Natural gas extraction too risky for New Brunswick
Fredericton – Oil and gas companies are flocking to New Brunswick to explore and extract the province’s natural gas reserves embedded in shale rock. Five companies, Apache/Corridor Resources, Windsor Energy, PetroWorth Resources and SWN Resources Canada, are proposing to inject thousands of tanker truckloads of New Brunswick’s freshwater, mixed with thousands of kilograms of toxic chemicals and sand, into the ground to extract gas.
The controversial hydraulic fracturing method, more commonly known as fracking, is underway in the southeastern communities of Penobsquis and Elgin, and will likely take place in many communities from Sussex to Sackville and from St. Stephen to Richibucto, in the next three years.
Squeezing gas from a rock under the ground is not an easy task but technology has made the process more feasible for the industry. A well is drilled vertically into the ground and then horizontally about 2.5 km across a shale formation. Fracking fluid is then injected into a well bore under pressure sufficient to peel paint from a car. The pressure causes the shale to fracture and release gas from billions of pockets found in the rock. The gas then comes up the well, along with the fracking fluids. Each well can be fracked multiple times.
Gasland, a popular new film documentary directed by Josh Fox, shares the voices of people in the U.S. affected by fracking in their backyards. They share horror stories of how drilling and fracking have polluted their water and harmed their health. The film shows one man lighting his tap water on fire.
Scientists in the U.S. report that 65 of the approximately 300 compounds used for fracking are hazardous to humans, livestock and wildlife; some of the compounds, such as aromatic hydrocarbons and formaldehyde, cause cancer. In a 2008 story for ProPublica, investigative reporter Abrahm Lustgarten wrote that an emergency nurse in Colorado almost died from multiple organ failure after being exposed to fracking fluids. Safe disposal of toxic wastewater left behind from fracking is thus a major concern.
Apache, with operations in the Elgin area, has indicated that they need four million litres of water for one frac-job. In exploration alone, Apache has permits to frack their two wells five times each, which means they will use a total of 40 million litres of water — an amount of water that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool sixteen times. By March 2013, Apache plans to have six to eight wells in their second phase of exploration. According to the United Nations, the world, including Canada, is heading towards a major water shortage crisis; this is partly due to industrial usage of water for such practices as fracking.
The oil and gas industry, however, appears unmoved and undeterred by citizens’ concerns. On July 17th, 2010, The Daily Gleaner quoted Thomas Alexander, New Brunswick General Manager of SWN Resources Canada, at an open house in New Maryland saying, “Well-construction practices and hydraulic-pressuring practices are designed to maintain the stimulation in the producing (hydrocarbon) reservoir and protect the integrity of the waters and that has been our experience.”
Stephanie Merrill, the Conservation Council’s Freshwater Protection Coordinator, is not so sure. According to Merrill, “site-specific assessments on a well-by-well basis are needed in order to take into consideration local geological and hydrological conditions. Natural fractures and fissures underground could possibly lead to migration pathways for methane if frack jobs go out of target formation.” She also states that the long term effects, including migration, of dispersing fracking fluid underground is not known. “We need to ensure the safety of our groundwater, especially in a province where about 60% of people rely on well water for their drinking water,” says Merrill.
In 2008, ProPublica, reported that there were over 1,000 cases documented by courts and local governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where fracking is a suspected cause of drinking water contamination.
Citing environmental concerns, Sackville town council voted against further exploration by PetroWorth Resources in July but then reversed its ban in August when they were told that the company would be using a horizontal drill just outside their town limits and they would not be receiving water testing data if a ban was in place. On August 24th, PetroWorth announced that they were abandoning their gas exploration plans in the area.
Because of citizen mobilization against the risks associated with fracking, a one-year moratorium on fracking was announced in New York State, effective until May 2011, while the State reviews the environmental impacts and safety of drilling. Like the concerned citizens of New York State, New Brunswickers have the ability to push for a moratorium in the province in order to protect people and the environment from this well-documented and unnecessary risk.
Stay tuned for screenings of Gasland in New Brunswick communities this fall. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
* Jean Louis Deveau has post-graduate training in both the natural and social sciences. He completed a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of New Brunswick. He lives with his wife and two sons in Fredericton.