I write in response to Barry Stagg’s letter that is in favour of fracking in western Newfoundland (The Telegram, Aug. 2.)
I am not convinced that large-scale oil-fracking operations on the west coast will be beneficial. Fracking is a far less labour-intensive industrial process than what is involved in an oil rig. According to a report released by the Cornell University department of city and regional planning (Susan Christopherson, 2011), jobs created by fracking tend to be short-term, mostly during the well-construction phase.
Those who are hesitant about fracking have many reasons to be and there is more to be concerned about than just the “spectre of pollution from drilling materials.”
In addition to the difficulties involved in storing, transporting and disposing of fracking chemicals (those that do not remain in the ground, that is), one must also consider the release of uncaptured methane gas from the wells (a very potent contributor to climate change), air pollution, toxic leaks at the fracking site, the depletion of freshwater supplies to service the fracking wells, minor seismic activity, and heavy truck traffic on a coastal road system that is not equipped to handle it.
I suggest that Stagg consult the following three studies.
The first one came out of Duke University (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. 108, no. 20, pp. 8172-76), and it examines water contamination from fracking in over 50 private wells in the Marcellus Shale in the Pennsylvania area. The methane contaminating the water has been traced to the shale layer targeted by fracking operations. Even though the shale is thousands of metres below the aquifers, the methane is able to reach them probably through cracked cement casings in the well bore; cracks in the casings could be occurring because of minor tectonic activity. Fracking also creates new and unanticipated fissures in the ground, potentially creating pathways for the methane gas to migrate upwards.
The second study is a major book written by Tom Wilber, “Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale” (Cornell University Press, 2012). This is a very balanced book on gas-fracking in mostly Pennsylvania. The book documents widespread risks associated with fracking, the difficulties involved in trying to obtain redress from a particular company responsible for contaminating private water wells, and the inability of regulators to keep up with the pace of shale-gas development.
The third study is a 93-page inventory on water contamination caused by fracking, compiled by environmental consultant Jessica Ernst.
While some fracking proponents continue to claim that the process has been used safely in Western Canada in 200,000 wells, we read in the Ernst report that groundwater contamination due to fracking is, in fact, a real problem.
In 2012, the Alberta Energy and Resources Conservation Board released a report admitting that fracking near Grande Prairie had contaminated fresh water with toxic chemicals used in the fracking fluids. Nor are these incidents anomalous.
They are numerous enough to give any intelligent citizen cause for doubt. I am not against economic development. However, I believe strongly that such development must not come at the price of public health and environmental protection.