Danger to the environment of northeast British Columbia increases steadily as natural gas producers pump billions of gallons of water and billions of pounds more of sand and chemicals underground in what the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs calls “the world’s largest natural gas extraction effort of its kind.”
“. . . Fracture Lines, commissioned by the Program on Water Issues at University of Toronto’s Munk Centre, now only sheds light on the scale of development from British Columbia to New Brunswick but highlights industry’s largely unregulated water use.
“In the absence of public reporting on fracking chemicals, industry water withdrawals and full mapping of the nation’s aquifers, rapid shale gas development could potentially threaten important water resources if not fracture the country’s water security,” concludes Parfitt.
In contrast to the United States, where U.S. Congress and state regulators have begun public policy debates about the shale gale, “neither the National Energy Board nor Environment Canada have yet raised any substantive questions about the shale gale or its impact on water resources.”
Despite substantial growth in gas production, the province has been reducing gas royalties and increasing grants to producers under royalty credit programs and direct expenditures on service roads and other facilities needed by industry. In the current year, gas royalty income has fallen dramatically from the amounts originally budgeted. Royalties were to be $698 million in 2011 but the Finance Ministry’s revenue forecast for the year is now reduced to $365 million.
Under the recent Budget and Fiscal Plan, the spending allocation for all programs under Environment, Forest Mines and Lands and Natural Resource Operations total $971 million for 2011. That drops to $751 million for 2012 and is reduced again in each of the two following years. Most of the remaining funds are not spent on environmental oversight but rather on administration and programs that directly benefit industry. Reductions in field resources eliminate public resource management; industry is left to “self-regulate”
British Columbia’s greediest welfare bums are not the occupants of the Tent City outside the real estate sales office at the Olympic Village nor the ones staying in decrepit SROs on the downtown east side. The welfare bums of the oil and gas industry reside in luxury homes and do their business in buildings like Encana’s $1.5 billion Canadian headquarters rising to be Calgary’s highest building. Of course, in addition to Encana profiting from production subsidies and royalty reductions, its new Calgary home is created using a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), another welfare program for the wealthy that delays payment of taxes and provides that eventual taxation is more favorable than other investments. The oil and gas industry is a major funder of the right wing think tanks such as the Fraser Institute and contributes heavily to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Yet, as they encourage privatization and elimination of programs for people, donors are feasting on the low hanging fruit of public subsidies and tax breaks.
We need to consider the sources of the vast amounts of water used in shale gas production. How does that impact on agriculture, municipal waters systems or on the entire ecosystem? We need to know the identity and impacts of chemicals pumped underground. Throughout North America, human and agricultural water supplies have been tainted. Companies like Encana have proven themselves unworthy of self-regulation in other jurisdictions.
ProPublica continues its series of investigations of gas production in North America. While there are differences from one region to another, the lessons learned by our American neighbors is that oversight needs to be substantially improved, not reduced.
There are few things a family needs to survive more than fresh drinking water. And Louis Meeks, a burly, jowled Vietnam War hero who had long ago planted his roots on these sparse eastern Wyoming grasslands, was drilling a new well in search of it.
The drill bit spun, whining against the alluvial mud and rock that folds beneath the Wind River Range foothills. It ploughed to 160 feet, but the water that spurted to the surface smelled foul, like a parking lot puddle drenched in motor oil. It was no better — yet — than the water Meeks needed to replace.
Meeks used to have abundant water on his small alfalfa ranch, a 40-acre plot speckled with apple and plum trees northeast of the Wind River Mountains and about five miles outside the town of Pavillion. For 35 years he drew it clear and sweet from a well just steps from the front door of the plain, eight-room ranch house that he owns with his wife, Donna. Neighbors would stop off the rural dirt road on their way to or from work in the gas fields to fill plastic jugs; the water was better than at their own homes.
But in the spring of 2005, Meeks’ water had turned fetid. His tap ran cloudy, and the water shimmered with rainbow swirls across a filmy top. The scent was sharp, like gasoline.