Fracking and facts

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John Crosbie’s Oct. 5 column, “West coast hoping for its own oil boom,” about Black Spruce Exploration Corp.’s (BSE) plans for western Newfoundland, led me to examine the website he cited.

The claim that hydraulic fracturing has been around since the 1940s is erroneous, as current horizontal drilling technology is much younger than that and rests on no good scientific investigation — it was hurriedly implemented in the U.S. following the 2005 exemptions from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.

The media fact sheets reveal 13 different chemicals that might be used in combination in fracking by BSE.

Four examples

Let’s look at just four of them and their use in fracking: formic acid (corrosion inhibitor), the stuff of ants' sting (maximum permissible exposure: 5 parts per million or ppm); 2-butoxyethanol (surfactant) a cleaning agent that workers should not be exposed to more than 50 ppm in air — it can cause hemolysis; ammonium persulfate (breaker) — this, together with aluminum or iron (steel pipes!), can cause a fire; and glutaraldehye (biocide) — exposure to this must be lower than 0.2 ppm.

And there are nine others.

It’s a veritable witches’ brew, and 800 metres of rock will not keep it safe for 100 years. I can just see the headline now, “Coming to a faucet near you.”

At its July forum in Los Angeles, Science, Democracy and Community Decisions on Fracking, the U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that “there are some places where we shouldn’t frack.” 

The problem is that lay people, including the proponents of fracking, don’t fully comprehend the consequences of their choices. That’s why it’s not appropriate for Gros Morne and western Newfoundland.

Frank R. Smith

retired professor of chemistry

St. John’s

Organizations: Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Union

Geographic location: U.S., Los Angeles

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