Research funding dries up for Fracking and Water

The impacts of fracking on groundwater is one of the research areas of the  Program on Water Issues (POWI) at University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for Global Affairs, “one of the nation’s most celebrated and effective water study programs ” which brought together Canada’s “best scientists and policy-makers … in an independent, non-partisan forum”.   Now, after supporting the program for 15 years,  the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation have announced an end to their support. Although no official reason has been given for the decision,  a report  by Andrew Nikoforuk in The Tyee (April 19)  suggests that  research into fracking may have been a factor in the decision. Other research topics pursued at POWI included water withdrawals from the Athabasca River by the oil sands industry, groundwater monitoring, carbon capture and storage, climate change, the future of the Columbia River Treaty, and bulk water exports.

Also: An April report from Environment America, Fracking by the Numbers: the Damage to Our Water, Land and Climate from a Decade of Dirty Drilling   catalogues a host of  dangers, including contaminated drinking water, depletion of scarce water resources; and air pollution and methane leaks in the U.S.  And speaking of contamination of water, see also a new report by Environmental Defence-  Energy East: A Risk to our Drinking Water , which documents the nature and proximity of  the proposed pipeline to major municipal and community drinking water supplies in four provinces.

Clean Water Week, March 16-22, including the Importance of Water in the Fracking Debate

The Council of Canadians continues its advocacy for a clean, safe, public water system with a new campaign for a National Water Policy. Their proposals include the creation of a national public water infrastructure fund, a strategy to reduce water pollution (including stronger standards for agriculture, oil sands extraction), a ban of bulk water exports, and exclusion of water from NAFTA and all future trade agreements. On March 12, the Council of Canadians released a new report, On Notice for a Drinking Water Crisis and will be staging protests throughout Canada on World Water Day, March 22. Environmental Defence also marked Water Week with several blogs, including No Energy East Tar Sands in our Water!. And for interesting case studies of the importance of water in the anti-fracking movement, see Getting Off the Frack Track: How Anti-Fracking Campaigns Succeeded in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (Feb. 20) at the Freshwater Alliance website.

Blue and Green Authors Promote Sustainable Forestry over LNG Development in B.C.

An article written jointly by Arnold Bercov, President of the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada (PPWC), and two campaigners with the Wilderness Committee environmental group states: “We believe the B.C. government has gradually abandoned the province’s forestry heritage in pursuit of an unsustainable pipe dream: liquefied natural gas exports to Asia. The better option – for a resilient economy and for our climate – is to rebuild an innovative, sustainable forestry sector…What B.C. needs is legislation that supports an innovative and adaptable forest industry that creates local jobs and moves products up the value chain. Raw-log exports must be banned. Strong laws should also be enacted to protect the ecological values of our working forests for future generations”. See “Trees are the Solution that LNG will never be” in the Times Colonist (Dec. 21). The same article appeared in The Tyee (January 5, 2015) under the title “Prosperity? Forestry not Fracking”. The PPWC has also been critical of the unequal distribution of funds in B.C.’s 2014 policy document, Skills for Jobs Blueprint, whereby training support for LNG jobs appears to come at the expense of funding for other sectors, such as forestry. See Local Knowledge and Government Funding Vital to Training the Next Generation of Foresters.

Public Health Concerns Lead to Fracking Bans in Quebec, New Brunswick, New York; and what about Workers Health Concerns?

Quebec has had a moratorium on fracking since 2011, and in an interview with Radio-Canada in December, the Premier announced that the province would not allow further development. See Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says No to Shale Gas and also in the Montreal Gazette, “Couillard Rules out Fracking”. The premier’s announcement came one day after a report from BAPE, Quebec’s environmental assessment agency, which cited risks to air and water quality, as well as potential increases in noise and light pollution. The report is available only in French, or see the Montreal Gazette summary in English. In New Brunswick, recently-elected Premier Brian Gallant announced a fracking moratorium at the end of the December legislative session – it will be voted on in February. In New York, a fracking moratorium was announced on the grounds that there were significant public health concerns about water contamination and air pollution, and insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking. “Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State” in the New York Times (Dec. 17). The article has a link to the report, A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas
Development. Also of interest: a January report from Friends of the Earth in the U.K.: Making a Better Job of it: Why Renewables and Energy Efficiency are better for Jobs than Fracking (January 2015) reviews and critiques economic impact studies from the U.S. and U.K. and concludes that fracking job estimates have been overstated, and that the jobs created are likely to be short-term, with as yet unknown health risks for workers. On that note, the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress on January 20 released its TUC shale gas briefing: Fracking and workers’ health and safety issues, which briefly reviews some of the important research to date on the public safety issues, especially exposure to hydrocarbons and silica. It concludes that even with regulation in place, unions are needed to give workers the right to refuse unsafe work without the fear of penalty.

Nova Scotia Bans Onshore Fracking; Explores Energy Options

Following a two-year moratorium and the release of the report of a 10-person expert panel chaired by Cape Breton University president David Wheeler, Nova Scotia announced its decision to prohibit onshore high-volume fracking on September 3rd. The ban does not include less risky onshore extraction methods or offshore high-volume fracking.

Nova Scotia’s offshore oil and gas reserves are significantly larger and have already attracted $2 billion in investments and proposals to build three LNG plants. The South Canoe wind project, currently under construction, and a tidal turbine to be built next year will further buttress the province’s energy resources.

Consultations with the public and Mi’kmaq communities revealed a strong mistrust of fracking. See the website of the Hydraulic Fracturing Review at: http://www.cbu.ca/hfstudy, with links to submissions, studies and press coverage. See also “High-volume fracking to be banned in Nova Scotia” available at the CBC at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/high-volume-fracking-to-be-banned-in-nova-scotia-1.2754439.

On the heels of the announcement, a study released by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that some fracking workers are exposed to unsafe volumes of benzene when inspecting storage tanks. “Evaluation of Some Potential Chemical Exposure Risks During Flowback Operations in Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction: Preliminary Results” is available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/.VBDknKOuRas#.VBySDmOln4U, summarized in the Los Angeles Times at: http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-fracking-benzene-worker-health-20140910-story.html#page=1.