Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. government’s EPA Journal stated,
“Quite simply, Love Canal is one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history.
“But that’s not the most disturbing fact.
“What is worse is that it cannot be regarded as an isolated event. It could happen again–anywhere in this country–unless we move expeditiously to prevent it…”
Around the turn of the 20th century, developer William Love started building a canal between New York’s upper and lower Niagara Rivers. He ran out of money after excavating a 50′-100′ wide ditch that extended 3,000 feet. “Love Canal” instead became a municipal dump site and in the early 1940s, Hooker Chemical began using it. The company dumped millions of pounds of dangerous waste products and covered all with clay, dirt and vegetation. According to the State Health Department,
“about 80% of the total chemicals dumped were hexachlorocyclohexanes (e.g. lindane); be nzylchlorides; organic sulfur compounds (e.g., lauryl mercaptans); chlorobenzenes; sodium sulfide/sulfhydrates; various chlorinated waxes, oils, naphthalenes and anilines; benzoyl chlorides; benzotrichlorides; liquid disulfides; or chlorotoluenes…”
Within a decade, the contaminated lands were sold and schools and residences constructed. Some years later, residents were suffering unusual and serious health defects. Ultimately, people were evacuated from areas surrounding the old canal. A State health official said Love Canal was a,
“national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations.”
In the controversy surrounding Love Canal, governments and industry groups spent years trying to minimize the seriousness of any problems. One quasi-science group funded by petroleum, chemical and pharmaceutical industries claimed that people were falling ill, not from exposure to chemicals, but from anxiety caused by media reporting on poisons beneath their community.
Love Canal came to mind while I was reading papers related to fracking. Environmental scientists have been warning about potential dangers of fossil fuel production techniques that depend on hydraulic fracturing. However, as Propublica notes,
“a long-term systematic study of the adverse effects of gas drilling on communities has yet to be undertaken. Researchers have pointed to the scarcity of funding available for large-scale studies as a major obstacle in tackling the issue.”
Premier Clark claims that natural gas is cleaner than coal and implies that British Columbia taxpayers would be doing the world a favour by subsidizing and facilitating exports of LNG. Yet, no independent science supports the Clark government’s position. This week, a BC energy expert told me,
“The methane leakage problem appears significant. I believe it’s one reason why non-conventional gas is not nearly as greenhouse gas friendly as conventional natural gas. Some gas emissions from non-conventional resources have a much greater impact on warming compared to say CO2. That’s a big issue so it is not honest to state all natural gas is better than coal.”
America’s Environmental Protection Agency states,
“Methane (CH4) is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is over 20 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.”
The IPCC recently updated that estimate, claiming methane is 34 times stronger a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year time scale. One person suggested that, regardless of the science, the BC LNG fantasy does not pass unscientific tests applied by common sense. He asked,
“Why are we giving low cost hydro powered electricity to liquify our low cost natural gas so Asians can transport it 8,000 kilometres and convert it back to gas and use that gas to produce electricity?”
Many years ago, BC Premier W.A.C. Bennett saw low cost power as the way to attract manufacturing industries to British Columbia. He saw it as the way to create jobs and support communities for decades to come. Today, Christy Clark and Rich Coleman also see low cost energy as the way to create jobs and support communities. The difference is that those communities are in Asia.