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NEWS: Federal briefing notes warn fracking could sap freshwater

The Canadian Press reports that, “The Conservative government has been warned that drilling for shale gas could boost carbon-dioxide emissions, encroach on wildlife habitat and sap freshwater resources.”

“The risks are outlined in briefing notes prepared last spring for Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis. (The briefing notes) warn the process of releasing natural gas from shale — called hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ — could draw heavily on freshwater resources and significantly increase Canada’s overall carbon-dioxide emissions. The documents also say projects in areas without infrastructure may require the construction of roads, drill pads and pipelines, which could create ‘extensive habitat fragmentation’ for wildlife.”

“The documents, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, focus on the potential of shale-gas development in Quebec. They also highlight the promise and perils of tapping the many large reserves found across Canada.”

And though not noted in the Canadian Press article, two other federal bodies have also recently commented on the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing:

This June the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy – a federal body appointed by the Minister of the Environment and accountable to Parliament through that minister – stated in their report Changing Currents that, “Thousands of wells are required for shale gas production to be commercially viable, and this requires significant volumes of water. Much of the water is not returned to source in the short term and so is considered a consumptive use. As the shale gas developments of Northern British Columbia and Québec are in their initial development stage, it is hard to predict how much water will be required, how it will be managed, and what effects it may have on the water resources and the surrounding ecosystems.”

The NRTEE report warns that, “Fracing fluids are used to crack open the underground formation to allow oil or gas to flow more freely and increase production. While some of the injected fluids are returned to the surface, some remain underground and may eventually seep into the groundwater aquifers.”

Postmedia News reported then that, “Environment Minister Jim Prentice praised the advisory panel for researching the issue and providing valuable information, but said it was too early to decide on possible changes in management or governance of water usage.”

And in July the National Energy Board – a federal regulatory agency accountable to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources – said that, “There are some concerns about the effects shale gas drilling has on the watershed, land-use footprint and increase in carbon dioxide emissions, among other environmental issues. Drilling and hydraulically fracturing wells can be water-intensive procedures. …Water that has been used to fracture a shale gas well can contain chemicals and additives so it is never allowed to enter the watershed. Typically, it is disposed of by injecting it deep below the earth’s surface into rock formations, which is a common practice in Western Canada and strictly regulated by provincial authorities. …Still, it is very early to make any conclusions about how developing this resource will impact the environment.”

The Canadian Press report can be read at http://montreal.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20100901/mtl_shale_100901/20100901/?hub=MontrealHome.

Council of Canadians campaign blogs on fracking can be read at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?s=fracturing.