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Council of Canadians raises concerns about shale gas drilling by Ontario government

In the wake of a new report assessing shale gas potential in Southern Ontario, the Council of Canadians is raising concerns about the Ontario government’s role in shale drilling and calling on the Ontario government to ban fracking in the province.

The Ontario Geological Survey (OGS), an arm of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, released a summary report on their field work earlier this week, which includes details on the results of a drilling program in the Ordovician shales in Southern Ontario. The drilling program took samples from 11 locations including Little Current, Wiarton, Bruce County, Chatham, Port Stanley, Pickering and Russell.

“We want more answers about why government is pursuing these drilling programs without an environmental assessment on fracking.  I have visited communities across the country and heard about the devastating effects of fracking on water sources and people’s health,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians. “I urge the Ontario government to follow Quebec’s lead and ban fracking. At the very least, we should place a moratorium on fracking until the Ontario government conducts studies on the impacts of fracking on water sources, the surrounding environment and public health.”

“We are in the dark about what exactly the Ontario government’s plans are, but fracking in Ontario could have serious long-term and cumulative impacts on the Great Lakes,” says Emma Lui, water campaigner for the Council of Canadians. “The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario recently blasted the Ontario government for excluding the public from key environmental decisions. Under the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, governments are required to obtain free, prior and informed consent from First Nations.  Ontarians must also be consulted about whether they want fracking in their communities. We also want to know how many taxpayer dollars were sunk into these drilling programs without public input. ”

The OGS has been conducting studies since 2009, including drilling to “establish the potential for shale gas” and attempting to determine whether the sources are “economically viable.” The first drilling program occurred in the Kettle Point Formation located in Sarnia-Lambton and Chatham-Kent County. Yesterday’s report, however, highlights certain formations of the Ordovician shales – particularly the Rouge River Member of the Blue Mountain Formation and the Collingwood Member of the Cobourg Formation – as having “the best potential for shale gas productive units.”

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking,” is a technique to extract natural gas from harder to access unconventional sources trapped in rock formations such as shale gas, coal bed methane and tight gas. Millions of litres of water, thousands of litres of chemicals and thousands of pounds of sand are injected underground at very high pressure in order to create fractures in the rock allowing gas to flow up the well. There are many risks associated with fracking, including groundwater contamination from undisclosed chemicals, impacts on air quality and climate change, the lack of solutions to safely dispose of fracking wastewater and links to earthquakes.

The Council of Canadians is calling for the Great Lakes to be declared a commons, public trust and protected bioregion. This requires a shift in Great Lakes governance to prioritize the human right to water, public consultation and decision making to include First Nations, Native American and other communities. Under this framework, the Council is calling for ban on fracking in the Great Lakes Basin.