Environment Canada asks industry to come clean on hydraulic fracking

Environment Canada asks industry to come clean on hydraulic fracking by
Mike De Souza, April 11, 2013, Edmonton Journal
Environment Canada wants oil and gas companies to come clean about the unidentified fluids they inject deep underground to extract natural gas. In newly released correspondence obtained by Postmedia News, the department’s top official told the main Canadian oil and gas lobby group that the government needed more information about the industrial process, commonly known as fracking: fracturing shale rock formations underground with fluids to extract the gas.

Paul Boothe, the former deputy minister, wrote that a new industry voluntary disclosure program was a “positive step” toward improving environmental performance, increasing transparency and the “use of fluids with the least environmental risk.” But his letter to Dave Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, also suggested the environment department, which has authority to regulate toxic substances under existing environmental laws, wasn’t satisfied.

“Environment Canada would like to work with your organization and others to ensure that the voluntary disclosure is structured so that we can determine the environmental impact of these substances,” wrote Boothe in the March 13, 2012 letter, released using access to information legislation. “To further inform this work, information such as all chemical additives used, their volumes, and their storage and disposal methods would be required.”

Environment Canada and the industry association were not immediately able to respond to questions about whether they had made progress in sharing information about the fluids since last year. In an email, an association spokesman said it had asked members to respond to a voluntary government questionnaire but did not track results. Environment Canada also sent an email to say it was still working with other governments and companies to get information, but declined to provide details of any results. …

Boothe, an economist who left Environment Canada to direct a policy centre at the University of Western Ontario’s business school last summer, warned Environment Minister Peter Kent that water consumption and contamination topped the list of environmental concerns related to fracking. There is potential for water contamination from the use and disposal of drilling muds and fracturing fluids,” Boothe wrote in a memo to Kent dated March 8, 2011. “There is also a risk of natural gas or saltwater from the formation leaking into surface water, water wells or water aquifers.”

That memo said that a typical shale gas site with average wells would use about 110 million litres of water taken from ground or surface sources, affecting aquatic flora and fauna, and potentially affecting municipal water supplies. It also estimated that the average well “may require between 55,000 and 220,000 litres of chemicals.” [Emphasis added]

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