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Fracking fightback: Attack source and destination?

Opposition to fracking has swept the world in recent years, and rightly so. Dramatic images of tap water set on fire, compelling stories of people suffering from water and land contamination and clear scientific research documenting the risks. 

Much of this activism has focused on stopping fracking at the source, and this has seen real success. The decision to prohibit fracking with a moratorium in Nova Scotia being a recent example. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the value of campaigns targeting fracked gas’ final destination. This could take several different forms. Targeting end suppliers, like a gas station or gas distribution companies to stop using fracked gas. Divestment campaigns targeting fracking corporations (live and well in the student movement!). Campaigns targeting pipeline projects that provide greater market access and more fracking.

I think these campaigns could accomplish two important goals.

They would provide an opportunity for people not living in an area threatened by fracking, a way to be in solidarity and support the opposition of people living on the front lines of the serious impacts caused by fracking – health ailments, land, air and water contamination.

The tar sands pipeline fights are an important reason why industry is starting to decide against further tar sands expansion, for example, Total’s recent decision to shelve their 11 billion Joslyn north oil sands project. Could the same not be true for fracking fight backs?  

This style of campaign would also protect natural gas customers from the risks of relying on fracked gas and push decision makers towards the transition to great conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy that we need.

Take, for example, the No Fracked Gas in Mass! Campaign. Here, people are coming together to oppose new natural gas infrastructure that would ship a significant amount of fracked gas to New England, far more than is actually needed to meet demand. Check out their website, it is full of great information and appears to be in full swing with several ways to take action, numerous events, lots of content including personal stories from the route and appears to be making some headway. This is definitely a campaign to watch and could point towards a new branch of fracking activism. 

The Council of Canadians intervened in a similar fight to stop what we cheekily termed Toronto’s frack pipe. New natural gas infrastructure for the Greater Toronto Area proposed by Enbridge Gas Distribution and Union gas that would leave millions of people reliant on imported fracked gas from the Marcellus shale.

We lost this fight at the regulatory level. The Ontario Energy Board approved the project last Spring despite the concerns we raised, and evidence provided by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance demonstrating that energy conservation and energy efficiency efforts could meet predicted demand increases.

While we lost that fight (although it should be noted that the pipe isn’t built yet), the battle is far from over.

We learned from the process and gained useful information from the evidence we commissioned from three experts that is still relevant to all fracking activists.

And Ontario residents will have another opportunity to oppose a frack pipe. 

It is a matter of days before TransCanada’s files their full Energy East project description with the National Energy Board.  This will include a proposal for a new natural gas pipeline, the Eastern Mainline, from Markham to Iroquois.

In converting an existing up to 40 year old pipeline that supplies natural gas to Ontario and Quebec, TransCanada is proposing this additional new pipeline to meet local natural gas supply needs. Concerns around access to natural gas as a result of the proposed conversion has been a point of contention for TransCanada’s project, including with gas distributors

There are compelling reasons to oppose this new frack pipe, in addition to it being part of TransCanada’s risky export project to transport 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, including tar sands crude, to Atlantic Canada www.canadians.org/energyeast.

It will help spur more fracking in the U.S.

The new frack pipe will allow more flow from the Dawn Hub, a storage facilitation in Lambton County Ontario. The Dawn Hub is supplied by several pipelines, increasing from imports originated in the Marcellus, Utica and U.S. Northeast shale plays. Increasing the volume we consume in Ontario will worsen impacts for people living in these areas, actively fighting against fracking for shale gas near their homes and communities.

This frack pipe is part of a bigger shift of supplying Ontario and Quebec with fracked gas imports from the U.S. This is happening thanks to the primarily de-regulated, market-based electricity system we have – see section on market liberalization in this report.  Market interests are short-sighted by design. Market signals and pricing differentials are shifting long-term infrastructure decisions towards supply sources that are currently low cost.

The market, and industry and government towing market logic, is refusing to see the writing on the wall.

Not only is this decision making blind to the at source impacts of fracking for shale gas, the reality is shale gas won’t stay low cost for long. Fracking activists area already winning bans, moratoriums and increased regulation on shale gas which will make shale gas less available and more expensive

This frack pipe means higher heating costs for Ontarians.

All of this will be done on the backs of Ontario tax payers. Union Gas estimates the price tag of this new pipe at $2 billion. While TransCanada states this is too high, and that they will contribute to the cost, what will still be a large sum to pay comes at a time when consumers are already suffering from rising heating costs. This past exceptionally cold winter saw natural gas prices to skyrocket and supply limits to industrial users.

While there are always a multitude of places to put our efforts as activists part of important movements challenging a multitude of issues, I think this focus on the destination of fracked gas is worthy of our consideration.