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Green Energy, Black Water

Living in the footprint of industrial wind turbines.

In the article “Renewable Energy’s Dilemma” (CC Jan. 22), Candice Goodchild introduced the perspective of a grassroots group in Chatham-Kent, Ontario called Water Wells First. This group was formed to protect the sensitive aquifer in the area from vibration damage caused by the construction and operation of industrial wind turbines (IWT). I am a member of that group, and I would like to share my story with you.   

My family and I live inside the footprint of the North Kent Wind 1 (NKW1) project, built in the northeast part of Chatham-Kent, Ontario. The wind farm is built and managed by Pattern Energy (out of Texas) and Samsung (out of Korea). We live on an acre of land, surrounded by farmland. We have enjoyed quiet country living that included an unlimited supply of good, clean water from our well. However, last summer, during the construction of the NKW1 project, our property was surrounded by three pile drivers. The particular style of construction for industrial wind turbines requires the use of piles to support the foundations. In this case, 18 to 24 piles are used for each of the 34 wind turbines in this project. Three turbines were erected within one kilometre of our house.

Pile driving began on July 27, 2017. The next day, while my husband was in the shower, the water stopped running. Upon investigation we found that the sediment traps we had installed on our water line were choked with thick, black sediment – something we had never seen before.

Chatham-Kent sits on a unique geological bedrock formation called Kettle Point Black Shale. The aquifer that feeds hundreds of wells in Chatham-Kent is shallow and quite fragile. It rests on that black shale, trapped in layers of glacial sediment. Black shale is known to naturally contain lead, mercury, arsenic and uranium.

In 2012, the East St. Clair wind project was constructed in northwest Chatham-Kent, which has the same black shale formation as other areas of the county. Many well owners in the area experienced the same black water we found in our well.

Health hazards
Investigation by private citizens and scientists hypothesized that the vibration from pile driving and the operation of wind turbines had disturbed the aquifer under the East St. Clair project, causing the release of sediments into the aquifer. As a result, the water turned black from the shale particles. When the NKW1 project was to begin, farmers and residents from the area mobilized to inform government officials about the potential danger to the aquifer from pile driving. This became the group Water Wells First. Our warnings and pleas were ignored, and construction began.

Today more than 20 wells within the footprint of the NKW1 project are experiencing black water. Many of these families had received water tanks from the wind company, which was required by the Renewable Energy Act permit – an alternative water supply in the case of any well issues during construction. Our family has had a tank on our property since the first weekend of August. It froze during the coldest winter days, and ran dry when there were delays in delivery, or when the hose leaked. At the time of writing, we have been informed that the tank will removed from our property by the end of March.

In anticipation of possible damage to our wells, many of the residents inside the NKW1 footprint had extensive baseline testing done to assess the quality of the well water. In our case, before-construction testing showed that we had miniscule amounts of black shale particles that could be easily filtered out. Tests of our well water after it turned black showed an increase of 14,000 times the number of black shale particles. Most of these particles are too small to filter out and, according to a toxicologist we have consulted, the water too dangerous for regular household use. There is risk of toxic exposure for people who consume or bathe in the water, or who inhale vapors from the water used in showers.

Wanted: clean water
In the months since construction, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) has concluded that “construction of the NKW1 project has not caused the observed water quality problems.” Instead, the report cites “unknown factors.” No further investigation is planned.

As disheartening as this report is, what is even more frustrating is that the MOECC came to this conclusion using vibration data collected and analyzed by the engineering firm hired by Pattern Energy. Vibration is a recognized pollutant. In this situation, the polluter is essentially monitoring its own pollution rate. The MOECC had ignored the information provided to them by the well owners. The hydrogeologist we have consulted has said that it is statistically improbable that all of these wells would suddenly begin producing the same black water after supplying generations of good, clean water without a specific cause.

Since the windfarm became operational at the end of February, more wells have gone bad, as the vibration of the operating turbines continues to disturb the aquifer. These families have been told that they will not be supplied with water, and have been relying on neighbours and family to help them with laundry, drinking water and bathing. Those of us with tanks will soon lose them.

Developments in green energy are certainly needed if we are going to protect and sustain God’s creation. However, research and progress needs to be carried out with wisdom and proper investigation. Just as crucially, researchers, scientists and government leaders must also watch out and care for the people who are impacted by their decisions and actions. That accountability is not happening in our community. The regional government is benefiting from the investments made by energy corporations. The provincial government, which should be overseeing the process, is not responding to our request for careful investigation and the protection of our rights and property. In the very near future, we will no longer have access to safe drinking water, through no fault of our own. We are calling out for justice. We beg our government leaders to take proper action to protect the residents of Chatham-Kent. 

  • Jessica lives in Chatham-Kent, Ont. with her family. They attend St. Paul’s Congregational Church.

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