Fracking Debate Skewed by Misinformation

Canada, Commentary, Energy, Environment, Joseph Quesnel

The debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing or fracking has become obscured by misinformation.

Fracking is a technique that injects water and chemicals at high pressure into underground shale formations, shattering rock to release trapped natural gas.  Much fear has been spread about the practice and it is important to bring some facts to the debate. The first concerns fears over contaminated groundwater.  Rather than relying on emotion-filled documentaries such as Josh Fox’s Gasland, we ought to look to factual evidence from state regulators.

In his new book Groundswell:  The Case for Fracking, author Ezra Levant mentioned how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a study in 2004 representing four years of the agency’s research into safety and environmental effects of fracking.  It “reviewed incidents of drinking water well contamination believed to be associated with hydraulic fracturing and found no confirmed cases that are linked to fracturing…”  It concluded hydraulic fracturing fluids posed little or no threat to underground sources of drinking water.  Levant examined regulators at the state level discovering evidence from Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas revealing fracking did not affect drinking water.

Rather than spread fear, why not look at the record of the United States?

Fracking would not impact drinking water because fracking occurs at nearly a mile or deeper, below the earth.  This is nowhere near the water table.

Levant also examined effects of fracking on water usage.  He concluded shale gas has lower water consumption than other fossil fuels.  Compared to other water uses, fracking pales in comparison.

Levant contests the notion that fracking results in secret chemicals being introduced into the earth.  Water and sand account for about 99 per cent of the ingredients.  But the remainder mainly consists of chemicals that can be found in the ordinary kitchen.  Moreover, many companies already proactively disclose their chemicals.

Levant also denies that fracking is linked to seismic activity, showing it has not been connected to any earthquake of any size.

The contentious debate surrounding fracking has come very close to home.  Hysteria over fracking has overtaken many communities.  In Lethbridge, Alberta for instance, local citizens protested plans by Goldenkey Oil to drill three wells using vertical hydraulic fracturing within city limits and within one kilometre of where people live.

Although Goldenkey Oil abandoned their plans, misinformation like the information above abounded during the contentious debate.

This was not the first time fracking was debated in southern Alberta.  In 2011, Kainaiwa Resources Inc., a company that’s solely owned by the Blood Tribe, signed a deal with the Calgary-based junior mining company Bowood Energy and the U.S. company Murphy Oil to drill land on the Blood reserve.  The company would acquire rights to 129,280 acres of prospective oil and gas properties located on Blood Tribe Reserve.  The five-year deal involves at least 16 wells.  In March of that year, Josh Fox, the director of the 2010 documentary Gaslands, spoke on Blood reserve at a conference.  This documentary portrayed fracking in a very negative light.  The problem is some of the contentions brought forward in the documentary have been refuted.  For example, in one scene, a landowner ignites a flame from his home‘s water faucet with a cigarette lighter.  The film attempted to blame this phenomenon on fracking. However, proper investigation established that it was related to naturally occurring biogenic methane not related to oil and gas activity.

Fox also declined to interview an official with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on camera, which would have likely prevented these inaccuracies.

Natural gas is indeed a cheaper and more environmentally friendly source of energy.  Alberta could certainly use more natural gas as opposed to coal.  Coal emits more carbon dioxide emissions and is dirtier.  Alberta currently receives about 63 per cent of its electric power from coal from its 19 coal plants.

“The true test of moral seriousness is how we make real decisions between imperfect choices,” reads Levant in Groundswell.

Fracking should not be compared with fantasy perfect zero-emission energy source, but real-life sources that are currently available.

Environmentally-conscious citizens should consider supporting fracking; it produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions, unlike other fossil fuels such as coal.  The United States has reduced carbon emissions by ramping up shale gas activity.  This was something no treaty or carbon tax achieved.

Rather than rely on documentaries and alarmist rhetoric, observers should rely on the sound science demonstrating the safety of fracking.