Fracking Growth Outpacing Scientific Knowledge in Canada: Report, Environment Canada-commissioned study urges a ‘go slow’ approach

Fracking Growth Outpacing Scientific Knowledge in Canada: Report, Environment Canada-commissioned study urges a ‘go slow’ approach by Andrew Nikiforuk, May 1, 2014,
In the absence of environmental baseline data, a new report notes the hydraulic fracturing industry has probably moved too far, too fast.

One of Canada’s premier scientific bodies has issued a critical report on the state of hydraulic fracturing in the nation, saying the industry has outpaced credible baseline data, scientific knowledge and necessary monitoring.

Moreover, threats to groundwater are real and immediate due to stray gases migrating along leaky and abandoned wellbores, natural fractures in rock, and permeable faults, it found. “These pathways may allow for migration of gases and possibly saline fluids over long time scales, with potentially substantial cumulative impact on aquifer water quality,” noted the Council of Canadian Academies report.

Basic science on the 10-year-old brute force technology, which blasts rock formations open with water, chemicals and sand, remains in its infancy.

“The basic scientific knowledge needed to evaluate potential risks to groundwater on the regional scale is largely lacking,” reads the report.

The 292-page report, chaired by John Cherry, a respected hydrologist at the University of Guelph, took a look at the technology’s impact on water, human health, earthquake activity, well integrity, greenhouse gases and the land.

The report acknowledges that some of the most challenging impacts of hydraulic fracturing may take years to surface in communities and ecosystems.

“These include the creation of subsurface pathways between the shale horizons being fractured and fresh groundwater, gas seepage along abandoned wells, and cumulative effects on the land and communities.”

Monitoring is currently inadequate, the report notes, but what has been done “indicates that gas leakage into aquifers and the atmosphere is frequent enough to raise concern. Given the likely future density of gas wells, shale gas development is expected to have a greater long-term impact than conventional oil and gas development.”

Development ‘risks quality of life’: report

Across the country, thousands of citizens have protested against hydraulic fracturing and provincial governments hungry for hydrocarbon revenue.

First Nations in New Brunswick recently blockaded roads to protect traditional lands from unwanted industrialization.

In Quebec, farm communities worried about the fate of communal aquifers and their livelihoods forced the government to pose a moratorium on fracturing.

In northern British Columbia, where industry has overwhelmed rural communities and First Nations, a bombing campaign against the region’s most aggressive shale gas driller, Encana, resulted in a costly multi-million dollar RCMP investigation several years ago.

– Absence of important baseline information about both geological and environmental conditions in shale gas regions;

– Performance of key components of shale gas development technology;

– Pathways, fate, and behaviour of industry-related contaminants in groundwater;

– Rate and volume of fugitive methane emissions;

– Cumulative effects of development on communities and land;

– Risks of human exposure to industry-released chemical substances.

And in Lethbridge, Alberta, protests by thousands of residents and local politicians yesterday defeated an application by an Asian firm to fracture formations under a suburb housing 10,000 people.

The report confirmed what many rural communities and B.C. First Nations have said for years: “The cumulative effects of the large number of wells and related infrastructure required to develop the resource still impose substantial impacts on communities and ecosystems.”

Groups in eastern Canada, adds the report, “do not believe that their governments have the capacity to regulate the industry effectively and protect the environment while maximizing economic opportunities.”  

If shale gas development expands, and tens of thousands of wells are planned for Alberta and B.C., “the risks to quality of life and well-being in some communities may become significant due to the combination of diverse factors related to land use, water quality, air quality, and loss of rural serenity, among others.”

Potential and documented impacts to groundwater “are not being systematically monitored, predications remain unreliable, and approaches for effective and consistent monitoring need to be developed.”

An industry too far, too fast

The report flagged well integrity as a problem, because all oil and gas wells leak as they age. But fractured wells have a tendency to fail more often due to the high pressures they must withstand. “Information concerning the impacts of leakage of natural gas from poor cement seals on fresh groundwater resources is insufficient,” said the report.

Given such liabilities and the fact that government may have to monitor leaky shale gas wells for decades, a recent German report on hydraulic fracturing advocated that the government “take it slowly and tread carefully,” and conduct long-term basic research.

The report found that technological fixes may minimize some impacts, but not all of them.

“It is not clear that there are technological solutions to address all of the relevant risks, and it is difficult to judge the efficacy of current regulations because of the lack of scientific monitoring. The research needed to provide the framework for improved science-based decisions concerning cumulative environmental impacts has barely begun.”

In its conclusion, the report notes that, “There are no vulnerability identification and management systems in place to identify those areas in Canada where hydraulic fracturing will be so risky that it should not be undertaken.”

Thousands of approved wells in BC, AB
The report notes evidence on methane seepage from natural gas fields is “in flux,” though other recent studies squarely challenge industry’s claim that natural gas is a clean climate change fighter.

The report also notes that flaring or the burning of unwanted gas has declined in Alberta. But according to a 2013 flaring report, the Alberta Energy Regulator directly attributes a 25.9 per cent increase from 2011 to 2012 in the disposal of flared waste gas into the air “to an increase in new crude oil production and low gas prices, which makes the economic viability of conservation more challenging.” The regulator blamed the increase in flared gas to “the number of horizontal multistage fracturing operations in 2012. It takes longer to recover load fluids and clean out wells in these operations, which results in greater flare volumes and flaring duration.”

The report also states that “it is recognized that Canadian regulation and accepted practices are somewhat more stringent” than U.S. oil and gas regulations, though Canada’s regulators are 100 per cent funded by industry. [Industry is self-reporting. And when there are serious mishaps and damages reported, any events of non-compliance become compliant just becasue they were reported. And where in Canada, if anywhere, are regulations and laws enforced with any punitive action?]

The Alberta Energy Regulator recently abandoned many cases of clear-cut contamination of wellwater by methane from oil and gas activity with no explanation.

It is currently arguing in court that it owes no “duty of care” to landowners.

Although the report champions the importance of baseline data, regulators have hindered that possibility by approving thousands of fracked horizontal wells in Alberta and B.C. [Emphasis added]

Fracking fraught with unknowns by Graham Thomson, May 2, 2014, Edmonton Journal
Last Monday, a ranching family in Texas became the first to successfully sue the natural gas industry — for $3 million — over alleged health effects caused by fracking.

The 260-page report from the independent Council of Canadian Academies released Thursday says because large-scale fracking is relatively new, we know little about the long-term environmental impacts of the practice. The council didn’t actually make any recommendations, but pointed out that “the rapid expansion of shale gas development in Canada over the past decade has occurred without a corresponding investment in monitoring and research addressing the impacts on the environment, public health, and communities.” We’re moving too quickly and our regulations aren’t keeping up: “The primary concerns are the degradation of the quality of groundwater and surface water (including the safe disposal of large volumes of waste water).”

And there’s this: “Other concerns include the local release of air contaminants and the potential for triggering small- to moderate-sized earthquakes in seismically active areas.” Yes, earthquakes.

The federal government quickly downplayed the report and said everything was fine. So did energy companies.

That might not give you much reassurance, and understandably so. Alberta has a long record of pumping lots of stuff out of the ground, but we’re still learning when it comes to pumping lots of stuff into the ground. Take, for example, that uncontrolled leak of bitumen seeping into muskeg and water at the Canadian Natural Resources Limited’s oilsands operation near Cold Lake. The problem seems to be related to the company’s in situ process called “high-pressure cyclic steam stimulation” that involves injecting steam into deep wells to melt the bitumen which is pumped to the surface. Company officials think the leak was caused by an old well bore that couldn’t withstand the massive underground pressure. Another more troubling possibility is that the in situ pressure has cracked the overlying caprock. Bottom line: Nobody knows for sure what’s causing the chronic leak.

Then there’s the government’s plans for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) which, according to current plans, will involve pumping 140 million tonnes of highly pressurized carbon dioxide fluid underground every year by 2050. CCS has the noble goal of reducing Alberta’s emissions of greenhouse gases. But the annual 140-million-tonne target is based on wishful thinking and political posturing. Nobody knows if that much CO2 can physically be pumped underground in Alberta, never mind if it can be done safely.

If you want to know the potential problems of massive CCS projects, you need only look at Thursday’s report on the potential problems of massive fracking projects: possible threats to groundwater, disruptive effects on communities and possible threats to health. [Emphasis added]

Top Canadian scientists urge cautious approach to fracking until more known of impact by Canadian Press, May 1, 2014, Financial Post
Study says significant uncertainty remain on risks to the environment and human health, including possible contamination of ground water and exposure to chemicals.

Study says significant uncertainty remain on risks to the environment and human health, including possible contamination of ground water and exposure to chemicals.

A report from a panel of top Canadian scientists is urging a go-slow approach to the booming industry of hydraulic natural gas fracking.

So little is known about the long-term impacts of extracting gas by fracturing rock beds with high-pressure fluids that scientists and regulators need to start now to understand how to develop the resource safely and cleanly, said co-author Rick Chalaturnyk, an engineering professor at the University of Alberta.

[Fourteen years of secrets and lies, with significant damages, health harm and environmental impacts already reportedly widespread, show that industry, CAPP and regulators are not interested in safe or responsible fracing. In fact, they secretly agreed under the New West Partnership in 2010 to use our tax dollars to pay for big lying ads to make Canadians believe fracing is safe.

Voluntary “Best Practices” have been pushed on Albertans since 2006, when the first water wells that went bad after illegal fracing nearby went public. Instead of the promised voluntary improvements, impacts got worse.  In 2011, CAPP pushed more voluntary “Best Practices.” Impacts continue to dramatically increase.] 

“Perhaps cautionary is the right philosophy,” he said. “We really do stand a chance to put in place the regulatory framework to answer the questions around environmental impact.”

Chalaturnyk was part of a panel formed by the Council of Canadian Academies, an independent organization that brings together university researchers from across Canada to look at public policy issues. It was asked by Environment Canada in 2012 to examine fracking and drew its conclusions from publicly available, peer-reviewed research. [They why did the experts include endless industry propaganda and “Courtesy Matters” promises by Encana?  They are not peer-reviewed research!]

Its 292-page report says that the economic benefits could be significant across Canada. … “Canada’s shale gas resources dwarf the 60.4 trillion cubic feet of marketable gas reserves that the National Energy Board estimated remained in Canada at the end of 2010,“ says the report. However, it found significant uncertainty on the risks to the environment and human health, which include possible contamination of ground water as well as exposure to poorly understood mixtures of chemicals.

“The scale and pace at which shale gas resources are being developed are challenging the ability to assess and manage their environmental impacts.”

The effects on ground water from fracking water pumped underneath the surface are one concern. “There is reason to believe that shale gas development poses a risk to water resources, but the extent of that risk, and whether substantial damage has already occurred, cannot be assessed because of a lack of scientific data and understanding,” the report says.

Exposure to chemicals is another. A long list of substances must be added to fracking water and their possible effects on human and environmental health are unknown. Some jurisdictions don’t even require industry to list what chemicals are being used. “There is only minimal reference literature and no peer-reviewed literature that assess the potential for the various chemicals in hydraulic fracturing fluids to persist, migrate and impact the various types of subsurface systems or to discharge to surface waters.”

Many suggest that increased fracking could help mitigate climate change through the increased use of natural gas, which emits less carbon than fuels such as coal. The council’s report notes that natural gas is itself a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, and emissions from leaking wells could outweigh the benefit from replacing other fuels.

The report also notes that fracking has only been around for 10 years or so in Canada — not enough time to assess its long-term effects, which could play out over decades.

It warned against being blinded by the lure of big bucks.

“The lessons provided by the history of science and technology concerning all major energy sources and many other industrial initiatives show that substantial environmental impacts were typically not anticipated,” the report says. “What is perhaps more alarming is that where substantial adverse impacts were anticipated, these concerns were dismissed or ignored by those who embraced the expected positive benefits of the economic activities that produced those impacts.”

Chalaturnyk said the report should form the basis of a much-needed political, regulatory and public debate about understanding and managing the industry.
“The public needs to be firmly engaged in this conversation.” [14 years too late? Families are done talking to the wall! Families are suing the law-violating companies and enabling regulators! Refer to Other Lawsuits and the Ernst Versus Encana!]

Industry disputes report’s go-slow fracking advice but environmentalists agree by Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, May 1, 2014, The
Environmental groups say they feel vindicated following a report by top scientists that says concerns about natural gas fracking are real and its health and environmental impacts not clearly understood. But industry officials say those issues aren’t enough to justify a suggested go-slow approach to the booming industry. 

“We would not agree with that,” David Pryce of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said Thursday. “The fact that we’ve been in this business for decades in the natural gas business and 10 years in the business of hydraulic fracturing, we’ve got a great deal of experience in this place.” [What happened to “we’ve been fracing perfectly safely for 60 years, with never an incident?”] 

“I feel vindicated,” said John Bennett of the Sierra Club. “The areas on health, on leaks, on groundwater contamination — (the panel) agrees with us that these questions are unanswered and we need to know more before we allow widespread use of fracking across the country.”

The report suggested fracking could threaten groundwater, but the size of that risk is unknown. It also said effects, both singly and in combination, of the many chemicals used in fracking are not understood — especially when many jurisdictions don’t even require companies to list what they’re injecting underground.

The panel of scientists also concluded that fracking may have greater climate-change impacts than previously thought because of natural gas leaking from wells. The report specifically states that Canada’s 10-year experience with fracking isn’t enough to draw conclusions on its impact. So far, so good isn’t good enough, it said, given that long-term effects could play out over decades.

The report called for significant research to answer questions and to establish environmental baselines before the industry —which has potential in nearly every province and territory — picks up more speed.

Duncan Kenyon of the Pembina Institute said the report points to an opportunity to learn from mistakes made in the oilsands, where the industry boomed before basic questions were answered and proper monitoring implemented. “We haven’t learned from that oilsands experience. And here we are, with potentially a larger resource spread out over a much larger landscape, and here’s a report saying, ‘Here are the things we don’t know,’ and they’re cautioning us.”

Government ministers hastened to reassure that fracking is safe and well-regulated.

In British Columbia, Energy Minister Rich Coleman said: “(The report) does not give me cause for concern. We’ve never had contamination from a drill. We’ve never had a drill stem leak or fail. We do this really well.”

Carrie Sancartier, spokeswoman for Alberta Environment, said the government welcomed the council’s report and will consider its findings. “We are continuing to review and improve our regulations,” she said. “We have a proven safety record.”

New Brunswick Energy Minister Craig Leonard said his province’s rules are some of the strongest in North America and that halting the industry would put an end to the data-gathering the report calls for. “If you have a moratorium you can’t do any of that because there’s no activity taking place. A moratorium defeats the whole purpose of trying to develop that information base.”

Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, whose department commissioned the study, dismissed its findings in an email.

“Shale gas deposits can be developed safely, responsibly, and in compliance with the strict rules in place to protect Canadians,” she wrote. “We will continue to work with the provinces to ensure Canadians benefit from the safe, responsible development, transportation and use of our natural resources.”

Pryce praised the report’s summation of fracking research and its call for development regulations that would account for regional differences. He agreed with its suggestions for monitoring and more study to answer outstanding questions. But industry should be able to proceed and deal with problems as they arise, he said. [Industry never does, unless they can bribe and gag it. Thus why more and more harmed families are sick of wearing the frac impacts and suing!]

Go slow on fracking, scientists warn by Shawn McCarthy and Ivan Semeniuk, April 30, 2014, The Globe and Mail
Canadians face a Pandora’s box of potential environmental and health risks as the oil industry charges forward…says a new report for the federal government.In a 260-page study to be released Thursday, the expert panel concluded that there simply isn’t enough known about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – to declare it safe, and that key elements of the provinces’ regulatory systems “are not based on strong science and remain untested” while there is virtually no federal regulation.

In September of 2011, [after numerous harmed Albertans harmed by hydraulic fracturing demanded a moratorium] former environment minister Peter Kent asked the council to review the impacts of shale gas development in Canada. But the same drilling techniques used to extract natural gas from shale rock are now being employed to produce crude oil in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and its findings relate to the broader issue of the safety of modern drilling techniques. “I think the conclusion is that the development needs to go slow enough so that the science can happen,” said John Cherry, associate director of Guelph University’s G360 Centre for Applied Groundwater Research and chair of the expert panel that produced the report.

A spokesman for federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the assessment identifies areas of research that need to be pursued and that effort is under way. “We believe that shale gas deposits can be developed safely, responsibly, and in compliance with the strict environmental policies and regulations in place,” Ted Laking, Ms. Aglukkaq’s director of communications, said in an e-mail.

New Brunswick Energy Minister Craig Leonard said he’s “very comfortable” that the province can manage the risks associated with shale gas development, saying it has adopted the best regulatory practices from other North American jurisdictions.

In B.C., Saskatchewan and Alberta, where most drilling activity occurs, provincial regulators have imposed rules on well construction, water use and treatment of waste water, which must be re-injected under ground. As well, industry associations have adopted their own [VOLUNTARY] standards for safe practices and require companies to reveal what chemicals they use in fracking. [No where, are companies required to completely disclose all drilling, servicing and fracturing chemicals, before fracing.  Nowhere!|

“I think there is a high degree of confidence on industry’s part that we have the technology and we have the regulatory regime – particularly in the mature jurisdictions – to manage for this,” said David Pryce, vice-president at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. He added that regulations can be improved in some areas and Alberta is now assessing how to manage the cumulative impacts of intensive drilling, rather than simply looking on a well-by-well basis. [The report does not cover the deregulation that has taken place or the dismal lack of enforcement and zero punishment when things go terribly wrong by accident by Crew/Caltex/Gasfrac at Grand Prairie, or intentionally by Encana, at Rosebud.]

Environmentalists have little confidence in the provincial regulators. In B.C., the environmental group, EcoJustice, is awaiting a decision on a lawsuit it launched against the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, claiming the regulator had allowed the industry to evade water-use rules. “The entire regulatory regime in B.C. has been crafted to facilitate gas development,” EcoJustice lawyer Karen Campbell said in an interview.

The council concludes that public trust can only be achieved when additional, independent research provides answers to nagging questions – before intensive drilling occurs. [TOO LATE!]

Report about natural gas fracking causes ripples in New Brunswick by The Canadian Press, May 1, 2014, CTV News
Opponents of shale gas development in New Brunswick are welcoming a report from a panel of Canadian scientists that urges a go-slow approach to hydraulic natural gas fracking. The report by the Council of Canadian Academies says little is known about the long-term impacts of extracting gas by fracturing rock beds and more research needs to be done. Stephanie Merrill of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick says the report highlights a lot of concerns, especially risks to groundwater. The council, along with the provincial Liberal and Green parties, say there needs to be an immediate moratorium on shale gas development in New Brunswick.

But New Brunswick Energy Minister Craig Leonard says the province is proceeding slowly and continued exploration is required in order to collect the scientific data that’s needed. Liberal Leader Brian Gallant says his party wants a moratorium on fracking, not on science and research. Corridor Resources president Phil Knoll says his company has operated safely in New Brunswick for more than 10 years and encourages responsible resource development. SWN Resources issued a statement saying it needs more time to study the report before commenting. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

Council of Canadian Academies Expert Frac Report: Provides more questions than answers, Science to be determined after the fracs ]

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