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Samsung set to take away Chatham family’s water

Jessica Brooks in front of water tank that the construction company says they will remove.

In Chatham-Kent, the Ontario government is allowing Samsung (and their partner-Pattern Energy) to run roughshod over the community during the construction of 34 foundations for the North Kent 1 wind turbine project.  Since the company began pile driving, there have been 9 complaints of well interference and several families have lost the use of their water wells. Today, the construction company is set to remove a water tank they had provided to the Brooks family just last month after their well became plugged with black shale silt immediately following the start of pile driving nearby. The company says they looked at vibration monitoring data and decided that the problem wasn’t caused by their pile driving so they can remove the water tank. This is the latest outrage in a story that has been playing out in the region for almost 10 years.

In nearby Dover Township, dozens of wells were affected by similar construction methods for wind turbines. Those wells access the same kind of aquifer-one that sits atop the same geological formation-Kettle Point Black Shale- as in Chatham-Kent. Last year, people in the Chatham area formed a group, Water Wells First, in order to shed some light on the problem before the North Kent 1 wind project was built. They alerted the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and every other government agency at every level that dealt with water. They found experts on bedrock geology, on hydrogeology, vibration experts – even experts on vibrations generated specifically by wind turbines! They appealed the government’s decision to approve North Kent 1 in a hearing before the Environmental Review Tribunal. They did everything right but as the hearing progressed, they began to realize that the entire process was so slanted in favour of the proponents that they had little chance of winning. So they settled for a mediation process which at least got them a commitment that the proponents would pay for baseline testing of people’s water before the start of construction and provide clean water if any wells were interfered with. This is critical as the onus is on the well owner to prove that their water quality has been affected to get compensation. But the devil is in the details and the decisions made about everything from what contaminants would be tested for, to how and when the testing would happen, all seemed to be made with an eye to limiting the liability of the company.

In response, Water Wells First organized their own water testing program under the supervision of a qualified hydrogeologist, establishing a proper water-quality baseline for over 60 wells at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars out of their own pockets. When construction started this summer, the predictions of the experts became reality. Wells that had run clean and pure for generations suddenly were filling with black silt- some to the point that the water stopped flowing. The families filed well interference complaints with the company and with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC). Two of the families were given water tanks by the construction company. Now, the company is claiming that the construction activity is not to blame for the sudden problems with these wells and the MOECC agrees.

But the problem doesn’t stop with construction of the turbine foundations. In Dover, the turbine foundations were punched right into the Kettle Point Black Shale formation some 60 ft below the surface so that the massive turbines wouldn’t fall over. In certain wind conditions, turbines vibrate and those vibrations can travel several kilometres underground. People in Dover have been getting intermittent periods of black shale silt in their wells for years after the construction was completed. The hydrogeologists, bedrock geologists, and vibration experts that Water Wells First brought in to testify at the Environmental Review Tribunal all said this could happen if the North Kent 1 project went ahead as approved by the MOECC. 

Now it is happening and the MOECC refuses to acknowledge it, relying on a fatally flawed theoretical vibration model provided by the company and a vibration monitoring program that seems designed to avoid detecting vibrations in the bedrock. The model was based on the wrong shale formation- using data from the Hamilton Shale formation instead of the Kettle Point formation. And the vibration monitoring devices are not placed at the bottom of wells on the black shale itself (where the experts said it they had to be to provide useful information) but on the well casings, one foot above ground. One might expect that multi-billion dollar corporations would try and skew studies and reports in their favour but surely, our government must step in when actual harm is being done-regardless of what the proponent’s models and data indicate.

But the Ontario government is refusing to act- despite the years of problems in Dover, despite the expert testimony warning of the likelihood of similar problems in Chatham-Kent, despite the clear evidence of previously clear wells filling with black shale silt immediately after the commencement of pile driving.  How many more families will lose their water before Ontario intervenes and upholds the law and the conditions of the approval they issued? 

The Council of Canadians supports wind power as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels which can help Canada meet 100% of its energy needs from renewables by 2050. But as with any other industrial infrastructure, wind farms must be carefully developed to avoid having serious impacts on vulnerable areas.

Please see my blog from May 8th for more background