Natural Gas

“We are profoundly ignorant about what is going on”

Before provincial voters chose the party to govern, BC NDP promised to apply scientific and environmental principles in management of natural gas production. That resulted in a flawed but useful report: Scientific Review of Hydraulic Fracturing in British Columbia.

A statement about fracking by a toxicologist presenting to the review panel (page 177) deserves emphasis:

We are profoundly ignorant about what is going on.

Following are a few points extracted from the report:

…activities associated with hydraulic fracturing are diverse (drilling, hydraulic fracturing, transport and storage of fluids, and disposal of fluids). Each activity represents a specific hazard to the environment.

…The very rapid development of shale gas in NEBC has made it difficult to assure that risks are being adequately managed at every step. Furthermore, the Panel could not quantify risk because there are too few data to assess risk.

Nevertheless, it is the view of the Panel that the current regulations under many acts appear to be robust.

The absurdity of this view is obvious. Assessment of hazards are impossible to make because the energy ministry has failed to implement measures to identify damage or risks to the environment and, more importantly, to people. Yet, despite lack of information needed to make an informed judgment, the panel determines that regulations appear to be strong and vigorous.

…insufficient evidence was provided to the Panel to assess the degree of compliance and enforcement of regulations. One of the challenges with the current, generally non-prescriptive (i.e. objectives based) regulatory regime, is that most of the details for environmental protection are not transparent…

This reinforces my first assertion. If allegedly robust regulations lack objectives, success or failure cannot be judged. In fact, non-prescriptive regulations are crafted by regulators who don’t aim to regulate. This is wilful blindness in action.

…A repeated theme expressed to the Panel, is the value of targeted research to address important knowledge gaps and concerns regarding environmental impacts…

I don’t question the value of targeted research but I question why we allow fracking while there are significant knowledge gaps about safety. Authorities would not approve anyone to command flight controls of a loaded aircraft without certainty that person is proven capable of flying it safely.

In the production of BC natural gas, authorities have been unwilling to discover and accept science that suggests fracking is dangerous to workers, residents in gas producing areas and to the earth itself.

For years, BC industrialists routinely dumped poisonous waste into coastal waters, arguing that “Dilution is the solution to pollution.” The same out-of-sight, out-of-mind principle is at work in British Columbia’s gas fields.

As an “unconventional” energy resource, experience with shale gas development is in its early days.

Not true. An American patent was issued in 1866 for the use of explosives to increase oil production. In 1929, the first horizontal petroleum well was drilled and in 1947, a predecessor of Haliburton initiated hydraulic fracturing operations in Kansas, using water, sand and chemicals. After more successful trials, Haliburton began commercialization of fracking in 1949. In his 1975 State of the Union address, President Gerald Ford promoted additional development of fossil fuels from shale. In the 1990s, petroleum engineer George Mitchell perfected fracking for production of natural gas from Texas shale. Since then, millions of oil and gas wells have been fracked.

It is the Panel’s opinion that research is needed to support the responsible development of BC’s shale gas resources.

Yes, research should proceed but, in the meantime, we should not permit widespread fracking that uses any chemical producers choose to employ. Nor should those substances be kept secret from potentially affected populations.

A significant number of chemicals are disclosed on (over 1,000 discrete chemical substances are used in hydraulic fracturing operations); however, which ones are used depends on a host of factors. Moreover, there is a sizeable number of additives that are not disclosed for proprietary reasons.

The expert in toxicology stated “the challenge as a toxicologist is that there is no ‘standard formula’ for these fluids.” … it is hard to identify what chemicals may be present in the environment. There is also no standard formulation for the chemical additives, and while there is some information on the toxic properties for some chemicals, that information is lacking for others.

The chemicals being used are both manmade and natural, include simple and complex molecules, and are either inorganic or organic. While some of these chemicals are well known and used for other purposes (e.g. hydrochloric acid, and ethylene glycol), as technology has advanced, chemicals have been developed that are used exclusively for hydraulic fracturing…

The planned result of government actions over decades is ignorance. We know poisons are being injected into subsurface water and ground but we do not know details of what those poisons are.

Lacking that knowledge, we cannot calculate the exact level of risk. But, we know risks exist.

We have observational knowledge of deleterious health effects but we have done little or nothing to determine the extent. For commercial reasons, governments and producers have not wanted to possess this information.

In addition to immediate ecological damage, the world is negatively affected by expansion of fossil fuel consumption. Production of natural gas results in fugitive emissions that add unmeasured quantities of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. explains:

Categories: Natural Gas

8 replies »

  1. Why does it seem so obvious that the whole LNG business lacks both safety, ecological and business case and yet forges ahead under both of the most recent administrations? Oh, wait, someone’s making piles of money, if not the taxpaying citizens of BC.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Meanwhile, the Precautionary Principle is being applied to the nth degree on matters such as approving licences for cannabis dispensaries, ride service providers like Uber, and the Massey tunnel replacement.

    Various ministers stand before us on those issues vowing to ensure every conceivable public harm will be fully addressed before approval.

    But in the demonstrated absence of any proper understanding of risks to public health or the natural environment as the result of fracking, the NDP holds the door open for industry.

    On fracking, the Precautionary Principle doesn’t apply. The Peter Principle does.


  3. The entire idea that we can pump 10’s of thousands of gallons of water mixed with chemicals deep into the under ground and not have that come back to haunt us….is ludicrous

    We have a Provincial Environmental Law stating anyone polluting the environment can be sued for the cost of clean up. no matter how far back the pollution was caused…..

    Perhaps someone(GreenPeace,etc) should look at filing a Court case against a Fracking company and or BC Gas for polluting the environment?
    Start the lawsuit now because the blind, deaf, incompetent fools that infest every level of the Canadian judicial system will take at least 20 years to render a pathetically, lill considered, endlessly appealed…………, decision.

    Germany has banned Fracking as have several other countries….
    Perhaps 50 years from now when Canadians are buying ‘Purely German” bottled water to survive on…….we’ll figure it out?


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