In January 2016, Canadian Jessica Ernst had her day in court. Lawyers for the former oil industry insider debated whether she could sue the Alberta energy regulator over her claim that hydraulic fracturing had so badly contaminated her well that the water could be set on fire. This hearing in the Supreme Court of Canada is the latest chapter in Ernst's twelve-year battle against Alberta Environment, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (which has since become the Alberta Energy Regulator) and Encana, one of Canada's largest unconventional gas drillers. At the time of writing, the judgment was reserved, but if the Supreme Court finds in her favour, Ernst's case will resume.
An environmental consultant for some of North America's largest oil and gas companies, Ernst began to question Encana's operations in 2003 when she discovered the extent of drilling near her rural home north-east of Calgary. Concerned about the impact on her property, the local aquifer, and her community, she probed Encana's practices and found them to be illegal and underhand. When she turned to the province's energy regulator for help, the regulator tried to silence her, attacked her credibility, and branded her a security threat. Not to be intimidated, Ernst launched a multi-million-dollar lawsuit over fracking's contamination of her well water and the failure of government authorities to investigate the pollution. In Slick Water, Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk shares Ernst's story and exposes the dark underbelly of the coal seam gas industry.