WIKWEMIKONG––A slick black ooze seeping from several of the 50-odd oil wells drilled between the mid-1800s and 1950 on Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve lands may be threatening that community’s water supply, and the reserve’s Department of Lands and Natural Resources wants the federal agency responsible for overseeing oil and gas on Canada’s First Nation reserves to cap the wells and take whatever remedial action is necessary to protect their water supply.
“The big oil giants, including some linked to the Kennedy family, like Great Lakes Carbon and Imperial Oil, were allowed to come in and drill,” said Stitch Manitowabi, Wikwemikong’s resource and lands coordinator. “They were supposed to make them clean up after themselves too.”
Much of that cleanup work was highly substandard by today’s levels, maintains Mr. Manitowabi. “Basically there are up to seven wells with major leaks,” he said. “Those wells are leaking into our watershed. We don’t just want them to be capped. We want them to do the proper remediation as well.”
Mr. Manitowabi maintains that the federal government and its agencies and agents have not practiced due diligence in regard to the wells in Wikwemikong. “There is a lack of due diligence stretching back over the past 150 years,” asserted Mr. Manitowabi. “The records show that there has been drilling here from the 1870s right up until the 1950s. They made the companies responsible for the cleanup, but there does not appear to have been any real follow up to make sure that the proper precautions have been taken to protect the land and the watershed.”
To those wondering what all the fuss is about, Mr. Manitowabi directs them to a Youtube video of one of the leaking wells. “Just go to Youtube and type in Wikwemikong Oil Products,” he said. “You can see just what is going on here.”
Following that advice reveals a standing pipe with a black, bubbling oil-like substance flowing slowly out of the pipe and onto the surrounding ground.
Ideally, the community would like to see the resource being exploited to provide economic development or energy self-sufficiency. “It might not be enough oil there to supply the globe, but there is enough to provide heating oil for our community members,” muses Mr. Manitowabi. “That would be the best of all worlds, if we could get it cleaned up and provide for our community.”
For now, however, Mr. Manitowabi said that the key issue is ensuring that the community’s water supply and watershed are protected.
“Right now it is the environmental concerns that we have to have addressed,” he said. “Community safety has to be job one.”
Government consultants will be coming to Wikwemikong later this month to assess the situation.