In 1997-99, the first water wells and springs were lost in Penobsquis. At the same time as this was occurring, there was a water inflow problem at the Penobsquis Potash Mine.
In 2000 and 2001, the first two natural gas wells were drilled. They were drilled as PotashCorp was looking for a place to pump the water that was flowing into their mine – instead they found gas. These two wells now provide natural gas to the Penobsquis Potash Corp Mine. The wells were drilled in conjunction with Corridor Resources, a junior oil and gas company.
In 2004, after several more gas wells had been drilled, a round of seismic testing coincided with the loss of water at several homes. Blasting was being done for exploratory seismic testing undertaken by PotashCorp prior to them starting construction on their new Piccadilly Mine. Many residents felt the blasts, their homes shook, dishes, pictures and ductwork rattled. Several homeowners found no water or muddy water the next time they went to their taps for water.
Five to six other rounds of seismic testing have taken place in Penobsquis for exploration work for both potash, and oil and gas. Additionally, a process used to stimulate gas wells, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), was used on gas wells adjacent to the potash mine workings. This process creates cracks in rock to let the gas out. There have been questions raised in other places about this process and how it can allow water to move or migrate between different layers in the earth.
The Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis group has acquired information that says that the cap rock over the original potash mine workings was more brittle than expected and has cracked. This has allowed the water to flow into the mine. Studies suggest this aquifer is less than 150m (492ft) from the surface and as this aquifer is being drained faster than it is being recharged it is resulting in the ground settling or subsiding. This is in addition to the mining subsidence the Potash Mine describes as ‘expected’ or ‘normal’ as part of their operations.
As more than 60 water wells and springs have been lost over several years, and as they are all almost directly over the mine workings, it would seem reasonable to assume that the water going into the mine, at rates exceeding 1,800 US Gallons per minute, has led to these wells drying up. Residents also believe that it is ultimately the pumping away of this water that has resulted in the loss of their wells, and the subsidence that is now affecting their homes. Originally, all the water was hauled by about 300 tractor trailer loads everyday. Now in 2010, even with a brine pipeline now pumping water away, it still appears there are truckloads of water being hauled approximately every 5-6 minutes.
For 5 years, residents had water trucked to their homes at taxpayer expense, with bottled water being provided by PotashCorp as “good corporate citizens”. During that time many residents faced hardships of having to leave their homes unlocked for daytime filling of basement water tanks, having basements flooded when hoses malfunctioned, or heating outdoor sheds that held water tanks in addition to many other concerns. Many residents also experienced skin rashes they felt were attributed to this water.
PotashCorp has attempted to stop the water from seeping into their mine. Both with an above ground grouting station that pumps grout down into the mine workings, and a drill rig that, over many months, pumped material into the aquifer and the area around it through more than a couple of dozen drill holes. Both facilities created huge noise and dust problems for residents. The grouting station continues to run at all hours of the day and night continuing the noise, light, dust pollution. Residents more than a kilometre away feel affected, while of course those homeowners within a couple of hundred metres are much more significantly affected.
Residents now have to pay for water from a new water system installed with mostly taxpayer money (PotashCorp paid for approx 10% of the more than $10 million cost). About 50% of the water from the new system is used by commercial clients, mostly PotashCorp. The other half of the water supplied goes to homes. Half the homes supplied are homes that lost their water. The system has resulted in residents paying more per unit volume of water than industry. Residents have felt it has been a struggle to get government to find a back up well, and to put wellfield protection in place for the main existing well. At the writing of this document, neither has been put in place and it’s been 18 months since the system became functional.
The homes and property now being affected by subsidence (ground settling) are the same homes that originally lost their well water. Properties are being affected by sinkholes, shifting walls and roofs, concrete cracking in basements, septic fields that no longer drain and other issues. Even though the ground is sinking, it does not appear to be sinking uniformly.
More than 70 subsidence monuments and at least 6 subsidence monitoring stations are scattered around the community. These monuments and monitors are used by PotashCorp and the University of New Brunswick to track how much the ground is sinking and moving sideways. The exact measurements and amount of movement has never been disclosed to the community – although the subsidence and horizontal movement has been recognized and discussed in academic journals.
As the province of New Brunswick faces more mining, oil and gas exploration, the Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis do not want to see what happened to the homeowners here happen anywhere else. They feel that mining interests or big corporations should not be allowed to come to a community and create irreversible damage, and have residents bear the cost of that damage. To that end, the Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis is pursuing legal action against PotashCorp for the lost wells, the damage due to subsidence, and noise, light and dust pollution, in addition to the lost property values. These homeowners have filed a complaint with the Mining Commissioner for relief on these issues.