A panel report on the potential environmental impacts of shale gas exploration, extraction and development in Canada has been finalized but will not see the light of day until after May 1, 2014.
In 2011, then federal Environment Minister Peter Kent asked the Council of Canadian Academies—an independent, not-for-profit supporting evidence-based expert assessments—to surmise the “state of knowledge” on shale gas development in Canada, the “associated mitigation options” and investigate what environmental impacts could occur from its expansion.
“Extraction of this resource has become more cost-effective in recent years, in part due to advances in both hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and horizontal drilling,” the CCA stated in their progress report.
“Because of both the reported benefits and drawbacks of this potential energy source, shale gas has become an important public policy issue for Canadians,” they state.
The panel has been lead by John A. Cherry, director of the University Consortium for Field-Focused Groundwater Contamination Research and Adjunct Professor in the School of Engineering at the University of Guelph. He has been joined by academics from universities across Canada and some from the United States on the panel.
The Sierra Club of Canada say they’re looking forward to the report’s release for the details it could bring to light about environmental and human health dangers inherent in fracking for natural gas.
“We know that fracking involves injecting a secret cocktail of chemicals into the ground and that industry’s own data shows their wells leak,” stated Gretchen Fitzgerald, director of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Canada chapter. “We hope the CCA closely examined all available evidence while preparing this important report.”
State geologists in Ohio recently determined there is a link between increased fracking activity and earthquakes in the region, the Sierra Club states.
“The sand and water injected into the well during the hydraulic fracturing process may have increased pressure on an unknown microfault in the area,” according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
“While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment,” said ODNR director James Zehringer.
In response, Ohio legislators stated that new permits issued by ODNR for horizontal drilling within three miles of known faults or area of seismic activity would require companies to install seismic monitors. Drilling activity would be paused pending further investigation any time the monitors recorded seismic activity greater than a 1.0 magnitude.
“Not only will this reasonable course of action help to ensure public health and safety but it will also help us to expand our underground maps and provide more information about all types of seismicity in Ohio,” Zehringer said.
“Fracking is literally an earth shattering technology that contaminates our water and our air,” according to Sierra Club of Canada president John Bennett. “Sierra Club hopes the CCA report will force the federal government to regulate these new dangerous emissions or else we have no hope of ever meeting our international greenhouse gas targets.”
And the claim that natural gas is less greenhouse gas intensive than coal may not be true when flaring and leaks from wells and pipelines are taken into account, Bennett said.
“The contribution of shale gas to climate change emissions can be … 20 to 50 per cent higher than with coal.”
Ontario’s scaling down of coal for generating electricity coincided with a scaling up of natural gas plants. Part of the reason for this change in energy policy were the human health impacts of smog days from coal burning around the Greater Toronto Area and the perception of natural gas as a cleaner burning fuel.