Professor’s position on fracking met with criticism

Diane Crocker
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Maurice Dusseault fully expected his presentation on fracking would meet with criticism.

“Because there’s many people who are kind of taking a position that fracturing is inherently bad, and what I’m saying is that the process of hydraulic fracturing is not much riskier than other industrial practices,” he said.

Maurice Dusseault, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Waterloo, was one of the speakers at the Facts about Fracking, an engineering perspective, meeting at the Greenwood Inn and Suites in Corner Brook Thursday.
— Photos by Geraldine Brophy/The Western Star

Dusseault, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, was one of two speakers at the Memorial Presents: The Facts about Fracking, An Engineering Perspective talk hosted by the Harris Centre at the Greenwood Inn and Suites in Corner Brook Thursday night.

The other speaker was Lesley James, an assistant professor in the faculty of engineering and applied science at Memorial University.

While James’ presentation focused on rock formations and the need to fracture in order to get at the oil and gas deposits, Dusseault looked more at the actual practice.

He said it is one that, if done properly, can be done safely. And he disputed information to the contrary.

When it came time to open the floor to questions from the more than 150 people in attendance, it soon became clear that those opposed to the practice took exception with not only Dusseault’s presentation, but with the Harris Centre for not having someone to present the opposing side in what many thought was supposed to be a debate.

Dusseault answered their criticism and stood his ground on the facts he presented. Afterwards he said part of the problem lies in the newness of the practice.

“It’s ill understood and my job, as much as I can, is to try to overcome that.”

He said if people went to Alberta and looked at the hundreds of thousands of wells drilled and the fracturing that has gone on, they would see that it hasn’t destroyed the environment and it hasn’t destroyed the groundwater.

He agreed that there will be incidents, but said it’s the same as for hydro power or refineries.

“You can’t stop it from happening.”

In terms of risks, he suggested there are others, such as the transport of chemicals, that pose greater threats than the fracking process.

But he also agreed that people have a right to be concerned and said they should speak out about those concerns.

Jody Caines, an environmental sciences student at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University, approached Dusseault following the presentation to thank him for providing information. He said he attended the presentation to find out what the consequences of fracking are, and felt Dusseault explained it clearly.

“I think the people jumped on him for things he didn’t really try to cover, but I think he did a good job of explaining what’s involved with fracking,” said Caines.

“He told them what they didn’t want to hear. He told them the facts, but the facts didn’t jive with what they wanted to hear.”

The event wasn’t the most controversial the Harris Centre has ever hosted. Rob Greenwood, executive director of the centre, said there have been tough ones on the fishery, oil revenues and teacher stress.

“On tough emotional issues, all we can do is our best,” said Greenwood. “What we find is if you try to address everything at once it’s too messy. No one can get clarity on anything.”

Greenwood said he would love to come back and do it again with a different focus.


The Western Star

Organizations: Harris Centre, University of Waterloo, Greenwood Inn

Geographic location: Ontario, Corner Brook, Alberta Western Star

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Recent comments

  • Donna B.
    February 03, 2014 - 17:00

    The USA has been horizontal fracking for almost a decade and are starting to see the costs. Some people get very rich. Rich people can move should the going get tough. However the rest have to put up with flaring oil wells, spills, frack sand mines, frack waste, heavy truck traffic, leaky pipelines, earthquakes and sinkholes should they occur. They have to put up with industry-susceptible property values and any negative health impact. They have to live and raise their children in forever changed communities. The question is: Do the benefits of fracking outweigh the costs? Do some research ( Don't let anyone answer that question for you, your children and grandchildren.

  • peabee
    February 01, 2014 - 18:43

    The Globe & Mail has an interesting article on the disastrous environmental impact of shale gas and oil that Professor Dusseault did not talk about. While he said he was only there to add a balanced view and facts into a discussion that was based on misinformed views, he himself did not seem unbiased. I am glad the people at the event were well spoken and seemed aware of what is at stake. Dusseault spoke of risks that are low, but not improbable. In fact he said, there would be incidents, the companies just had to minimize the risk. Then he conjured up the risk of missed economical opportunities for the region. Yet, he does not take into account that, apart from being home to many people, the region has a booming sustainable tourism industry that is put at risk for the gain of few. Dusseault's view clearly represented the oil and gas industry's perspective. To pretend otherwise is to pull wool over the reader's eyes. Read up on the risks of shale gas and oil here

    • Brett
      February 02, 2014 - 19:54

      Tourism? Are you kidding me? I ran a B&B in St. John's for years. Look at the number of people who come to NL and spend the night - don't count the time wasters on the ships that come to town to buy a cup of coffee, moose droppings and a sou'wester. There is no tourism on the island. The little we get comes in 4 months and does not create sustainable employment. The population of the world is over 6billion people. We're not even getting a million people through the province in a year.

  • Common Sense
    February 01, 2014 - 08:55

    It's well known and accepted (even by people like Mr. Dusseualt) that fracking CAN cause problems - it is the probability of serious/catastrophic repercussions that is up for debate. The oil industry is obviously much more likely to accept a higher risk than local residents because they have much less at stake. That's why it would be prudent to wait - the oil isn't going anywhere. As long as there is ANY possibility of polluting the local environment the industry should STOP. Wait until we KNOW for sure what the outcome will be.

  • david
    January 31, 2014 - 15:37

    Angus: Driving to work is safe until you are hurt in a car crash. Thousands of car crashes happen every single day. Given Newfoundland's road design, conditions, and technically bad drivers, the per capita risk of injury or death here are much higher than other jurisdictions. As I'm sure you live true your own risk assessment BS, instead of what a complete hypocrite would do, how far do you walk everyday?

  • Ivan Lethbridge
    January 31, 2014 - 14:11

    Years ago when the railway was building a rail line they ran into strong opposition from the residence of Foxtrap. Their concern was that the noise from the trains would result in the hens not laying eggs. Needless to say that wasn't the case. I think we have a similar situation here as people seem to enjoy protesting everything the government or councils try to do. i.e. Outer ring road,supermarket at St. John's stadium and supermarket at shamrock field and the list could go on and on.People are always making financial demands on our governments, well here is an opportunity for the government to get revenue from this project and workers get employment. Yes,I do have a small financial interest in this project but would not support it if I thought it would harm our environment.

  • david
    January 31, 2014 - 13:35

    Maybe this is the solution: Instead of going to your mailbox every week for your generous cheques from the provincial government, why don't we just eliminate the "middleman" and make the cheques come directly from Chevron, Suncor and Husky Energy? That way, some of you might actually figure out the reality that THAT is where all ---- virtually every single (wasted) cent ----of government money actually comes from, and that your idiotic hatred for the oil industry should be replaced with at least appreciation, if not abject adoration.

  • Angus
    January 31, 2014 - 13:04

    The problem with fracking is the chemicals we don't know about and neither does Maurice Dusseault. The university of waterloo is well known for its pro business stance and research.

    • david
      January 31, 2014 - 13:25

      "Pro-business". Just saying this in Newfoundland is the equivalent of labelling someone a child molester. Banish this "business" from our shores! Save yourselves from the risk of a life of effort and productivity...welfare for all! (BTW, the extent to which the University of Waterloo's engineering and business schools have positive reputations with the business community is that it's students find careers and opportunity and personal fulfillment. That anyone would try and spin that as a negative shows exactly what the psychology of hopelessness can do to a society.)

    • Angus
      January 31, 2014 - 14:02

      David: Pro business means that they will only support a business at any cost. If Maurice Dusseault was serious about quelling the mystery around fracking he would have labeled the hundred plus chemicals used in the water which is injected into the ground but because many of these chemicals are protected by patent and trade laws, the public isn't allowed information to this. Of course this process is safe until something happens just like a nuclear power plant. We already have two ponds destroyed(Vale at Long Harbour is dumping tailings in Sandy pond and tech Resources has dumped all the tailings from the Duck Pond Mine in Millertown) but thats ok if they leak into the water system since we can't question these practices and that is the spin you are trying to send.

  • david
    January 31, 2014 - 09:05

    "....if people went to Alberta and looked at the hundreds of thousands of wells drilled and the fracturing that has gone on, they would see that it hasn’t destroyed the environment and it hasn’t destroyed the groundwater." See?! He's a witch! Burn him, he's a witch. We'll have none of this "reality" or "information" he talks to facts, and no to truth. We all know what we want to hear, and he ain't sayin' any of it! Burn him...quick.....before any of the tourists get here. In July and August.

    • stop the BS
      January 31, 2014 - 12:53

      The size of Alberta compared to the size of western newfoundland from Long Range Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean is very small in comparsion. Fracking should not be allowed for this reason alone.

    • david
      January 31, 2014 - 13:46

      Thank you! A perfect example of the lazy, smug, clueless Newfoundland expert on this issue. Not that you made any point with youre "claim" whatsoever, but the areal extent of the oil-productive region of Alberta is, purely coincidentally, eerily close to the same size as western Newfoundland. But why let that stop you? Bald-faced lies are your primary tool, and irrelevant ones can be just as useful as any. "This reason alone..." What tripe.

  • anon
    January 31, 2014 - 07:06

    I am glad to hear that some scientific facts are getting out about this process. Disbelievers are going to disbelieve and like the presenter said, things can go wrong with anything...

  • Dolf
    January 31, 2014 - 06:29

    First thing that comes to mind in these types of forums is who is paying the piper. So is Mr. dessault receiving any kind of remuneration from a industry?

    • Anon123
      January 31, 2014 - 17:51

      No DR. Dusseault is not receiving renumeration from industry! He openly talks about his opens on right and wrong with all players - industry, regulators, and the public!