The study, however, fails to satisfy several environmental organizations that have written to the government calling for “a full, public inquiry into the threats posed by an expanding shale gas industry” in the northeast sector of B.C.
Will Koop, of the B.C. Tap Water Alliance, is concerned the study will be inadequate.
“Given the growing concerns associated with contaminated waterways and dangerous migrations of deadly gas associated with shale gas developments, the time has come for the province of British Columbia to conduct a full public inquiry into the environmental and social impacts of the shale gas industry. …There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered … it should be a comprehensive inquiry,” he said.
Shale gas drilling is a relatively new technique for extracting natural gas. Very simply, the natural gas occurs in relatively broad, flat, and thin beds of rock. Because the rock is relatively solid and non-porous, the gas (or, in some cases, oil) does not flow through it very well, as it does through other oil or gas bearing formations. However, by drilling through the formation horizontally, and then injecting water and chemicals (often including diesel fuel – a process called “fracking”), the rock formation can be fractured enough that the gas can then flow to the well.
The process is controversial due to its negative health and environmental concerns. A recent study by the Government of Quebec has called for a moratorium into developing a large shale gas bed on the south shore of the St. Lawrence.
He explained that revenue from shale gas industry is not so valuable as to be worth the risks. However, unlike BC and Alberta, Quebec will demand its fair share of any future gas revenue. “If the gas potential can be developed economically, and respectfully in regard to the environment and the public, Quebecers will benefit from their fair share of this resource,” Finance Minister Raymond Bachand said in his budget speech.
The BC Tap Water Alliance also states that in the United States, where hydraulic fracturing operations have resulted in contamination of well waters and aquifers, many State agencies and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are holding thorough public reviews of the practice.
One of the more seriously harmed US communities is the town of Dimock, PA (pop. 1400), where many residents have lost their water supply due to fracking for shale gas. In one case, a water well succumbed to spontaneous combustion.
The “Canadian” Association of Petroleum Producers is against a full public inquiry, preferring to control public information. According to David Pryce, CAPP vice-president , also quoted by the Globe and Mail: “I think it’s important the public has confidence in what gets done, and how we develop the resource in BC. So I think there is a need to respond to the questions. I don’t believe there is a need for a comprehensive public inquiry. I believe there is a need to get the information in hand and get it out to folks.”
One of the reasons CAPP is so keen on drilling for shale gas in BC is because currently the Alberta Tar Sands consume about a quarter of Canada’s natural gas supply, and a shortage of natural gas would limit production from the area and raise operating costs.
According to CAPP’s website, “Regulation of the Canadian oil and gas sector is designed to protect drinking water and water quality in our lakes and streams. The specific regulations vary between jurisdictions but in all cases, Canadian natural gas production always isolates and protects drinking water (groundwater) from natural gas operations.
“In Alberta for example, regulation requires that natural gas development provide an extensive barrier (both vertically and laterally) between any shallow stimulation interval and existing water wells, in addition to isolating the aquifer and the fractured zone. Alberta has also increased the focus on water well education and standards in oil and gas producing areas.”
Although Canadian regulations may be enough to protect water sources, regulations by themselves do not solve the potential problem. There are many cases where migratory waterfowl, for example, have landed on toxic Tar Sands tailings ponds, with fatal results, despite regulations that state that the ponds should be out of bounds to ducks. In addition, the current regulations for gas drilling apply primarily to conventional drilling, and have not yet been properly tested under the completely different fracking procedures.