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Council of Canadians meets with Irish Minister of Energy to talk fracking

Council of Canadians Trade Campaigner Stuart Trew and I met with Minister of State at the Department of
Communications, Energy & Natural Resources and Environment
Fergus O’Dowd today in Toronto to raise our concerns about hydraulic fracturing. The Embassy of Ireland contacted us to set up a meeting so Minister O’Dowd could hear our perspectives about hydraulic fracturing in Canada.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial method used to extract unconventional sources of gas such as shale gas, coal bed methane and tight gas. The process uses a mixture of sand, water and chemicals to blast apart shale and other rock formations to release trapped natural gas.

I raised concerns about water contamination, water use, the lack of a legal requirement to disclose chemicals used in the fracking process and the problem of disposing of fracking wastewater.

The fracking process uses 8 to 34 million litres of water and tens of thousands of litres of chemicals for each fracking job. While British Columbia has a database for companies to disclose what chemicals are used in the fracking process, there is concern that companies can still apply to have some chemicals excluded because they are considered ‘trade secrets.’ As well, there is no government regulatory body that verifies whether companies have disclosed all chemicals used as well as studies on the cumulative impacts of these chemicals.

Trade Campaigner Stuart Trew expressed concerns about how Ireland could be limited in implementing environmental, health and public safety regulations related to fracking with the possibility of an investor-state dispute process in the Canada-EU Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement. As has been seen in cases around the world, an investor-state dispute chapter would give companies the right to bring a case against a country for implementing environmental, health or human rights standards as these are seen as trade barriers.

Minister O’Dowd was open to our concerns and interested to learn about hydraulic fracturing in Canada. He did raise common arguments in favour of fracking such as the economic incentives, the creation of jobs and the need for national energy security. However, we expressed points about the decrease in royalties because the abundance of natural gas has now driven down prices and thus public returns on natural gas. Food and Water Watch published a report raising doubts about the number of jobs that industry purports to have created by the fracking process in New York state. As well, we raised the points about how the natural gas being extracted in Western Canada is to be shipped to Asia or used for tar sands exploration.

Jessica Ernst, landowner and biologist from Rosebud, Alberta was in Ireland at the end of February to share her experiences with fracking. Ernst has a lawsuit against gas company Encana, Alberta Environment and the Energy Resources Conservation Board for negligence and unlawful activities. Ernst’s well is so contaminated with methane that she can light her water on fire.

According to the Minister, fracking has not begun in Ireland. The three major companies (including Taboran Resources) have applied for exploration permits and have yet to apply for licences to develop shale gas on a commercial scale. However, many groups are already raising concerns about the impacts fracking will have in Ireland.

Minister O’Dowd’s visit is timely in that it comes on the heels of ban on fracking in Niagara Falls, New York (which includes the ban of the treatment of fracking wastewater) and with the release of Food and Water Watch’s report Fracking: The New Global Water Crisis (Minister O’Dowd indicated he would be visiting Pittsburgh to learn further about fracking in the US). It is also interesting to note that the Irish government arranged a meeting with the Council of Canadians while the Canadian government has failed to consult with the public here in Canada despite the two federal review processes that are underway. We hope that Minister O’Dowd listens to the concerns of people in Ireland and does not go down the road that most governments in Canada and the US are going.