By Zack Metcalfe
Even now, after several reviews of fracking in this country, we aren't certain what it's doing to our air and water.
One such review, conducted by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), discovered the body of research into hydraulic fracturing was incomplete - there were no reliable studies on the environmental impacts.
There were reports of people lighting their tap water on fire and gas wells leaking methane into the atmosphere, but for all the panel's efforts, they couldn't deliver anything conclusive. The research simply hasn't been done.
In their conclusion they say, "authoritative data about potential [environmental] impacts are currently neither sufficient, nor conclusive."
They called for original and well-targeted research to fill in our knowledge gaps before we commit to hydraulic fracturing any further. They also advised stricter regulations and monitoring on the existing shale gas industry in Canada.
Another Canadian review is being conducted independently in Nova Scotia. It has been criticised as unnecessary, considering the CCA report was delivered only recently. The Nova Scotia panel, after all, is reviewing all the same information as the CCA panel did, so it should be equally inconclusive.
Sure enough, in one of their earliest reports, the Nova Scotia panel stated the following: "Even on the much larger scale of activities elsewhere in Canada and in the U.S., the data needed to reliably assess environmental impacts is not available."
In spite of this disclaimer, the Nova Scotia panel has made bold claims about the safety of hydraulic fracturing in recent months, accompanied by promises of economic growth and job creation. They say methane leakage from fracking wells doesn't matter and groundwater contamination can be solved with stronger regulations, yet by their own admission there is insufficient data to support these claims.
In fact, the small amount of research that has been done on environmental impacts points to the contrary. In a 2014 paper released by three professors with the University of Waterloo, they warn that upwards of 500,000 Canadian wellbores, many left behind by hydraulic fracturing, are leaking methane and other chemicals into the atmosphere and possibly surrounding groundwater.
With the estimated amount of methane escaping these wellbores, we have reason to suspect hydraulic fracturing is one of the most aggressive driver of climate change. Furthermore, the report suggests these gases can migrate kilometres underground before dissolving in groundwater sources, thus coming up in tap water.
The principal author of this report was professor Maurice Dusseault, who sat on the CCA panel and is presently holding a seat on the Nova Scotia panel. How did the CCA panel come to heed Dusseault's warnings, while the Nova Scotia panel apparently dismissed them?
"Wellbore leakage is a threat to the environment and public safety," said Dusseault's 2014 report, "because of potential groundwater quality deterioration, contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and explosion risks if methane gas accumulates in inadequately ventilated areas."
The most important conclusion reached by the Nova Scotia panel, and the CCA panel before it, is this: the quantitative data outlining the environmental impacts of fracking doesn't exist. We know almost nothing about what we're getting ourselves into.
Until thorough and transparent research into the dangers of fracking is done, these panel discussions are a waste of time and resources. As long as our most important questions remain unanswered, fracking must not be allowed.