Kandi ; Gearon, Jihan ; Cobenais, Marty ; Goldtooth, Tom ; Greenpeace ; Friends of the Earth ; Food For All Coalition ; Environmental Defence ; Ecologist ; Ecojustice ; Dr. David Schindler ; Dr. David B. Brooks ; David Suzuki Foundation ; Breitkreuz, G. MP
Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2011 5:25 PM
Subject: Nikiforuk: Scientist Jessica Ernst hits gas giant EnCana, regulators with fracking lawsuit.

= = = = =

Saskatchewan government can't sell farm land and grassland prairie fast enough.

We can expect similar problems in our Back 40 any day now.....!

Elaine Hughes
Archerwill, SK

= = = = = = =

Albertan, Tired of Her Tap Water Catching Fire, Sues
Scientist Jessica Ernst hits gas giant EnCana, regulators with fracking lawsuit.

by Andrew Nikiforuk, Today,

[ Ernst claims flame is produced by mixture of water and gas from groundwater source ruined by fracking. Photo: Colin Smith.]

Vaclav Smil, one of Canada's smartest energy experts, calls "unrestrained energy use in affluent societies" a dangerous habit.

Just imagine a 50 kilogram Filipino nanny driving a 5,000 kilogram SUV through the traffic clogged streets of Calgary to purchase a litre of candy for her obese white charges and, well, you've got asnapshot of civilization's bankrupt energy aspirations.

Along with this sort of libertarian spending comes much moral carelessness. As Smil notes, most energy markets don't take into account the growing environmental costs that accompany unconventional hydrocarbon production such as bitumen, shale gas or methane trapped in coal seams.

In many respects, the brute force, high-energy extraction methods deployed to capture these hydrocarbons aren't any more sensible than a whaling fleet chasing sardines or a harried nanny behind the fuel guzzling SUV venturing out for a stick of gum.

Perhaps no story better illustrates these bitter energy truths than that of Jessica Ernst and Alberta's coal bed methane (CBM) boom. And it concerns the energy debate of the hour: hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking comes to Rosebud

Beginning nearly a decade ago, the natural gas industry carpet-bombed some of the Alberta's best agricultural land with 10,000 shallow CBM wells. It also fracked everything underneath. No company disclosed what toxic chemicals they actually deployed to break open these shallow coal seams. And no regulator recorded the original state of the groundwater either.

And then along come Ernst, a 54-year-old scientist and oil patch consultant. Before the boom she lived on top of an unfractured coal seam on a quiet piece of fescue just north of Calgary in a town called Rosebud. Clean and nonflammable water flowed through coal formations that fed her water well and that of her neighbors. Historical water records confirm it.

But during the boom things changed. The region's geological formations got blasted so many times by highly pressurized injections of nitrogen, water, sand and toxic chemicals that methane started to seep up all over the place. Even Ernst's dogs stopped drinking the water. Today the landowner can now set her tap water on fire. In fact, she now trucks in fresh water to avoid inconvenient kitchen explosions while making dinner. Nor is she alone.

Being stubborn and somewhat testy about justice and the fate of public resources such as groundwater, Ernst decided to sue. She just doesn't think energy security should trump water security.

Her $30-million lawsuit penned by well-known Toronto lawyers (and that means Ernst is damn serious) is an eye popper as well as reality check on the costs of pursuing extreme sources of energy.

In fact, her well-documented case is considered by some to be so credible that Ernst has been invited "to present her story and make recommendations to governments at the 19th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development at the United Nations in New York" next week.

Both shale gas and CBM, the harnessing of blue flame slaves for urban markets, are in many ways energy's new heart of darkness. As the Ernst lawsuit shows, their production tools can be just as ugly, negligent and brutal as 19th-century slave traders in the Congo. (The men who shackled blacks for New World plantations were also creating jobs and satisfying the world's demand for more energy.)

For the record, the 79-page document alleges that EnCana, an energy trader as big as King Leopold, broke nearly a dozen laws -- an accusation that, it should be noted, remains unproven in court.

The suit says EnCana conducted "a risky and experimental drilling program" that contaminated a local aquifer with toxic chemicals. Given that "the fracturing process can connect to other fractures or can extend beyond the coalbed and into bodies of groundwater."

But companies have now done that right across the continent. Ask rural citizens from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Pavillion, Wyoming and many will tell you that hydraulic fracking is an extreme example of unrestrained greed.

The whole process takes more wells, more heavy machinery, more energy, more compressor stations, more land fragmentation, more water and more captured regulators than conventional natural gas.

But that's ho-hum part of the claim. The interesting bit comes next. The document alleges that so-called energy regulators watched EnCana contaminate an aquifer but "failed to follow the investigation and enforcement processes that they had established and publicized."

Moreover, says the suit, the regulators charged with protecting groundwater in Alberta treated "the legitimate concerns of citizens regarding resource development with contempt and hostility."

At one point, Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) even banished Ernst from its offices. It flat out refused to discuss compressor noise pollution or water contamination with the landowner. (Imagine if natural gas companies banished customers with furnace problems!)

The regulator also accused the oil patch consultant, a scientist who works with facts and thinks regulators should be concerned about facts too, of "attempting to humiliate the organization" by asking questions about the board's reluctance to investigate groundwater contamination.

The Goliath-sized regulator, which employs approximately 800 people and spends $170 million a year overseeing hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells, finally dispatched one of its legal eagles to the scene.

According to the lawsuit, the man threatened Ernst: if the pesky landowner didn't shut up about her flaming water, "don't expect us to help you." But she kept on talking and the regulator, well, kept its promise. Shortly afterwards, Alberta Environment found 50 pollutants in local water wells that matched fracked wells.

The lawsuit says that the Alberta Research Council belatedly did a study but it was "inadequate," used "factually incorrect data" and made conclusions not supported by the facts. And on it goes.

So there is an extreme price to be paid for energy obesity especially when that energy comes from extreme sources requiring extreme practices supported by extreme regulators.

And that price is being mostly borne by the citizens of rural North America. Meanwhile urban consumers burn their blue flames with the same sort of thoughtlessness as a small person in a big car on a little errand.

Given the damning contents of the claim, every barbecue fancier and city homeowner using natural gas should read it. In fact, home gas bills should probably come with an unrestrained message: "WARNING: Urban consumption of natural gas from fracked zones sacrifices water supplies in rural neighborhoods."

This is the latest of the weekly "Energy and Equity" column by Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk. Read his previous Tyee articles here. Nikiforuk, an Alberta landowner, first covered this story for the Globe and Mail's ROB magazine and later Canadian Business magazine.
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Ernst v. EnCana Corporation

Postby Oscar » Thu May 05, 2011 4:44 pm

Ernst v. EnCana Corporation

Landowner Jessica Ernst sues EnCana and Alberta government regulators over water contamination
Multi-Million Dollar Landmark North American Lawsuit on Hydraulic Fracturing and Its Impact on Groundwater
Suit accuses EnCana, Alberta Environment and Energy Resources Conservation Board of negligence and unlawful activities. Case to be presented at the United Nations in New York.
Nearly a decade ago EnCana, one of the world’s largest natural gas producers, began a risky and experimental drilling program that required intense hydraulic fracturing for shallow coalbed methane (Horseshoe Canyon Formation) throughout central Alberta.
Hydraulic fracturing blasts open oil, gas and coal formations with highly pressurized volumes of water, sand and undisclosed chemical fluids or gases. The technology has boosted natural gas reserves but has become the subject of serious government investigations throughout North America due to surface and groundwater contamination.
In Report 2011-A Alberta’s primary energy regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), recently disclosed that the potential for hydraulic fracturing to contaminate useable water aquifers with fracturing fluid chemicals and natural gas is a real public issue, especially in shallow zones.
On April 27, 2011 lawyers representing Jessica Ernst, a 54-year-old oil patch consultant, released a 73-page statement of claim that alleges that EnCana broke multiple provincial laws and regulations and contaminated a shallow aquifer used by a rural community with natural gas and toxic industry-related chemicals.
The claim methodically reports how Alberta’s two key groundwater regulators, Alberta Environment and the ERCB, “failed to follow the investigation and enforcement processes that they had established and publicized.”
The ERCB recently gave EnCana permission to drill and fracture more CBM wells above the base of groundwater protection near the affected water wells mentioned in this claim.
Jessica Ernst has been invited to present her story and make recommendations to governments at the 19th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development at the United Nations in New York.
The claim represents assertions that have not yet been proven in court. All defendants will have the opportunity to respond in these proceedings.


- - - - -

Alberta landowner seeks $33 million over methane in drinking water

By Kelly Cryderman, Postmedia News April 26, 2011
CALGARY — A southern Alberta landowner who has long claimed coal bed methane drilling polluted her well has launched a lawsuit demanding more than $10 million each from Encana, the Alberta government and the province's energy regulator.
Jessica Ernst, 54, is one of the province's most outspoken critics of drilling methods such as fracking — where water, chemicals and sand are blasted deep underground to break up coal formations and release natural gas.
In a statement of claim filed at the courthouse in Drumheller, Alta., she states the failure of Alberta's Environment Department and the Energy Resources Conservation Board to investigate her case and enforce regulations "served as a government coverup of environmental contamination caused by the oil and gas industry."
Ernst claims that a decade ago Encana "began a risky and experimental drilling program for shallow coal bed methane at dozens of wells in the area around Rosebud," a small hamlet northeast of Calgary.
Ernst, an environmental consultant for the oil and gas industry who lives near the hamlet, alleges the natural gas giant released a large amount of contaminants into underground freshwater supplies.
"As a result, Ms. Ernst's water is now so contaminated with methane and other chemicals that it can be lit on fire," said the legal statement. [ . . . ]

- - - -

Rosebud landowner sues over alleged well contamination

May 3, 2011 By: Enrique Massot

A landowner in the southern Alberta hamlet of Rosebud is claiming millions in damages from an oil and gas company for allegedly rendering her water undrinkable in the last decade because of hydraulic fracturing — a practice being used north of Cochrane for oil drilling operations there.
On April 27, Jessica Ernst presented at a Calgary press conference a 73-page statement of claim that has been filed at the Drumheller’s judicial centre of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta.
The claim, prepared by Toronto-based lawyers Murray Klippenstein and Cory Wanless of Klippensteins Barristers and Solicitors, alleges EnCana Corporation “negligently injected chemical fracturing fluids at high pressure into coal seams located at shallow depths below ground.”
Ernst, a 54-year-old oil patch consultant, also alleges Alberta Environment and the Energy Resource Conservation Board (ERCB) failed to use their powers to protect the citizens’ water supply in the area. [ . . . ]

- - - - - - -

Fracking’ starts to bring on legal challenges

TORONTO AND CALGARY— From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published Monday, May. 02, 2011 7:30PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, May. 03, 2011 7:40PM EDT
A controversial method of drilling for natural gas that has revolutionized the industry is confronting a growing backlash across North America, and the fast-spreading technique faces a legal test in Canada’s oil and gas heartland.
In the latest sign that pressure against the practice, known as “fracking,” is mounting, a Southern Alberta woman filed a $33-million lawsuit alleging that nearby drilling by Encana Corp. (ECA-T30.99-0.25-0.80%)is responsible for contaminating her water with enough methane that it can be lit on fire.
The allegations have not been proven in court. The case comes just weeks after Quebec put all projects using fracking – short for fracturing – on hold while it studies the environmental effects.
Fracturing involves injecting substances below ground to break up rock formations and force up natural gas. Often companies use large volumes of sand, water and chemicals. In other places, they use gases like nitrogen.
Controversy over its effects, including the alleged contamination of groundwater, has raged in the United States.
Last week, Jessica Ernst, 54, a landowner near Rosebud, Alta. – about 120 kilometres northeast of Calgary – filed a lawsuit against EnCana, the province and the province’s energy regulator.
Ms. Ernst, who has worked as an environmental consultant to the oil and gas industry, accuses Encana in her statement of claim of engaging in a “risky and experimental drilling program” to extract shallow coal-bed methane from several wells near her property in the Rosebud area.
The lawsuit, which she launched after waging a long local campaign against fracking, also targets the provincial government and the province’s Energy Resources Conservation Board, which she accuses of failing to police the industry since her water starting irritating her skin in 2004.
“I’m not the only one. There are many others that this has happened to, and my story is not unique,” Ms. Ernst said in an interview from New York, where she is taking part in a panel discussion on fracking being held at the United Nations.
The fracturing used to extract coal-bed methane is technically different from methods employed in extraction of shale gas, which has generated major controversy around the globe. But the alleged impacts are largely the same, as are the questions surrounding how industry taps novel energy sources.
Encana spokesman Alan Boras defended the company’s natural gas production, saying it is safe and that there are “numerous precautions put in place that ensure that we do not interact or contaminate groundwater.” [ . . ]
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Woman suing EnCana to speak at UN conference

Postby Oscar » Thu May 05, 2011 6:05 pm

Woman suing EnCana to speak at UN conference

Sayeh Tavangar Gas Daily (02-May-11)

An Alberta environmental consultant slated to speak Tuesday before a United Nations-related meeting on sustainable development has sued Encana, alleging that shallow coalbed methane wells the Calgary-based producer drilled years ago contaminated her well water.

Attorneys for Jessica Ernst, who lives in Rosebud in rural southern Alberta, filed the 73-page suit last week in the Court of Queens Bench of Alberta. In addition to Encana, the suit names as defendants two provincial regulatory agencies: the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board and Alberta Environment. Ernst is seeking punitive, exemplary and other damages of about C$32 million.

Encana spokesman Alan Boras, citing company policy concerning active litigation, declined to comment on the suit. A spokeswoman for Alberta Environment would not comment, and ERCB officials could not be reached Friday.

The suit alleges that beginning in 2001, Encana "began a risky and experimental drilling program for shallow coalbed methane at dozens of wells in the area around Rosebud." Ernst alleged that in at least one instance the producer injected hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into the shallow aquifer, from which area residents obtained their drinking water.

She also claims Encana's activities caused her water well to be polluted with "a large amount of methane and other contaminants," making it unfit to use and creating a potential explosion hazard.

In addition, the suit alleges that the ERCB, which regulates all aspects of the oil and gas industry in the province, and Alberta Energy failed to enforce environmental regulations with regard to Encana's practices.

Ernst told Platts that she decided to file suit after spending years fighting with Encana and the two government agencies trying to obtain information about the producer's CBM program in the Rosebud area. "It takes a long time to prepare these things. It's taken years of research. They're still keeping secrets and we cannot get the data disclosed."

Ernst said Encana has refused to release information about the chemicals used in fracking and in other downhole operations it performed on the CBM wells. "They've been quoted as saying they're going to make the information public," she said. "We still don't know all the chemicals."

Ernst is expected to tell her story before an international audience when she makes a presentation at the UN in New York. She will be speaking at a side event to the 19th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development sponsored by Unanima International, a nongovernmental organization.

Catherine Ferguson, Unanima coalition coordinator, said the Ernst presentation will be part of a two-week program the NGO will present on clean water issues related to mining and mineral extraction. [ . . . ]
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Re: ERNST: EnCana - fracking lawsuit! Lawyers abandon case

Postby Oscar » Fri Aug 09, 2019 8:50 am

Another Setback in Landmark Fracking Case as Lawyers Pull Out

[ ... e-Setback/ ]

Jessica Ernst’s 12-year legal battle over water contamination no nearer resolution.

By Andrew Nikiforuk , August 8, 2019 |

Andrew Nikiforuk’s book on the Ernst case, "Slick Water", won a Science in Society Journalism Award from the U.S. National Association of Science Writers in 2016.

(‘What I have learned is that Canada’s legal system is a farce,’ says Jessica Ernst. Photo by Kim Silfving. )

Jessica Ernst has spent 12 years and $400,000 pursuing a lawsuit against the Alberta fracking industry and its regulator.

Now her Ontario lawyer has let go most of his staff and given up the case.

“I was shocked and felt terribly betrayed,” said Ernst. “The legal system doesn’t want ordinary people in it. They don’t want citizens who will not gag and settle out of court for money so corporations and government can continue their abuse.”

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Re: ERNST: EnCana - fracking lawsuit! Lawyers abandon case

Postby Oscar » Sat Dec 07, 2019 4:27 pm

Another Setback in Landmark Fracking Case as Lawyers Pull Out

[ ... e-Setback/ ]

Jessica Ernst’s 12-year legal battle over water contamination no nearer resolution.

By Andrew Nikiforuk 8 Aug 2019 |

Andrew Nikiforuk’s book on the Ernst case, Slick Water, won a Science in Society Journalism Award from the U.S. National Association of Science Writers in 2016.

‘What I have learned is that Canada’s legal system is a farce,’ says Jessica Ernst. Photo by Kim Silfving.

Jessica Ernst has spent 12 years and $400,000 pursuing a lawsuit against the Alberta fracking industry and its regulator.

Now her Ontario lawyer has let go most of his staff and given up the case.

“I was shocked and felt terribly betrayed,” said Ernst. “The legal system doesn’t want ordinary people in it. They don’t want citizens who will not gag and settle out of court for money so corporations and government can continue their abuse.”

In 2007, Ernst, then an oil patch consultant with her own thriving business, sued the Alberta government, Alberta’s energy regulator and Encana. She alleged her well water had been contaminated by Encana’s fracking and government agencies had failed to investigate the problems.

For more than a decade the case has been bogged down by legal wrangling, legal posturing and constant delays. Three different judges have been involved.

The process included a two-year detour to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that Ernst could not sue the regulator because it is given immunity by provincial legislation. The lawsuits against the provincial government and Encana remain before the courts.

And still no evidence has been heard on the actual merits of the case.

Ernst was represented by high-profile lawyer Murray Klippenstein. He told The Tyee in an email that “major changes in the political climate of the legal profession in Ontario” made it “no longer feasible for me to continue my law firm. That was heartbreaking to me, for many reasons.”

Klippenstein is fighting against a recently adopted Law Society of Ontario statement of principles that obliges law firms to “promote equality, diversity and inclusion” and perform annual “inclusion self-assessments.”

Lawyers “will increasingly be judged more on the basis of ideology, skin colour and sex chromosomes than by their competence, skills, effort and professional contributions” under the rule, he argued.
However, advocates for the new rules say criticism from Klippenstein and others showed how badly they are needed.

Legal scholar Joshua Sealy-Harrington argued that the “forceful opposition” showed the insufficient awareness of systemic discrimination in Canadian legal practice, which has been detailed time and time and time and time again.

Klippenstein also offered another reason for quitting the case, saying in an email to The Tyee that he “had increasing concerns about Ms. Ernst’s views about the viability of her own lawsuit, in particular because of Ms. Ernst’s highly and increasingly critical views of the legal system, and of the lawyers that were a part of that system, to the point where I thought it was simply no longer viable for us to represent her going forward.”

Ernst said she fully explained her critical views to Klippenstein in 2007 as she vetted potential lawyers. Those views have never changed, she added.

“Murray warned me in 2007 that I would need to spend a million dollars and give up 10 to 12 years of my life, to maybe win a few thousand dollars,” said Ernst.

She said Klippenstein told her that lawsuits like hers were usually settled with a payment and a non-disclosure agreement that silences the person who had sued “because our legal system is set up to make that happen.”

Ernst said she had always been clear that she would not accept a non-disclosure agreement. The issue of contaminated water goes beyond one household or community and the public needs to be aware, she said.

Ernst said Klippenstein also warned her that the courts might order her to pay the legal costs of Encana and the other defendants even if she won the lawsuit.

“I would have to also pay the legal costs of the defendants even if I win but win less than what the defendants offer me to gag,” she said. “Who wouldn’t be bitter?”

Ernst’s lawsuit claims fracking contaminated the water supply at her homestead near Rosebud, about 110 kilometres east of Calgary.

Research has shown fracking, in which companies blast water, chemicals and sand underground to crack rock formations and allow methane to flow, can result in groundwater contamination.

The suit alleges that Encana was negligent in the fracking of shallow coal seams; that the regulator breached Ernst’s freedoms under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that Alberta Environment performed a problem-plagued investigation in bad faith.

Even before the lawsuit was launched, Ernst was locked in conflict with the Energy Resources Conservation Board, now the Alberta Energy Regulator. In November 2005, the regulator sent Ernst a letter saying it had told its staff to “avoid any further contact” with her on the grounds that she had criticized the board and made “criminal threats.”

But in June 2006 Rick McKee, then chief counsel for the regulator, admitted in a taped interview (Liberal MLA David Swann was a witness) that Ernst never presented a security threat to the organization.

She also sued the regulator for violating her charter rights by falsely branding her a “criminal threat” in 2005.

The Supreme Court of Canada split ruling on Ernst’s right to sue the energy regulator included a claim by Justice Rosalie Abella that the regulator found Ernst to be a “vexatious litigant,” though no regulator in Alberta has ever described Ernst as such. Four of the other justices commented on Abella’s claim, noting, “We see no basis for our colleague’s characterization.”

But Ernst has been unsuccessful in having the statement corrected in the judgment, noting it could be used against her in future hearings. The Canadian Judicial Council informed Ernst that it has no policy for correcting errors and that only the Supreme Court can amend or review reasons for its decisions.

Some legal scholars criticized the Supreme Court decision and said it weakened the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by allowing governments to place regulators above the law.

Ernst learned Klippenstein was withdrawing from the case last fall, but didn’t share the information until recently. She was waiting until the law firm surrendered control of her website, she said. The website is an archive of her lawsuit as well as a record of the political, legal and ecological impacts of the brute force technology of fracking. The Tyee asked Klippenstein why the case has floundered in the justice system for nearly a dozen years.

“Ms. Ernst’s case was and is an enormously ambitious undertaking, involving numerous highly-complex scientific and legal issues, against a number of very powerful, very well-resourced, and very determined opponents,” he said. “We all knew that from the beginning, and we all knew that it would be an incredibly difficult and lengthy and time-consuming effort to undertake it, and a seriously uphill battle all the way.”

Klippenstein said he advised Ernst that she now has three options: she can transfer the case to another lawyer; continue with the lawsuit by representing herself; or let Klippenstein wind down the lawsuit “in a way that is most advantageous or least disadvantageous to you.” Ernst said that she has rejected the third option.

“I have always been public and open about my case. But since I have no lawyers, I can’t disclose to The Tyee as much as I would like about my next steps,” she said. “I need to keep those options to myself.” Ernst is philosophical about the latest setback.

“I am a lot less bitter now than I was when I started my lawsuit in 2007,” she said. “I have a wild sense of humour. What I have learned is that Canada’s legal system is a farce.”

“We don’t have a justice system, but a legal system designed to serve the interests of the powerful and to employ judges and lawyers.”

An Ernst chronology

Jessica’s Ernst’s lawsuit against Alberta’s fracking industry and its regulators provides a blunt view of how slow and protracted Canada’s legal system has become.

May 1, 1998: Ernst moves to a small rural property in Rosebud, Alberta. Her well produces soft, high-quality water. Water tests state “Gas Present: No.”

2001: Encana begins an experimental shallow fracturing natural gas project around Rosebud, without consulting with the community or landowners in violation of the Alberta energy regulator’s requirements.

Feb. 14, 2004: Encana drilled and later hydraulically fractured in the drinking water aquifers supplying Ernst, a dozen families and the Hamlet of Rosebud.

January 2005: An explosion at the Rosebud water tower seriously injured a Wheatland County worker. It was reported that an investigation determined the explosion was apparently caused by “an accumulation of gases.”

Nov. 24, 2005: The energy regulator (then the Energy Resources Conservation Board, now the Alberta Energy Regulator) sends a letter to Ernst. It brands her criticisms of the regulator as a “criminal threat” and says it ceases all communication with her.

Dec. 6, 2005: Ernst sends a letter seeking clarification on the regulator’s decision to cut off communication. It is returned unopened.

June 8, 2006: Regulator lawyer Rick McKee questions Ernst in a recorded conversation with a witness. McKee admits that the regulator never saw her as “a criminal threat,” but as an unwelcome critic. He also asks Ernst what it will take to get her to leave Alberta. Ernst replies she will gladly leave Alberta as soon as the regulator starts to do its job.

December 2007: Ernst hires lawyer Murray Klippenstein and files a $33-million lawsuit against Encana, the Alberta environment ministry and the Energy Resources Conservation Board alleging groundwater contamination was caused by the shallow fracking of coalbed methane wells in central Alberta.

Feb. 12, 2009: RCMP officers arrive at Ernst’s home without warrants to ask questions.

Oct. 24, 2009: Prime minister Stephen Harper announces the appointment of Neil Wittmann as new Alberta chief justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench.

July 19, 2010: The U.S. Congress investigates fracking practices, including the impact on drinking water. Encana is one of the companies questioned.

June 24, 2011: The Harper government appoints Barbara Veldhuis to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Oct. 1, 2011: UNANIMA International, a U.S. NGO, presents Ernst with a Woman of Courage award in New York City.

April 26, 2012: The first hearing on the lawsuit takes place in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Drumheller. Justice Veldhuis requests a shorter statement of claim and volunteers as case manager. Energy regulator lawyer Glenn Solomon asks that the original statement of claim be removed from the court and public record. The request is denied.

Oct. 1, 2012: Defendants apply to have the case moved to Calgary during a case management call with Justice Veldhuis. Justice Wittmann later accepts the application to move the case to Calgary.

December 2012: In its legal brief filed with the court, the energy regulator changes its 2005 accusation that Ernst posed a “criminal threat” and described her as being an “eco-terrorist.”

Jan. 18, 2013: A second court hearing takes place in Calgary, where the courtroom is packed. Ernst refused to accept the change of venue and attends the Drumheller Court House with a witness. Encana does not argue to have the case struck, though the company website states that the case has no merit.

Feb. 8, 2013: The Harper government promotes Justice Veldhuis to the Alberta Court of Appeal. She advises that ruling on arguments in the Ernst case is “not an option.”

Feb. 15, 2013: During a case management call, Justice Veldhuis says Justice Wittmann has volunteered to take over the case.

Sept. 19, 2013: Justice Wittmann, despite not having presided over the original hearing, rules Ernst has a valid Charter of Rights and Freedoms claim but that the regulator is protected by legislation giving it immunity from civil litigation. He dismisses the regulator’s claim that Ernst is an “eco-terrorist” due to “the total absence of evidence.” He denies the Alberta government’s attempts to get the word “contamination” removed from Ernst’s statement of claim.

January 13, 2014: During a case management call, Justice Wittmann grants the Alberta government another chance to try to get Ernst’s case thrown out (at great cost of time and money to her). The hearing is set for April 16, 2014, and the case is moved back to Drumheller, where by law, it belongs.

Feb. 18, 2014: The Alberta government files a brief to strike the lawsuit against it. It argues the government has no duty of care to landowners and immunity. The motion comes three years after the lawsuit was launched.

March 18, 2014: Ernst responds to the government. Her lawyers argue that the approach taken by Alberta Environment is an abuse of process.

April 16, 2014: Drumheller Court of Queen’s Bench hears the Alberta government’s application to be removed from the Ernst case. Justice Wittmann orders document exchange between Ernst and Encana.

Sept. 15, 2014: The Alberta Court of Appeal rules that Alberta’s energy regulator cannot be sued by citizens even if it breaches constitutional rights.

Nov. 10, 2014: Chief Justice Wittmann rules that Alberta Environment can be sued. He orders Alberta Environment to pay Ernst “triple costs,” still less than the legal cost of protecting her case from having been thrown out.

Nov. 13, 2014: Ernst’s lawyers appeal the ruling on the regulator’s immunity to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Jan. 30, 2015: The Alberta government finally files its statement of defence.

Nov. 4, 2015: The Hamlet of Rosebud sends a petition to the Supreme Court of Canada arguing the energy regulator should not be exempt from lawsuits over Charter violations. It is rejected and not included in the docket. On a different case a letter from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is accepted.

Jan. 12, 2016: Supreme Court of Canada hears the case.

Jan. 13, 2017: In a split decision the Supreme Court of Canada rules that Ernst cannot sue the regulator.

Jan. 17, 2017: Chief Justice Neil Wittmann announces his retirement and recommends that the parties choose a replacement case management judge together. Ernst instructs her lawyers to write, “Our client believes that case management is not in her interest and therefore requests that the matter no longer be subject to case management… Our client also does not believe that it is appropriate for the parties to play a role in selecting a case management judge.”

Jan. 27, 2017: Encana and Alberta Environment provide their preferred judges to replace Justice Wittmann. Justice Eamon, one of their preferred judges, becomes the new case management judge.

March 29, 2017: The court orders case management to continue.

Aug. 26, 2018: Klippenstein and Wanless resign from the case.

June 30, 2019: Ernst announces that her lawyers have dropped her landmark case. To date, Encana still has not disclosed key records to Ernst, as required by Alberta’s Rules of Court and ordered by Justice Wittmann in July 2014. [Tyee]
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