Saturday, April 27, 2013

Questions for Black Spruce on the possibility of Hydraulic Fracturing on the West Coast of Newfoundland

Based on the article “Municipal leaders express concerns about fracking” by Christopher Vaughan, The Western Star April 20, 2013

Since there have been no public consultations thus far by Black Spruce Exploration Corp. on their (and Shoal Point Energy’s) plans to conduct hydraulic fracturing on the West Coast of Newfoundland, there has thus been little opportunity to question the company on the health and environmental impacts which may result from such an undertaking. However some information from the company has been presented to municipal leaders at a consultation they were invited to, and thankfully reporter Christopher Vaughan was on site to record what had been said by Black Spruce representative David Murray. Vaughan’s article (subsequently published in The Western Star) has thus brought to West Coast some snippets of Murray’s presentation - a presentation which it appears raises far more questions than it answers. The following is a list of quotes from the before mentioned article, paired with responses that highlight a need for greater information.

Welcome Mr. Murray:

“The president of Black Spruce Exploration [David Murray] was in Stephenville Crossing on Saturday to tell two-dozen municipal leaders about his company’s search for oil and the potential for hydraulic fracturing on the province’s west coast.” - “Municipal leaders express concerns about fracking” by Christopher Vaughan The Western Star April 20, 2013

Firstly, while it’s great that you’re talking to municipal leaders (and to companies who are likely to profit somewhat from fracking), now maybe you could offer a public presentation, so we, the public, can express our concerns over hydraulic fracturing? This might seem a trivial thing, but is highly important to us, and we’d like to know first-hand what you’re planning.

 “If we do find the oil, we’ll need to know how to refine this properly here,” he said. “We want to keep as many jobs as we can local and build and develop the industry just like it’s been in Alberta. We don’t want to be shipping the oil to Alberta. We want to be keeping it here, creating jobs.” (Ibid)

That’s an interesting statement since evidence to date indicates most of the jobs created would actually be filled by specialists from elsewhere, and would be short term. It’s also an interesting statement considering the dissatisfaction of many Albertans with the Fracking industry. A poll conducted last year by “Alberta Oil Magazine” (a pro-industry publication) found: 42.1% of Albertans think fracking puts drinking water sources at risk, as few as 22.4 % of Albertans trust oil and gas companies when they say fracking is safe, and 50.9 % of Albertans are concerned about environmental impacts of Fracking while only 17.1% are not concerned. But you say you want to build and develop the industry just like it’s been in Alberta? Why should we trust you if three quarters of Alberta doesn’t?

“Mr. Murray said his company is environmentally responsible, being compliant with regulations set out by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, Department of Natural Resources, and Department of Environment and Conservation.” (Vaughan)

Considering that those regulations have not been updated since 1996, and contain no specific regulations relating to hydraulic fracturing, you’ll understand if that doesn’t come across as reassuring. 

“Mr. Murray said a hydrology study would be conducted prior to any fracking to ensure there is no connection between fracking zones and groundwater aquifers.
“In Canada, we’ve had 200,000 hydraulically fractured wells, and we’ve not had any cases of drinking water contamination from the stimulation fluid,” he said.” (Ibid)

Actually those studies are currently underway, and this is one of the reasons many are advocating for a moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing until more is known. What we do however know is that 6.2% of all well casings fail initially (60% fail over two decades) and that they all fail over time. 

“Even so, he said the company will case the double-case the oil well with steel and cement to a level 150 metres below the lowest drinking-water well registered with the provincial government.
“We are not required to that by industry or by regulations. We do that as a company so that there’s never ever an issue with drinking water.”” (Ibid)

Again there is a problem here; fracking in this case will be conducted horizontally (not vertically), so even if you do insure that the initial vertical well is encased properly you cannot insure there will ‘never be an issue with drinking water.’ Indeed one of the main concerns about fracking is the possibility of fluid leaching to the surface once it is in the ground (and even Mr. Murray admits that 50% of the fluids pumped in will stay in the ground). 

“Mr. Murray said fluids involved in fracking are comprised of 99.51 per cent water, sand and salt. The other 0.49 per cent is comprised of 15 chemical compounds, many of which Mr. Murray said could be found in domestic cleansers, cosmetics and foods. (See chart below for more details.)
“When people say we’re not trying to tell them what’s in there, that’s hogwash,” he said.” (Ibid)

Great so give us an EXACT list of the chemicals you will be using (not a “typical solution”), and then you won’t be hiding anything. As much as I am sure we are all fine with the possibility of drinking lip gloss and drain cleaner (wait a second that doesn’t sound safe actually?), and for that matter burning it off into our atmosphere (hang on that doesn’t sound good at all either?), we would like to assure ourselves that you aren’t planning to use chemicals (including some neurotoxins) that have been recorded as used on other fracking sites. It’s just a little point we’d like to settle.

“Mr. Murray noted not all of the hydraulic fracturing fluid comes up once oil is flowing.
“Fifty per cent stays in the rocks 1,500 to 3,000 metres below, so the stuff that comes up, you will have a separator process that will clean that and that will be put in separating pond,” he said.” (Ibid)

Oh good, so we are clear then on the process, Mr. Marshall (Minister of Natural Resources), must have been confused when he suggested at a recent public talk that the used fluid would be placed in containment tanks and not in open air ponds which, given evidence from other fracking sites, are lined about as well as most garden fountains.

 Also Mr. Murray, I am afraid to say you have not yet addressed the problem of these chemicals in terms of atmospheric contamination. Even though you plan to separate the fluid from the oil being extracted as it comes out of the well, as most fracking sites do, you have not mentioned that small (but notable) portions of the fluid is in fact burnt off into the atmosphere, nor have you mentioned the ever increasing list of respiratory complaints from people living near fracking sites that are now coming to light. All the more reason to perhaps wait a little while until we know more? Where is all this waste going anyway?  

“The waste will then be put in tanks and trucked to a port and sent by boat to a disposal company in Nova Scotia.” (Ibid)

Which disposal company? Because, as I am sure Mr. Murray is aware, there was a recent application by AIS, for Colchester County in Nova Scotia, to dump millions of litres of contaminated fracking water through sewers directly into the Bay of Fundy. And what if something goes wrong?

“Mr. Murray said his company is willing to bring in experts in the field to help train local firefighters.” (Ibid)

And how much, Mr. Murray, precisely are you willing to contribute (in dollars), to an environmental clean-up? Because if you are really going to come here and tell us all (well actually you haven’t held a public talk so it’s more like “tell some of us”) that things are rosy and that nothing could possibly go wrong you’d better be ready to clean up after yourself. We, after all, are not asking for the unreasonable – merely that a moratorium be put in place until we know more. By contrast you are asking for a rushed ahead process (continuingly making leaps towards fracking here without yet receiving approval to do so via the environmental regulations you claim to cherish), and if things do not work out as planned you are not the one who will be affected.  

It seems fitting then to end with a quote from a concerned citizen – as Mr. Cashin is recorded as saying in Mr. Vaughan’s article:

“If they’re right, good. But if they’re wrong, they walk away and it’s catastrophic for us,” (Ibid)

Other Sources:

“Alberta Oil Survey: Fracking.” By Alberta Oil Staff:  

“Description of the Job Issue surrounding Hydraulic Fracturing” -  

“Fracking Concerns Summery” - Port au Port/Bay St. George Fracking Awareness Group

Also of possible environmental interest (consultations to be held April 29th and 30th): Investcan Consultations West Coast Newfoundland

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