Fracking — yes or no?

Published on August 16, 2014

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