Black + White = Green

When the oil industry helps fight a dainty white weed, a collaboration of unlikely partners grows out of a need to go green.

Chris Willette, an employee of Calfrac Well Services, holds up “the big one,” an example of the type of Baby's Breath weed that is threatening an endangered flower in the Medicine Hat area.
Chris Willette, an employee of Calfrac Well Services, holds up “the big one,” an example of the type of Baby’s Breath weed that is threatening an endangered flower in the Medicine Hat area.

The City of Medicine Hat owns a piece of property that is the habitat of Tiny Cryptantha, a plant on the endangered species list. Unfortunately this property was being overrun by Baby’s Breath, a noxious weed that pushes out all other native plants. Many people know Baby’s Breath as that dainty little white filler flower in rose bouquets and hair crowns. In the wild, however, this plant is a monster! It has a tap root that will go four metres into the ground and accessing a water table much deeper than most native plants. These flowers will produce 10,000 seeds per plant and during the fall Baby’s Breath turns into a tumbleweed and distributes seeds everywhere it rolls. All of these properties allow it to out-compete the native vegetation and take over an area.

According to the Alberta Weed Act, Baby’s Breath must be controlled. Normal weed control methods include herbicide application and mowing, however, both of these options would severely damage the endangered Tiny Cryptantha.

Oil and green do mix

In 2013 and 2014, Sean Allen owner of the environmental conslting company Something Good for Nature, brought together Calfrac Well Services, The City of Medicine Hat, the Medicine Hat College, and The Grassland Naturalists to tackle the Baby’s Breath problem.

Baby's Breath (Gypsophila paniculata) may be a popular adornment to wedding attire, but it comes at an invasive cost to many property owners.
Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata) may be a popular adornment to wedding attire, but it comes at an invasive cost to many property owners.

Calfrac donated their field staff to hand-dig the invasive Baby’s Breath and remove the plants from the Medicine Hat property. To effectively remove the plant, the Calfrac crew had to dig twelve inches below the surface, severe the root, and dig it out. At the start of the project it was estimated that there were between 5,000 to 8,000 Baby’s Breath plants on the property; the 2013 project actually removed 30,000 plants, and another 22,000 were removed in 2014. In total, Calfrac donated more than 2,000 man hours to this initiative.

The Grassland Naturalists, a local conservation group worked side-by-side with Calfrac Well Services during the weed removal project. Naturalists surveyed the property and indicated with yellow flags any Baby’s Breath plants that needed to be removed and helped teach field workers how to identify the plants.

The project became a monstrous success. On top of protecting this valuable habitat, the project created considerable awareness about the damage that invasive weeds are causing. Many people in Medicine Hat have since been removing Baby’s Breath in other areas of their city. Residents in other Alberta municipalities have followed suit by tackling the Baby’s Breath problem in their own jurisdictions.

The Medicine Hat story was featured in newspapers and broadcasts from Vancouver to Montreal and Sean Allen, the project coordinator, was invited to events across the country to speak on the project. The project was a finalist for an Alberta Emerald Award and Sean was the recipient of an Environmental Civic Recognition Award.

Moving Forward

Currently, Something Good for Nature, is working on another collaboration with the oil industry in the Grande Prairie area. Their aim is to protect the vital riparian habitat along the Smoky River.

Riparian areas provide an abundance of vital, natural goods and services and it would be extremely costly to replace these functions of nature with some other means. Riparian zones are easily susceptible to damage caused by humans so the new Smoky River proposal will remove a threat to this habitat.

 

Environmental Awareness Course

Sean Allen is a reclamation specialist and his environmental consulting company, Something Good for Nature (SGFN), works with the oil and gas industry in reduce their environmental footprint. Sean offers an Environmental Awareness Coarse that teaches fieldworkers about the impacts humans are having on the environment. The course covers a variety of topics such as how invasive species are threatening biodiversity, why water is essential to life, and to learn how the hydrological cycle is being impacted. Soil is so much more than dirt so the course teaches the value of preserving soil.

SGFN_truckload_1000pxThe course also aims to reduce the industry’s land reclamation costs by billions of dollars across the province by avoiding or preventing many of their larger expenses, such as weed removal and soil erosion. The course will bolster a company’s reputation of being good environmental stewards and improves their social license to operate.

SGFN also builds collaborations of unlikely partners in protecting the environment through unique projects.

Sean can be reached at: [email protected] or 403-502-2715