Nov 9, 2011

Time to give shale gas industry a closer look before we’re totally fracked

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Despite the recent release by Canada’s natural gas industry of a set of guiding principles governing the controversial gas well “stimulation” method known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, and despite the almost immediate endorsement of those principles by BC Premier and industry cheerleader Christy Clark, more and more British Columbians are justifiably worried about what the future portends as gas extraction efforts intensify in the province’s northeast quarter.

And with good reason.

Earlier today, I outlined why in a new report for the CCPA which looks at the rapidly expanding usage of fracking in two regions of the province where the gas industry is steadily increasing its efforts to extract natural gas from deeply buried shale rock formations.

The report – Fracking Up Our Water, Hydro Power and Climate: BC’s Reckless Pursuit of Shale Gas – concludes that when all is said and done the gas produced from such operations is the natural gas equivalent of the oil produced from Alberta’s tar sands. The parallels between the two are downright spooky, and even spookier when you consider that a goodly amount of natural gas currently produced in BC is headed to Alberta to . . . facilitate the extraction of raw bitumen from the tar sands.

Both the shale gas fracking indusry and the tar sands oil industry are big consumers of water, big consumers of energy and big emitters of greenhouse gases. And they will be even more so in the years ahead. I was lucky to gain an inkling for what that may mean during a field-trip last year, which took me into the heart of one of the emerging fracking zones in BC’s south Peace region. Fortunately, I had award-winning photographer, Garth Lenz along for the ride. He captured some amazing images of all the ways our public water and hydro resources are being placed at risk as the fracking industry expands. Later, the CCPA’s Terra Poirier worked with the images to create a nifty slideshow which you can access on-line here. You can also check out more of Garth’s images on his website – which also includes portfolios of his photographs in Alberta’s tar sands and over the Athabasca river delta.

Like I said earlier, and as Garth’s work vividly portrays, the parallels between BC’s shale gas industry and Alberta’s tar sands oil industry are many. But the big three of water use, energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions clearly stick out. When you look at those three, the need to enact tough new policies and regulations to deal with BC’s natural gas sector is obvious.

In fracking, immense amounts of water – up to 600 Olympic swimming pools’ worth at some BC fracking operations – are pumped underground along with unknown chemicals and sand to break open cracks or fractures in the shale rock, fractures which allow the trapped gas to be released. That water use is very loosely regulated in BC, leading to all kinds of potential environmental abuses.

The power that the rapidly expanding shale gas industry in BC is projected to need, could, according to BC Hydro, amount to the equivalent of 2 and possibly 3 times the power that would be produced at the proposed Site C dam, on the Peace River, not far from where the pictures in the above-mentioned slideshow were taken.

Lastly, there’s all the additional greenhouse gases associated with shale gas production in BC – emission increases that will undercut any ability for BC to meet its legislatively mandated greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

That’s why I argue in today’s Province newspaper that it’s time to put a cap on annual gas production in the province before our shared water and hydro resources and our climate are totally fracked.

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