Residents of one small New Brunswick community in Canada are facing problems with dry wells, sink holes and structural damage to homes – and many blame a local potash mine for their woes.
Wells and springs began to go dry in the village of Penobsquis in the late 1990s, at the same time there was a water inflow problem at the Penobsquis Potash Mine, which is owned by PotashCorp.
Sixty wells have now been lost in the area, affecting about 200 people in the community of about 600, according to the Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis website.
“I live in Penobsquis and I’ve seen what is taking place,” said Heather McCabe, who is a member of the citizens group.
“The first structural problems at my place started about six years ago and we lost our water about three-and-a-half years ago.
“In my home the roof has gotten wavy - sagging in some places and heaving in others. This is on a section of the home which is only 12 years old.
“The frame supporting the home (It’s a mini home with an addition on a properly prepared pad and supports.) is twisting, window seals are gone, and the septic pipe from the house to the tank is now above ground.”
She said it appears as if the ground has sunk while the pipe remained where it was.
Because of the sinking, with land now sloping toward her building, her home now looks at if it is sitting in a small moat, and last winter she had a six-inch slab of ice under the entire structure.
The water under the house has begun causing mould problems.
“The seal on our toilet is constantly breaking, so needs frequent replacement,” she said.
“The back stairs tipped because of the sinking ground, causing them to block the door. We replaced them with a new deck this last summer and they are now moving. We will need to remove door if they move any more.
“The front steps and concrete block walkway are sinking and very uneven, which causes a major hazard for my mum, who walks with a cane.”
Walls are bowing in some parts of her home, causing her to sleep in the dining room.
Residents also live with constant noise, light and dust from the operation the mine set up to try to stop water inflow.
“The problems started with the potash mine but natural gas hasn't helped the situation,” said McCabe.
“PotashCorp drilled the natural gas wells in conjunction with Corridor Resources.”
The gas was discovered when the company was looking for a place to pump the water that was flowing into the mine, and they now supply the mine with natural gas.
Seismic testing coincided with the loss of water at several homes.
A process used to stimulate gas wells, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), also took place in the area.
McCabe said this process creates cracks in rock to let the gas out, but Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis has acquired information stating that the cap rock over the original potash mine workings was more brittle than expected and has cracked, allowing water to flow into the mine.
Residents believe that wells have gone dry because of the large amounts of water being pumped out of the mine and hauled away in trucks.
Residents had water trucked to their homes, at taxpayers’ expense, for five years, while PotashCorp provided bottled water.
They now have to pay for water from a new system, for which taxpayers covered most of the cost.
The latest problem to hit the area is sink holes, some of which are waist deep.
PotashCorp is now building a new mineshaft, which is expected to replace the existing one by 2011 or 2012.
Sixteen home owners are in the concerned citizens group but we believe many more are having problems,” added McCabe. “Many here work for the mine, have family who work for the mine or depend on mine pensions so many don't speak up.
“We have had several meetings with the mine, both as a group and some individuals themselves who went to the mine - they deny being responsible.
“I think the mining industry is being protected because of what the government sees as economic potential...jobs, royalties, etc.”
The Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis is pursuing legal action against PotashCorp and homeowners have filed a complaint with the Mining Commissioner.