Fracking — yes or no?

Randy Simms
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Hydraulic fracturing — fracking — uses high-pressure liquid and chemicals to break apart rock deep underground to release natural gas and oil deposits. It’s a controversial practice and debate over whether we should allow this drilling technique to supply our energy-hungry world is intensifying.

Our province is not exempt.

Fracking is a highly successful means of getting at hard-to-reach resources, but there are risks and consequences.

In 2013, Shoal Point Energy planned to drill an oil well on the west coast of the province using fracking. The province stepped in and placed a temporary moratorium on fracking and Shoal Point suffered economic damage as a result.

Since then, the province has been grappling with how to proceed. Former premier Kathy Dunderdale promised a full public discussion, and Tom Marshall did much the same thing when he was natural resources minister. He

visited a fracking operation in Saskatchewan and came away speaking positively about the process.

“I want to make sure any decisions here are based on science and not emotion,” he said, adding that the people who live near the fracking operations “are not having any problems with it at all.”

Recent political upheaval in this province left this issue on the backburner for awhile, but now it’s back at the top of the agenda.

The province commissioned an internal fracking study last fall and opposition politicians and opponents of fracking want it made public.

Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley says that’s not on. He intends to table the report with an independent panel first.

Once the panel has been appointed, it will hold public consultations and conduct an external review.

Unlike the blue ribbon panel the government put together to review access to information legislation, this one is going to come under a lot of scrutiny.

Fracking opponents have been demanding a public airing of the issues for some time. It’s going to be interesting to watch it unfold and the public meetings will probably be a media circus. While they will be fun to watch, there’s little chance they will truly inform the debate.

I’m not sure who would want to sit on the fracking review panel, but Dalley said they will select three to five people totally independent of government. I’d recommend he increase the number. It may an old-fashioned saying, but “the more the merrier” would work here. This panel is going to advise government on a policy position related to fracking. It is unlikely the government will ignore its findings and suggestions. A good cross section of the community should be reflected in the makeup of the panel.

Ask people in the street and they will tell you that fracking is a new technology energy companies want to use to increase production and make more money. While part of that answer may be right, part of it is wrong.

Fracking has been around for decades and the first attempt at fracking an oil well dates back to the American civil war. As the American Oil & Gas Historical Society website notes, “(on) April 25, 1865 … Civil War veteran Col. Edward A. L. Roberts received the first of his many patents for an ‘exploding torpedo.’”

There are millions of fracking operations taking place all over the world, with many more in the planning stage. According to a report on Wikipedia, there have been over 2.5 million hydraulic fracturing jobs performed on oil and gas wells around the world and over 1 million on wells in the United States.

The economic benefit of new energy development on our west coast cannot be denied. It means jobs, money, a diversified economy and a brighter future. All of it sits there under the heading of the possible, but the opportunity has to be measured against the backdrop of  environmental risk.

Here’s my question for you: if it can be done safely, are we ready to get in the game?

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at

rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca

Twitter: @RandyRsimms

Organizations: American Oil Gas Historical Society

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, United States

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Recent comments

  • Sir Richard
    August 28, 2014 - 14:59

    No to Fracking There are chemicals, like corrosion inhibitors and biocides in particular, that are being used in reasonably high concentrations that could potentially have adverse effects. Biocides, for example, are designed to kill bacteria—it’s not a benign material. employ toxic chemical cocktails5 that can contaminate the water and air, including methanol, benzene, naphthalene and trimethylbenzene. Many of those chemicals are listed as hazardous to human health Worksites investigations conducted at fracking sites have documented unsafe levels of silica exposure, which causes a degenerative and irreversible lung disease, due to the use of silica sand in fracking operations.6 Fracking can expose people, crops, and wildlife to harm from the fracking chemicals, as well as naturally occurring arsenic, boron, and radioactivity that can be brought back to the surface with fracking flowback fluid. Because DOGGR never regulated fracking, water quality impacts and human health impacts have gone unmeasured, but fracking shows that fracking is a human health hazard for both oil and gas field workers and people living near oil and gas fields. Notably, acidizing may involve the injection of large volumes of hydrofluoric and hydrochloric acids. Hydrofluoric acid is extremely toxic and exposure to it can be life threatening,Oil and gas companies are already injecting tens of thousands of gallons of hydrofluoric and other acids into wells in Western Canada. Wastewater from oil and gas development has already resulted in ground water contamination

  • Henry Jefford
    August 19, 2014 - 07:12

    I wonder what fracking would do to the water table a lot of people on this island is still using dug or drilled wells? And a lot of people don"t know what or how much this fracking will do to their water supply? I seen a program an TV of people where fracking took place ! turning on their water tap and lighting what cane out of their taps with a match! I don,t think Tumbs will core their GAS ! Those homes are time bombs with those homes built on gas tanks. ? is this the Future!

  • Robert Hiscock
    August 18, 2014 - 16:57

    People in the oilfield spell it "fraccing". Also note that the process only became "controversial" in the last couple years. I am a Newfoundlander living in Alberta. Alberta has been fraccing for decades. And the only thing that Alberta has that the rest of Canada doesn't is a vibrant economy. Go figure.

  • RANDY from the ROCK
    August 17, 2014 - 18:30

    No, I love Newfoundland and Labrador more than money.

  • Just wondering
    August 17, 2014 - 09:13

    randy if you.re not ready to join the rest of the world, then perhaps Newfoundland should try again to grow cucumbers in greenhouses.

  • Just wondering
    August 17, 2014 - 09:12

    randy if you.re not ready to join the rest of the world, then perhaps Newfoundland should try again to grow cucumbers in greenhouses.

  • just wondering
    August 17, 2014 - 06:38

    randy, soon fracking will be done all over the world when oil cannot be drilled in the conventional way. if Newfoundland is not ready to come into the modern world, then perhaps the government should go back to growing cucumbers in greenhouses. i,m sure there have been some improvements in this industry since Joey Smallwood built the first one.

  • Nichol
    August 16, 2014 - 13:17

    The answer to your question is, yes, of course we need to get in the game. And yes, it can be done safely. In the first paragraph of your opinion piece, you should clarify what 95% of the material used in fracking a well actually is. It is plain water, either fresh, or salt. Most of the other 5% is proppant, basically small granules of sand or ceramic material used to keep the fissures open. Other chemicals are used to keep the oil flowing properly, but in very small amounts in comparison, with most of these being very commonly available materials.There are so many misconceptions about fracking around, that most people do not understand that salt water can actually be used for fracking. The North Sea has many fracked wells producing today. Several companies, including Schlumberger have had large, purpose built well stimulation ships operating in this environment for years. The water used is filtered and cleaned before being discharged. The new frontier for fracking is deep water well production. The size of the off shore well stimulation (fracking) fleet has increased by 31% since 2007, with operations expanding offshore to Brazil, and Africa. The US will become a net exporter of oil and gas soon, because of fracking. There have been well publicized mistakes made in the past, which are relatively few, in comparison. People need to stop the emotion, and start looking at facts. We don't need to re-invent the wheel. The world will depend on hydrocarbons for many, many years. California has some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the world, and there is lots of fracking going on in that State. We can adapt regulation from other jurisdictions to suit our conditions, without taking years to do it. My question is, how long do we have to play this pass the buck political game, before the west coast of NL can derive some economic benefit from oil and gas exploration and production? BTW, I am neither employed, or paid by any oil company or lobby, just a retired person who knows something about the business, and is sick and tired of our Government not having the courage to take a stand. They fall all over themselves to support the offshore developments.....ever notice there are no protests about that exploration? Does anyone think for a moment that there is no risk inherent in deep, cold water drilling?

  • Dennis
    August 16, 2014 - 12:58

    I agree. This Review has the potential to be a circus if you let every Tom, Dick and Harry showing up and presenting to the panel what they learned on the internet searches, from watching "Promised Land" or from an anti-fracking "educational" session. Only expose the scientific panel to original scientific evidence and not the sensationalized propaganda and conjecture that those that already have their minds made up constantly bring forth. If you don't want a circus, don't invite the clowns.