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Council delivers message to Ontario Energy Board on Fracking

This coming Thursday and Friday the Council of Canadians will be participating in an Ontario Energy Board (OEB) Stakeholder Conference in Toronto. The conference provides a forum to discuss recent developments in North American natural gas supply markets and the implications for the Ontario natural gas sector.

Lisa Sumi, Science and Research Advisor for EARTHWORKS and expert on the impacts of fracking and natural gas drilling has prepared a report on behalf of the Council of Canadians for the OEB. Sumi will be presenting the report at the conference.

Why is this important?

It is important because the boom in unconventional natural gas resources, particularly shale gas, is being predicted as a significant source for the North American market – over 30 per cent of total supply by 2020. A report prepared for the OEB describes unconventional shale formations as a “game changer.” 

The Council of Canadians see’s the exploitation of shale gas and the technique of hydraulic fracturing it requires, as a game changer of a different sort.

Hydraulic fracturing, often referred to as fracking, a process which involves injecting large volumes of water, sand and chemicals to force dense gas shales (and other unconventional gas sources) to fracture enabling the flow of gas, comes at high social and environmental costs.

The OEB should question reliance on shale gas as a significant source of future supply.  

Environmental Concerns and Regulatory Initiatives Related to Hydraulic Fracturing in Shale Gas Formations: Potential Implications for North American Gas Supply.

In her report, Sumi argues that the extraction of natural gas from shales has not only been a game changer with respect to the North American natural gas supply outlook, it’s raised public awareness with respect to natural gas drilling. This has spurred regulations that may ultimately slow the growth of shale gas development and predicted supply in Ontario.

Sumi focuses on gas production in the Marcellus shale (lies beneath New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio) which is noted in the report prepared for the OEB as being critical to North American natural gas supply.

Three major environmental concerns are exposed in the report; water requirements, chemical exposure and contaminated water management.

A number of proposed regulatory initiatives that may influence the pace and scope of gas produced from the Marcellus shale, including a moratorium in New York, severance tax in Pennsylvania, water discharge standards in New Pennsylvania, chemical disclosure requirements, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act are outlined.

You can read the full report here.

Significant environmental and social costs to fracking:

Here is a sample of the type of impacts of fracking highlighted in the report.

“…a Marcellus Shale well fracturing operation requires from 1 to 10 million gallons of water compared to 50,000 gallons reportedly used to fracture conventional natural gas wells in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin….Potential impacts include aquifer depletion, stream flow depletion and disruption of natural flow regime, and interference with flows to wetlands and other water dependent ecosystems. In turn, aquatic life, fish, wildlife and plant life can be affected, and drinking water supplies can be depleted.”
“Exposure to chemicals can occur in a variety of ways. Hydraulic fracturing fluids can spill, posing health hazards to workers or others who come in contact with the chemicals. For example, an emergency room nurse in Colorado was exposed to a fracturing fluid called ZetaFlow while treating a gasfield worker whose clothes had been splashed by the chemical. She immediately lost her sense o smell and developed a headache, and within a couple of days her liver, heart and lungs began to shutdown.”

“There are a growing number of cases in the Marcellus shale of people being exposed to high concentrations of methane, the major component of natural gas, either through leaks from improperly constructed wells, or communication between hydraulic fractures and other geological conduits. In Washington County, Pennsylvania a hydraulic fracture communicated with an abandoned well, which allowed methane to flow to the surface and contaminate private water supplies.”

 “Increasingly in Pennsylvania, companies are constructing large pits or impoundments the size of football fields to hold millions of gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid wastes, called ‘flowback.’ The concentration of such large pools of waste has the potential to create serious air pollution problems due to the release of volatile organic compounds from these wastes. Already citizens living close to the flowback recycling ponds have experiences ‘odors like that of gasoline and kerosene.’”

 “Colborn found that 94% of the hydraulic fracturing fluid chemicals in her database are associated with skin, eye and respiratory harm, 93% with harm to the gastrointestinal system, and 83% with brain and nervous system effects.”

Fracking in Canada?

While this report focuses on the Marcellus shale, the shale gas boom being experienced in the U.S. is spreading to Canada with a number of prospective sources at different stages of exploration and exploitation in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. 
Canadians need to learn from experiences with fracking in the U.S. and in Alberta.

 In addition to participating in this OEB process, the Council of Canadians has been monitoring developments  across the country and will increasingly take action to challenge fracking.

 This past March, in response to news of Calgary-based Mooncor Oil & Gas Corp. buying land rights in southwestern Ontario to drill for shale gas, Council of Canadians Regional Organizer Mark Calzavara warned that fracking could pose an environmental threat in Ontario in the Chatham Daily News, “‘Fracking is very scary. It’s created a gold rush mentality amongst a lot of oil companies and it has a lot of deleterious effects on ground water.” Read more here

As reported by the CBC, people in Cape Breton’s Inverness County are preparing to challenge oil and gas exploration by Toronto-based PetroWorth Resources Inc. “‘We have concerns about our health. We have concerns about the ecology of the lake. And we’re concerned about our drinking water,’ Anne Levesque, of the Inverness County chapter of the Council of Canadians, said. Her group has been following the exploration plans of Toronto-based PetroWorth Resources, she said, and their main concern is a technique used in shale rock formations. …Levesque said fractionation, or fracking, has contaminated groundwater in other part of North America. ‘Cattle have been sick and died from drinking the water. There are increasing concerns with health,’ she said. …Levesque said her group will hold a public information session on potential fracking in West Lake Ainslie next week.” read more here.