FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT FRACKING IN NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA
1. Q: For what areas of New Brunswick do oil and gas companies have licenses to explore?
A: An interactive map of licensed areas - encompassing roughly 1/7 of NB’s land mass – can be found here.
2. Q: Both NB Premier and Minister Energy and Mines, Craig Leonard, have stated that this type of fracking has been done safely in Alberta for years. Is this true?
A: No. Alberta has been mined for conventional gas - not unconventional gas. The Government of Alberta’s website clearly states that high-volume, multi-stage slickwater hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for unconventional shale gas, like that found in the hard shale formations of N.B., had not occurred up to July 2011. Since then, there have been some exploratory and experimental wells drilled. However, “Alberta, though Canada’s largest oil and gas producer, has been behind many other jurisdictions in identifying and tapping many of its shale prospects, so development is still in early stage.” See this article. [See below for further explanation of what fracking entails].
3. Q: N.B. Minister of Energy and Mines, Craig Leonard, has repeatedly stated that most New Brunswickers want a fracking industry. Isn’t this true?
A. No. As revealed by a MQO research poll in June 2012, the majority of New Brunswickers oppose fracking (56 per cent opposed, 28 per cent in support and 16 per cent undecided). Then, in a June 2013 poll, when asked to rate the safety of shale gas exploration on a scale of one to 10 – with 1 being not safe at all and 10 being extremely safe – the average rating was 3.8. In addition, over 20,000 New Brunswickers signed a petition calling for a ban on fracking and First Nations communities along with many service districts, municipalities and organizations are calling for either a ban or a moratorium.
Nationally, Canadians are also opposed to fracking. A October 2013 Environics poll reveals: ”B.C. residents, at 67 per cent, were most likely to support a moratorium on fracking. B.C. was followed by Atlantic Canada, where 66 per of those polled supported a moratorium, then Ontario (65 per cent), Manitoba/Saskatchewan (64 per cent), Alberta (57 per cent) and Quebec (55 per cent).
4. Q: Won’t fracking create lots of jobs?
A: The oil and gas industry and the governments supporting them have consistently made unsubstantiated claims regarding health and environmental issues and the economic case is no different. As the author of this abstract from a peer-reviewed economics journal states: “Several reports sponsored by the gas industry have estimated the economic effects of the shale gas extraction on incomes, employment, and tax revenues. None of these reports has been published in an economics journal and therefore have not been subjected to the peer review process. Yet these reports may be influential to the formation of public policy. This commentary provides written reviews of several studies purporting to estimate the economic impact of gas extraction from shale beds. Due to questionable assumptions, the economic impacts estimated in these reports are very likely overstated.” Kinnaman, T. (2011). The economic impact of shale gas extraction: A review of existing studies, Ecological Economics, 7, 1243-1249.
You can listen to a brief summary of David Hughes’ analysis on CBC Shift.
A Dec. 17, 2012 CBC radio update: A representative of the Conference Board of Canada says only 260 jobs/year are predicted in NB if a shale gas industry is developed. Mostly all of these jobs will be supply chain related, with very few in the extraction industry itself.
5. Q: NB Minister Craig Leonard also states that there have been absolutely no documented cases of water contamination from fracking. Is this true?
A: No. The first thing to understand when answering this question is that there are multiple sources of possible water contamination. They include:
2) methane released during drilling and/or leaked into water table from faulty well casings.
Click on each of the links above to view documented cases and read below in section # 2 WATER for others.
6. Q: Southwestern Energy (SWN) is just exploring for deposits and if they find some, then we can decide whether to let extract, right?
A: No. This is a statement often repeated by Premier Alward and Minister Leonard and is misleading. SWN and the other oil and gas companies are not in N.B. to do us a public service, no strings attached. The ‘Conversion to Lease’ section of the N.B. Oil and Gas Act clearly states that once companies have invested a certain amount of money in the province through their exploration/mapping process (that amount is $47 million for SWN), then their leases to explore are converted to leases to extract, providing they have met the previous conditions:
7. Q: Is it ‘just’ water contamination that’s at stake here?
A: No. As you will see below, the remaining information on this page is a summary of findings re: air quality, water consumption and waste, toxins, contamination and many of the other concerns about fracking.
As for impacts on human health, we still need much more research in this area. As the Chief Medical Officer of New Brunswick, Dr. Eilish Cleary, emphasizes in her report: “There are significant data gaps that limit assessment of health risks and to date… Few studies have been undertaken that consider the overall potential impacts on health and the physical and social environments over the entire lifetime of the industry.” She is also emphatic that should there be future shale gas industry in the province, health impact assessments be initiated.
For further information, please read on:
What Makes ‘Fracking’ Different than Other Extraction Industries?
There are major differences between the new processes used to extract unconventional shale gas and the way that conventional gas has been mined in Alberta for decades. In Alberta, wells are primarily vertically drilled (there some exceptions, like when Encana used a combination of vertical and horizontal drilling on the coal beds under the property of Jessica Ernst, who is suing the industry for alleged water contamination. (See: http://www.ernstversusencana.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Statement-of-Claim.pdf)).
In contrast, to drill for and extract shale gas in New Brunswick, a new process involving the convergence of several technologies and first used only a decade ago must be employed. This process is referred to as multi-stage slick-water hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling. In addition to vast amounts of water and chemicals used for extraction, the horizontal drilling method requires multiple wells (rather than a single well) on each pad. In short, it is this process of multi-stage slick-water hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling – not the one used in Alberta – that is most experimental, most associated with risks and is thus most controversial.
The N.B. government has also many times stated that we have a long history of oil and gas drilling in N.B. This is true as it applies to conventional oil and gas extraction, but it is completely untrue as it applies to this new form of drilling and technology for unconventional shale gas. As the N.B. Chief Medical Officer’s report states “… only a handful of wells have used all of the hallmarks of modern shale gas technology (directional “horizontal” drilling into shale source rock as opposed to sandstone reservoir rock and high-volume multistage slick-water hydraulic fracturing). These include 2 exploratory wells in the Elgin area: Corridor Resources Green Road B-41, which was the first horizontal shale gas well in New Brunswick, begun in June 2010, and G-59 (Fundy Engineering / Atlantica Centre for Energy, 2011; GLJ Petroleum Consultants Ltd, 2011).”
Dr. Ronald Bishop also weighs in on the differences between conventional and unconventional gas extraction: “Prominent features of shale gas development that distinguish it from conventional gas extraction activity are the use of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing. These technologiescertainly lead to well projects which are orders of magnifude larger than traditional gas wells…And while a majority of Americans consider”hydrofracking” to represent the entire range of shale gas development processes, industry proponents generally reject such broad definitions, restricting their use of fhe ferms ”hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking” to those short segments of time when high pressures are being applied to deep rock formations…” from Dr. R. Bishop’s “Shale Gas Development Issues”, Panel presentations for the plenary session of the thirty-fifth annual conference of the Appalachian Studies Association, Indiana, Pennsylvania, March 24, 2012.
A Bit of Background:
Although unconventional shale gas ‘fracking’ has a very limited history in Canada and worldwide and has raised many concerns about its safety, this experimental form of shale gas extraction is what is in store for N.B. - as the N.B. government’s website clearly states.
Since we cannot logically look to Alberta for assurances that this is a safe industry, what this means is that New Brunswickers have to look to other jurisdictions where this type of fracking has occurred. Where are these places?
In Canada since 2010 there has been a highly controversial shale gas industry in northeastern B.C. , especially throughout the Horn River Basin and Montney regions (701 wells in 2010 and 426 in 2011). In fact, in 2010 Apache Oil proclaimed that it had completed the largest fracking job ever in the Horn River Basin ever – requiring 195 million gallons of fresh water.
In addition, there was some shale gas exploration and experimentation in Quebec until recently when it was discovered that more than half the wells were leaking (see section 7: Integrity of Wells below). This prompted Quebec’s Minister of Environment to impose a moratorium on further drilling.
Along with B.C,. various American states (e.g., Pennsylvania) have had a shale gas industry for several years. And it is in these states that most of the existing research has been conducted.
Below is an on-going compilation of some of the current research and investigations from jurisdictions in which the shale gas industry has taken hold. This is not a complete listing of research, as it is a work-in-progress (will be updated regularly).
Currently we’re just in the beginning stages of a scientific understanding of ‘fracking’. In N.B. there have been only a couple of wells processed using this controversial technology, and there have been NO health or environmental impact studies initiated around these well sites. So, as it stands now, we have no way of knowing through a research-based approach what the impacts have or may be.
The Council of Scientific Society Presidents, representing 1.4 million scientists from more than 150 scientific disciplines says,“some energy bridges that are currently encouraged in the transition from GHG-emitting fossil energy systems have received inadequate scientific analysis before implementation, and these may have greater GHG emissions and environmental costs than often appreciated.” The development of unconventional gas from shale deposits, the Council warns, is an “example where policy has preceded adequate scientific study.”
Industry characterizes the process proposed for N.B. as proven for over six decades, but “What they fail to say is that they’ve had fewer than 10 years of experience on a large scale using these unconventional methods to develop gas from shale…” -Dr. Anthony Ingraffea
Due largely to a combination of lack of research and research that points to the negative impacts of this industry, in 2011 over 20,000 New Brunswickers signed a petition calling for a ban on fracking. In addition, First Nations, along with many service districts, municipalities, and a growing number of organizations are calling for either a ban or a moratorium. These organizations include:
New Brunswick College of Family Physicians
The New Brunswick Lung Association
Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick
New Brunswick Nurses Union, NB National Farmers Union
Maritime Conference of the United Church of Canada
Canadian Union of Public Employees
Medical Staff at Sackville Memorial Hospital
Medical Doctors of the Moncton Hospital
The Federation of Rural New Brunswickers (FoR NB)
Medical Doctors at Georges Dumont Hospital, Moncton
A number of municipalities (Moncton, Sackville, Memramcook, Minto, Stanley, Bathurst, Sussex Corner, Quispamsis).
WHAT WE HAVE SO FAR
1. Air quality studies
One important difference between the conventional gas wells (in Alberta) and the unconventional gas drilling and extraction that is proposed for N.B. is that conventional gas lies in deep pockets and requires only vertical drilling with just one well on each pad. In contrast, horizontal drilling will be required to extract gas from the shale rock in N.B., and this process requires MULTIPLE wells on each pad. This, of course, is associated with much more air pollution.
Another important factor related to air pollution is the sheer number of vehicles needed for the transport of water etc. Recently the New Brunswick Lung Association called for a moratorium on shale gas and one of their concerns is exactly this: “At a fracking site, there could be anywhere from 500 to 2,500 truckloads of water passing by your house, depending on the size of the well. And if there are multiple wells, it gets into the thousands of trucks releasing diesel fumes and kicking up road dust,” says Arthur Thomson, Vice President of the Lung Association.
This peer-reviewed study found that “residents living <½ mile from wells are at greater risk for health effects from NGD than are residents living >½ mile from wells. Subchronic exposures to air pollutants during well completion activities present the greatest potential for health effects… Cumulative cancer risks were 10 in a million and 6 in a million for residents living < ½ mile and >½ mile from wells, respectively, with benzene as the major contributor to the risk.” McKenzie, L, Witter, R., Newman, S., Adgate, J. (2012). Human health risk assessment of air emissions from development of unconventional natural gas resources. Science of the Total Environment, 424, .79-87. Click here to read the study abstract.
Another peer-reviewed study found non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) detected 73% of the time and several times in high concentrations and that a literature search of the health effects of the NMHCs revealed that many had multiple health effects. Colborn, T., Schultz, K., Herrick, L. & Kwiatkowski, C. (2012). An Exploratory Study of Air Quality near Natural Gas Operations, Human and Ecological Risk Assessment
This study has been submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journal as is awaiting publication: Air emissions near fracking sites may have serious health impacts
A study of air quality in Fort Worth Texas, a hot-bed of fracking activity.
The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research found heavy CO2 emissions are linked back to the engine-powered fracking process.
“Flares and compressor engines used in natural gas operations, for example, are large sources not only of NOx but also of formaldehyde, a hazardous air pollutant and powerful ozone precursor.” Olaguer, E (2012). The potential near-source ozone impacts of upstream oil and gas industry emissions. Journal of Air and Waste Management Association, 62(8), 966-977. Access the abstract here.
According to The Colorado School of Public Health’s health impact assessment, ”There is sufficient information available to indicate that even withcurrent practices and technologies the natural gasindustry produces large amounts of air pollutants…As it stands, the Antero [shale gas] project has the potential to pollute the air and negatively impact the public health in Battlement Mesa. Many information gaps exist .”
Although hydrofracking w/ horizontal drilling is not in Alberta, they are a province with high O&G activity, so this bears stating: ”Of the provincial emission levels for SOx, NOx, VOC, NH3, Alberta’s were highest, mainly due to the oil and gas industry.” -Environment Canada. In an overall province by province comparison, Alberta has the poorest air quality.
“Hazards that accompany the above chemicals and microbes and physical agents have to this point been considered individually. They clearly don’t occur individually. No investigations of interactions among all these materials have been reported to date. However, this author has been contacted by officials with the National Institute of Safety and Occupational Health, Centers for Disease Control (NIOSH/CDC), who requested any information that might shed light on a group of clinical symptoms, presented by patients in southwestern Pennsylvania and the state of West Virginia, which is being tentatively identified as “down-winder’s syndrome. These symptoms, including irritated eyes, sore throat, frequent headaches and nosebleeds, skin rashes, peripheral neuropathy, lethargy, nausea, reduced appetite and mental confusion, were also reported in gas field health impact studies conducted by Wilma Subra in Texas and Wyoming. These disparate observations are supported by a literature review of potential human health effects from gas drilling activities.” Bishop, R. (2011). Chemical and Biological Risk Assessment for Natural Gas Extraction in New York. Chemistry & Biochemistry Department State University of New York, College at Oneonta. See Dr. Bishop’s analysis here.
2. Water contamination
One of the Achille’s heel of this industry is that we do not know the hydrologic (water) connectivity to aquifers. There has been very little work on determining how connectivity might be altered by fracking. There is also a well-acknowledged risk of gas contamination of water due to migration from the well bore.
The New Brunswick government’s proposed regulations require the industry to address a landowner’s loss of water due to contamination should it occur within 200 metres from seismic activity. However, Southwestern Energy (SWN – the American-owned corporation to which the government has licensed most of the 1/7 of the land mass of N.B. for exploration – see list of violations etc. below), flatly rejected this proposal, “We agree with the intent, but will never accept being presumed guilty until we prove ourselves innocent. We feel strongly the burden of proof should be on the landowners to establish all elements of water well contamination claims including causation.”
Interestingly, the state of Pennsylvania where SWN also operates has an even more stringent regulation in place to which SWN must abide: “a well operator is presumed to be responsible for the pollution of a water supply that is within 1,000 feet of the oil or gas well, where the pollution occurred within six months after the completion of the drilling or alteration of such well.”
There are many chemicals used in fracking, many of which are extremely toxic, a few of which are “in widespread use, including in exploratory wells, pose significant hazards to humans or other organisms, because they remain dangerous even at concentrations near or below their chemical detection limits. These include the biocides glutaraldehyde, 2,2-dibromo-3-nitrilopropionamide (DBNPA) and 2,2-dibromoacetonitrile (DBAN), the corrosion inhibitor propargyl alcohol, the surfactant 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE), and lubricants containing heavy naphtha.” – Bishop, R. (2011). Chemical and Biological Risk Assessment for Natural Gas Extraction in New York. Chemistry & Biochemistry Department State University of New York, College at Oneonta. See Dr. Bishop’s analysis here.
Nobody knows for certain if it would be possible for fracking fluids injected underground (about 8,000,000 litres of fresh water mixed with approximately 80,000 of chemicals) to migrate into the water table in N.B. In this opinion piece by UNB scientists, it is stated that in some areas of N.B. this would be unlikely, whereas when the shale layer occurs at more shallow depths (e.g., the Albert formation), “risk of hydraulic fracturing fluids reaching the surface may become significant.”
In Wyoming: Government tests revealed that a compound used in fracking in addition to fifty times the safe levels of benzene were found in a Wyoming aquifer: http://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/718/DS718_508.pdf
Dec. 20, 2012 Update: Fracking Fluids found in groundwater in Grande Prairie Alberta.
“There are two kinds of wastewater that we’re concerned about. It’s not just the fracturing fluids that come back up from underground. There are also what are called “formation waters” or “produced waters.” These are waters that have been underground for thousands of years. They can be radioactive, in the case of Pennsylvania. They’re very salty, or briny. So another thing that we worry about is the water that flows back to the surface after the fracturing fluids have returned, over the course of many years. This water can be pretty nasty, and you can’t just discharge that water into a stream or into a lake or into a river. It also has to be captured, just like a fracking fluid, and trucked away or disposed of properly. And if it’s not disposed of properly, then that can be a problem, too.” Ahearn, A (2012). “Managing Wastewater From Fracking, with Robert B. Jackson.” Environmental Health Perspectives, 120 (2), p. 1-8.
“The use of lubricants and “slickwater” additives along with hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas production have been shown to mobilize naturally occurring radioactive materials, including uranium- 238, radium-226 and radon-222. This has been identified as one of the greatest challenges facing the American gas industry today. Of these, radon is of special concern because as a gas it is extremely mobile, and it is intensely radioactive. Exposure by inhalation or ingestion typically results in migration to the lungs, which are susceptible to damage from its nuclear decay…” Bishop, R. (2011). Chemical and Biological Risk Assessment for Natural Gas Extraction in New York. Chemistry & Biochemistry Department State University of New York, College at Oneonta. See Dr. Bishop’s analysis here.
Unknown Chemical Interactions
Along with the known toxins, there are chemical interactions leading to substances that are extremely toxic. The unknown aspect of this is particularly concerning as water tests typically reveal only chemicals for which there is direct testing.
“In addition to the above shale constituents, one chemical compound was consistently encountered in flowback fluids from Marcellus gas wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia: 4-nitroquinoline-1-oxide (4-NQO). This is one of the most potent carcinogens known, particularly for inducing cancer of the mouth. It is not used as a drilling additive and is not known to occur naturally in black shale; no studies have been published to date with respect to what chemical interactions account for its consistent presence in flowback fluids. However, it is dangerous at parts-per-trillion (ppt) concentrations, well below its levels reported in gas well flowback fluids. Bishop, R. (2011). Chemical and Biological Risk Assessment for Natural Gas Extraction in New York. Chemistry & Biochemistry Department State University of New York, College at Oneonta. See Dr. Bishop’s analysis here.
Methane and other contaminants:
“Deep” methane released by shale gas drilling and extraction contaminated water in Pennsylvania and N.Y.: “Overall, the combined gas and formation-water results indicate that thermogenic gas from thermally mature organic matter of Middle Devonian and older depositional ages is the most likely source of the high methane concentrations observed in the shallow water wells from active extraction sites. Stephen G. Osborn et al. (2010). Mthane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108 (20), p. 8172-8176. See the study here.
Fracking may lead to naturally occurring contaminants migrating into water resources: “The presence of these fluids suggests conductive pathways and specific geostructural and/or hydrodynamic regimes in northeastern Pennsylvania that are at increased risk for contamination of shallow drinking water resources, particularly by fugitive gases, because of natural hydraulic connections to deeper formations.” Warner, N, Jackson, R., Darraha, T., Osborn, S., Down, A., Zhaob, K., White, A., Avner,V. Geochemical evidence for possible natural migration of Marcellus Formation brine to shallow aquifers in Pennsylvania. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America(PNAS), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in press
Note: Dr. Tony Ingraffea’s opinion is that setting up shale gas operations on a flood plain in Penobsquis, N.B. was “foolish – asking for trouble.” See this clip.
Hydrofracking poses risk to groundwater resources. Ewen, C; Borchardt, D., Richter, S &. Hammerbacher, R. (2012). “Hydrofracking Risk Assessment: Study concerning the safety and environmental compatibility of hydrofracking for natural gas production from unconventional reservoirs.”
“Given typical well spacing in the Marcellus Shale if only 10% of the region is developed, this would equate to 40,000 wells. Using the best-case median risk determined above, this volume of contaminated water would equate to several hours flow of the Hudson River or a few thousand Olympic-sized swimming pools.” Rozell & Reaven (2012). Water Pollution Risk Associated with Natural Gas Extraction from the Marcellus Shale, Risk Analysis, 32(8), p. 1539-1545.
According to The Colorado School of Public Health’s 2011 health impact assessment in Garfield county, ”Natural gas development and production can release contaminants to domestic water supplies and compromise water quality… In Garfield County, accidents and malfunctions have been the most common cause of water contamination from natural gas development and production. However, the Mamm Creek Hydrological Study indicates some impacts to groundwater, such as increased levels of chloride and methane, from routine natural gas operations. If a domestic water resource is contaminated, remediation is time and cost intensive and may not restore the water resource to a quality for domestic use.”
In this peer-reviewed study, a researcher found that for a community living in the midst of the Barnett shale development contamination of water was a huge concern: “Water quality concerns were more prevalent than quantity concerns,with several respondents citing past, present, or anticipated contamination of water wells. Again, “illegal dumping of waste products” was mentioned, this time as posing a “severe problem to groundwater,” and water pollution was seen as “getting worse.” One respondent lamented that “I think that in time our aquifers will be permanently damaged by all the drilling.” Wynveen, B. (2011). A thematic analysis of local respondents’ perceptions of Barnett shale energy development. Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 26(1), 2011, 8–31.
Water and air sampling tests in parts of Leroy, Granville and Franklin Townships Bradford County, Pennsylvania.
“There have certainly been health risks associated with spills, with disposal issues, with leaks. Thousands of gallons of fracking fluids have leaked across people’s properties. Workers have been exposed to these fluids.” Ahearn, A (2012). Managing Wastewater From Fracking, with Robert B. Jackson. Environmental Health Perspectives 120.2 (2012): 1-8
(“There has never been a confirmed case of hydraulic fracturing contaminating a drinking water supply” is a favorite mantra of the natural gas industry. This is technically true, but misleading. By ‘hydraulic fracturing’ the industry means “the actual explosive charges set off inside the well casing (essentially a steel pipe) thousands of feet underground. These charges cause shards of metal to fire through the well casing and into the surrounding rock.” Of course, there are many more stages of what is commonly known as fracking, but this is not how the industry uses the term. The product is doubt.)
3. Fracking and earthquakes.
Although Alberta is not doing horizontal drilling with hydro-fracking, Horn Basin, BC is and earthquakes have occurred.
US and UK geological surveys show that fracking causes earthquake activity.
University of Standford Professor Dr. Mark Zoback’s article in Earth magazine (April 2012) echoes this: “Managing the Seismic Risk Proposed by Wastewater Disposal.
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) also acknowledges this.
4. Water usage:
Water usage per well, according to the Government of N.B. website: 4,000m³
Water usage per well according to research: 8706.4 – 13249m³
Water is a huge issue when it comes to fracking and those who are pushing for such an industry in N.B. frame water usage in a very specific way to advance their agenda. As researchers Finewood and Stroup put it in their recent peer-reviewed paper, “…multi-scalar, pro-fracking narratives serve to obfuscate the drilling process and normalize impacts on the hydro-social cycle.” Finewood, M. & Stroup, L. (2012). Fracking and the neo-liberalization of the hydro-social cycle in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale. Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education, 147(1), 72-89.
Fresh Water Used in The Biggest Frack Job Ever (until 2011).
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) reports that fracturing shale gas wells requires between 2.3 million and 3.8 million gallons of water per well. An additional 40,000 – 1,000,000 gallons is required to drill the well. U.S. EPA. (2011).
But these estimates might be significantly underestimated: Nicot, J.P., Heb l, A.K., Ritter, S.M., Walden, S., Baier, R., Galusky, P., Beach, J., Kyle, R.,Symank, L.,and Breton, C.( 2011). Current and Projected Water Use in the Texas Mining and Oil and Gas Industry. Austin, TX: prepared for the Texas Water Development
See also: Beauduy, T.W. 2011. Hearing on Shale Gas Production and Water Resources in the Eastern United States.
In terms of possible water requirements for shale gas extraction in U.N.B., scientists, Drs Al, Butler, Cunjak and MacQuarrie state, “If we make an assumption that at some point in the future 1000 wells would be drilled in New Brunswick in a given year, then the total amount of water required that year could be in the range of 20 million m3 to 60 million m3. This water demand would be about equivalent to the annual water use for two to six cities the size of Fredericton. To supply water on a year-round basis for the drilling and hydraulic fracturing of 1000 wells would require a water supply capable of providing a continuous flow of about 0.6 to 2 m3 per second, which is small compared to the average summer low flow in a large river like the Saint John River at Fredericton (about 400 m3 per second)…” Read this academic opinion paper here.
5. Methane and Climate Change
Natural gas has been touted as a low carbon footprint fuel. It is true that it does release much less carbon dioxide when burned than does coal, for instance. However, when one considers the entire life cycle of shale gas and factors in the methane released during the extraction process, is this necessarily the case?
From the blog of the science journal, Nature, January 2, 2013 (peer-reviewed article forthcoming): “Scientists are once again reporting alarmingly high methane emissions from an oil and gas field, underscoring questions about the environmental benefits of the boom in natural-gas production that is transforming the US energy system…the research team reported new Colorado data that support the earlier work, as well as preliminary results from a field study in the Uinta Basin of Utah suggesting even higher rates of methane leakage — an eye-popping 9% of the total production. That figure is nearly double the cumulative loss rates estimated from industry data…“
Cornell University researchers factored in the carbon emissions over the course of shale gas’s life cycle and conclude that natural gas is dirtier than coal. Howarth,R, Santoro, R. & Ingraffea, A (2011). Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations, Climatic Change, 106(4), p 679-690.
Another peer-reviewed study revealed that when researchers compared top-down estimates of emissions from the oil and gas production activities with the bottom-up assumptions on which the state and national emissions inventories, there were significant discrepancies. They concluded that the methane source from the Denver-Julesburg natural gas facilities is “most likely underestimated by a factor of at least two” Pétron, G. et al. (2011). Hydrocarbon emissions characterization in the Colorado Front Range: A pilot study. Journal of Geophysical Research, 117,19pp. See the study abstract here.
Then, recently (Nov. 29, 2012), the Howarth et al. finding was disputed in this MIT study by Francis O’Sullivan and Sergey Paltsev (2012) Shale gas production: potential versus actual greenhouse gas emissions, Environ. Res. Lett. 7
Adding to the complexity of this issue of carbon impact, according to Dr John Broderick, lead author of the report and EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Fellow at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, coal that is not being used in the United States is being shipped to China, resulting in less than half of the projected carbon savings: “We found that we just don’t have enough time for a transitional phase between coal and gas. We need to remember that although natural gas produces less CO2 than coal, a molecule of methane is still 75 per cent carbon. If surplus US coal is being exported for use in other countries, the net reduction in emissions is compromised.”
Another study in this area: “Led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, the study estimates that natural-gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system. This is more than double the official inventory, but roughly in line with estimates made in 2011 that have been challenged by industry.” J. Toleffson ( 2012) Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field Methane leaks during production may offset climate benefits of natural gas , Nature.
6. Human and Animal Health:
This section, of course, overlaps with many of the other sections on this page. However, here is a collection of further evidence of variables potentially impacting the health of humans and other animals.
Documentation of 24 cases in six US states of adverse health impacts on humans, companion animals, livestock,
horses, and wildlife: Bamberger, M.and Oswald, R. (2012). Impacts Of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health, New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, p. 51-77.
And Dr. Theo Colborn’s testimony: Colborn, T.(2007). Written Testimony of Theo Colborn, PhD, President of TEDX, “Hearing on The Applicability of Federal Requirements to Protect Public Health and the Environment from Oil and Gas Development.
“Fracking Mobilizes Uranium in Marcellus Shale”, UB Research Finds.”…leaks and accidents in wells and during the transport and storage of fluids containing hazardous substances are a very real possibility, and fears of such events are justified in view of the number of wells that are routinely drilled for hydrofracking operations.”
See also this paper “Identifying health concerns in Northeastern BC”.
The impact of noise on physical and psychological health is well-established (see, for instance, the World Health Organization ‘s (WHO) statement on exposure to noise). This video gives NBers a sense of the noise and scale of multi-stage slick-water hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling that the government is determined to push forward in this province. What you can’t sense is the associated air pollution, which is considerable (see above section: Air Quality)
Worker Exposure to Toxins/Chemicals/Accidents
The American Federation of Worker and Congress of Industrial Organizations recently (May 2012) implored the US Department of Labor to address the harm incurred by those who work in the shale gas industry. A two year study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported: “high levels of worker exposure to crystalline silica in excess of permissible levels, putting workers at risk of silicosis, lung cancer and other disease.” (47% of the samples studied exceeded the standards for exposure and, of these, 31% were greater than 10 times the permissible levels).
Massive amounts of silica are used in the fracking process and exposure of workers occurs at multiple stages in the process. The NIOSH study also identified worker exposure to diesel particulates, airborne adylhydes, and hydrogen sulfide as other potential health threats in hydraulic fracturing operation.
In addition, the worker fatality rate in these operations seven times higher than the fatality rate for all other US workers.
You can read this letter here.
For an overview of this issue, click here.
In some states in the U.S. physicians are prohibited from communicating to their patients information regarding the specific fracking chemicals to which they have been exposed. Recently, in The New England Journal of Medicine, doctors have called on legislators to remedy this serious interference with the patient-physician relationship.
To read the experiences of one hospital (chemical exposures, foot and leg injuries, substance abuse, ‘rage’ injuries etc.) located in the midst of shale gas extraction operations, read this report.
7. Integrity of Wells (and what it means to water safety)
In 2011, Quebec’s Ministry of Natural Resources found leaks in more than half the shale gas wells it inspected. (CBC Special Report). In its report, the Ministry expressed concern about the release of greenhouse gas and how the leaks could potentially contaminate aquifers or – if the conditions are right - cause explosions. You can read this report here. In September 2012, these findings prompted Quebec’s Minister of Environment to impose a moratorium on shale gas drilling in Quebec, stating, ““I do not see the day when there will be technologies allowing the safe extraction of [shale natural gas].” Since then, an American company has initiated a “NAFTA challenge” against the government of Quebec.
“Moreover industry studies clearly show that five to seven per cent of all new oil and gas wells leak. As wells age, the percentage of leakers can increase to a startling 30 or 50 per cent. But the worst leakers remain “deviated” or horizontal wells commonly used for hydraulic fracturing.” Read this report here.
Cementing and well-casing violations in the state of Pennsylvania
Drs. Watson and Bachu, in a Society of Petroleum Engineers paper in 2009, examined 352,000 Canadian wells and found sustained casing pressure and gas migration.
The commonplace failure of wells is acknowledged in this O&G powerpoint slide show.
8. Wastewater Management
Shale gas drilling produces much toxic waste water. After the fracturing process, well pressure is released and fracking fluid, along with naturally occurring substances released by the process (such arsenic and radioactive particles), flow back up the well. This has to be disposed of properly.
But how and where?
First, flowback and production wastewater is temporarily stored in pits or tanks at the well site and then transported to a disposal site.
Pits can lead to groundwater contamination. For example, in Pavillion, Wyoming high concentrations of benzene, xylenes etc.were found in groundwater samples from shallow monitoring wells near pits: U.S. EPA. 2011b. Investigation of Ground Contamination Near Pavillion, Wyoming Draft. Office of Research and Development.
And then there is the problem of where this wastewater should go and how to get it there safely:
Concern over the treatment of waste-water is also expressed in this opinion piece by UNB scientists: UNB researchers’ ’Opinion: Potential Impact of Shale Gas Exploitation on Water Resources”
9. Impact on Ecosystems/Wildlife
Along with the fragmentation of fields and forests by well pads and roads, there have been many anecdotal reports of significant and serious damage and death to wildlife and habitats by chemicals, and a few studies completed to date. One was conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station in Parsons, WV. Their case study on how shale gas drilling and extraction affected the Fernow Experimental Forest revealed the following (excerpted):
a) Damage to forest from drill pit fluid applications: “Probably the most severe, and certainly the most dramatic, of the unexpected impacts are related to the drilling and hydrofracing fluids. Because there was no brine indicated within the geology of the well site, the risk to vegetation was assumed to be minimal. However, obvious and measurable damage to vegetation did occur from these fluids at three different locations…Almost a year later, in May 2009, the number of trees included in the tally increased to 147, representing 11 species (Table 4). Half of these trees had no live foliage, and two-thirds had less than 35 percent full crown.”
b) Wildlife exposure to chemicals: “…another unexpected impact was the increased presence and activity of white-tailed deer in areas where the pit fluids were land-applied and on the well site in the area of the buried drill pit. The frequency of hoof prints in the ground at these sites remained unusually high throughout the winter, and into the spring and summer of 2009, indicating that B800 had become a readily used mineral source for deer. Such activity is well documented (Campbell et al.2004). Increased foraging activities by black bears, as evidenced by turned-over logs, heavily disturbed soil, and bear signs such as foot prints and scat, also were observed within fluid application site 1 and hypothesized to be due to high salt concentrations in soil and vegetation.”
c) Likelihood of Unintended Impacts. “Unexpected impacts, however, were perhaps more important, and because they could not be carefully controlled or planned for, are less likely to be mitigated successfully. It is obvious that unexpected, unpredicted events will occur during such activities..”
Read this study here.
Adams, M. (2011). Land application of hydrofracturing fluids damages a deciduous forest stand in West Virginia. Journal of Environmental Quality 40(4), 1340–1344.
Bacteria and threats to ecosystem, wildlife, and human well-being
Something we’ve heard very little about is fracking’s unleashing of underground bacteria into the above-ground eco-system, where they pose a significant threat. Dr. Rod Savidge (UNB’s Department of Forestry) has warned about this (personal communication), and Dr. Bishop’s paper also clearly references this potential threat:
“Of particular concern are sulfate-reducing bacteria, especially Desulfovibrio desulfuricans, a facultative anaerobe that thrives in fresh water where some sulfate (such as is present in pyrite or hematite) is available.
These bacteria are especially prevalent and aggressive in oil and gas producing regions, where they avidly form living black, sticky films in water wells and other structures … Rock strata rich in gas are often also rich in this bacterium, and exposure to hydrogen sulfide along with methane raises significant health concerns –neurological syndromes in humans and, in livestock, elevated birth defect rates and diminished herd health. At high concentrations, hydrogen sulfate is lethal.
The now-common use of air-lubrication (without biocides) while drilling the top one- to three thousand feet of gas wells risks contaminating fresh water aquifers with sulfate-reducing bacteria from the deeper strata, but there is no clear evidence that this water well fouling mechanism is recognized by New York state regulators.”
Bishop, R. (2011). Chemical and Biological Risk Assessment for Natural Gas Extraction in New York. Chemistry & Biochemistry Department State University of New York, College at Oneonta. See Dr. Bishop’s analysis here.
A recent study suggests that fracking may be changing the balance of micro-organisms deep in the earth, and that this needs to be further investigated: “These changes in microbiology and geochemistry can be explained by ongoing biogeochemical reactions and processes driven by commercial gas production, including groundwater flow, gas desorption, and open-system degassing…These findings highlight the complex array of processes that can influence geochemistry and microbiology during commercial gas production and multiple areas where additional research is needed.” Kirk, M., Martini, A., Breecker, D., Colman, D., Takacs-Vesbach, C & Petsch, S. (2012). Impact of commercial natural gas production on geochemistry and microbiology in a shale-gas reservoir, Chemical Geology, 332, 15–25
Sediment load and siltation effect
An estimated 2.47 acres of land is needed for each gas well pad and the sediment load for each is about 8.5 tonnes per year. Excessive truck traffic increases erosion and deposits of road dust into waterways. This impacts streams and brooks: “Organisms which are critical for maintaining stream water quality are especially vulnerable to sediment runoff and siltaton damage. Organisms which are critical for maintaining stream water quality are especially vulnerable to sediment runoff and siltation damage.” Bishop, R. (2011). Chemical and Biological Risk Assessment for Natural Gas Extraction in New York. Chemistry & Biochemistry Department State University of New York, College at Oneonta.
10. Social Impacts
According to The Colorado School of Public Health’s health impact assessment in Garfield county in 2011, ”Battlement Mesa saw increases in crime, sexually transmitted disease and school population and a decline in educational environment during the years of natural gas boom in Garfield County. Drug and alcohol abuse are of concern within the natural gas industry. Citizen concerns reflect the community’s previous and current experience with the natural gas industry. Citizens report current decline in social cohesion and community experience and some citizens report health impacts due to these changes.”
Some of these findings were echoed in this study in a peer-reviewed journal assessing local people’s experience with shale gas development in Texas: “In terms of social consequences, respondents perceived threats regarding health and safety, as increased traffic accidents and fatalities, gas well explosions, and general health implications. Further,they saw quality of life and community identity as threatened by the activities undertaken by gas industry operators, whether defined as aesthetic degradation, personal inconvenience, or loss of community identity and character. Finally, traffic and roadconditions constituted a major theme in both counties.” Also key was the finding that the negative impacts of this industry were borne more by some communities than others. Wynveen, B. (2011). A thematic analysis of local respondents’ perceptions of Barnett shale energy development. Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 26(1), 2011, 8–31.
11. Economic Impacts
According to The Colorado School of Public Health’s 2011 health impact assessment, “Natural gas development causes a decline in property value, especially during the development phase of the project and land values partially recover when the development phase of a project ends…Land values effects will be impacted by how well other concerns, such as air emissions, traffic, noise and community wellness, are mitigated.”
12. Industrialization of the Rural Environment
With horizontal directional drilling, up to thirty wells can be placed on a single well site. In British Columbia the spacing of wells is about 2 kilometres (when the shale layer is one to two kilometres beneath the ground). (Interestingly, the practice of drilling up to 16 wells on one industrial pad was first developed in northern British Columbia.) A well site itself spans 2–5 hectares.
As is stated in a technical study conducted in Alberta in 2012, ” The huge land usage for fracking poses serious threats to the rural environment and for the ecosystems it disrupts. Widespread commercial development… will require significant investment in surface infrastructure facilities and roads.”
For pictures of how these operations dramatically affect the landscape, click here.
The sheer number of trucks needed to transport materials for each well is enormous. Each time a well is ‘fracked’ (and each well is fracked multiple times – up to 17 or 18 times over the course of the well’s life) there are 1200-1400 truckloads of materials transported to the site. Garrison, E & Hill, M. (2011). Frack attack: how hydraulic fracturing for natural gas threatens human health. Proceedings of The National Conference On Undergraduate Research (NCUR) 2011 Ithaca College, New York
March 31 – April 2, 2011. Read this here.
Regulations may address a couple, but clearly not all, of the above-mentioned points. However, are the oil and gas companies compliant? And will the companies who wish to drill in New Brunswick even accept the government’s proposed regulations? Certainly, well bore construction is one issue that may reduce the risk to water contamination, and, realizing this, the government has proposed that gas companies use two layers of casing and cement. However, SWN Resources has flatly rejected this stating,
“a requirement to have two layers of casing and cement in well bores is “not justified” and “will add unnecessary cost to wells.” It contests that closed loop drilling fluid systems are not necessary, calling the proposal” overkill.“
(Along the same lines, and to reiterate a point regarding possible water contamination: The New Brunswick government’s proposed regulations require the industry to address a landowner’s loss of water should it occur within 200 metres from seismic activity. However, Southwestern Energy (SWN – the American-owned corporation to which the government has licensed most of the 1/7 of the land mass of N.B. for exploration – see list of violations etc. below), flatly rejected this proposal, “We agree with the intent, but will never accept being presumed guilty until we prove ourselves innocent. We feel strongly the burden of proof should be on the landowners to establish all elements of water well contamination claims including causation.”)
The track record for the oil and gas industry’s compliance to regulations to which they have been held in other parts of the country is one place to look when trying to determine future compliance here in N.B.Since Alberta has had an extensive history with the oil and gas industry (but not with fracking, as outlined on this page), it seems reasonable to look west. The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) in Alberta found an 83 per cent jump in “high risk” violations in 2011. Serious breaches numbered 438 in 2011 (up from 239 in 2010), even as Alberta’s field inspectors conducted 500 fewer inspections that year compared to the year before. “A “high-risk regulatory noncompliance” incident is recorded whenever a company fails to address a problem that could have “a significant impact” on the public or the environment, according to the government report.”
For an example of a case wherein such a violation resulted in serious environmental damage, see this story out of Innisfail Alberta where a gas blow-out was recently found to be due to a violation of minimum distances of one well from another. This violation caused “a release of about 500 barrels of fracturing and formation fluid to surface at the wellhead…An agency committee was struck to keep track of incidents of communication between wells and it found 21 over the past year, of which five resulted in releases at the surface.”
Southwestern Energy (SWN) is the oil and gas company to which the province of New Brunswick has leased massive swathes of NB’s land mass (nearly 1/7 of N.B.’s land mass) for exploration and drilling. SWN is an American corporation with a history of fracking in the U.S. Other than in N.B. (where they call themselves SWN Resources Canada), they are not active in Canada. Below is a partial list of SWN’s violations in the U.S. over the last few years:
SWN violations, fines, contamination reports and lawsuits, compiled by Maxime Daigle on Ban Hydraulic Fracturing in New Brunswick (thank you, Maxime). This is only as of February, 2012 – this information will be updated soon.
http://arpanel.org/content/Violations%20of%20Water%20Standards.pdf - SWN violations
http://a4gda.blogspot.com/2011/01/oh-web-they-weavepipeline-explosion-in.html - SWN pipeline blow out.
http://a4gda.blogspot.com/2011/01/katv-reports-on-quitman-compressor.html - SWN compressor noise problems
http://arkansasmatters.com/fulltext?nxd_id=511452&fb_source=message - SWN vs Land Owner
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-31/tainted-well-lawsuits-mount-against-gas-frackers-led-by-cabot.html - SWN lawsuit
http://www.adeq.state.ar.us/ftproot/Pub/WebDatabases/InspectionsOnline/043291-Insp.pdf - Infraction report on SWN
http://archive.recapthelaw.org/txed/95891/ - SWN lawsuit
http://www.law360.com/cases/4e32fd281d1d2e67a2000002 - SWN lawsuit
http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/drilling/wells/015-20837/ - SWN well violation
http://stoparkansasfracking.org/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/enforcementlistfromtracker.pdf - SWN violations
http://stoparkansasfracking.org/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/waterwellcomplaintlist.pdf - complaints/reports against SWN (“SEECO” is SWN drilling division, and DeSoto Gathering Company is their pipeline division).
Expected early in 2013: “The Minister of Environment has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to provide an evidence-based and authoritative assessment on the state of knowledge of potential environmental impacts from the exploration, extraction and development of Canada’s shale gas resources. The Minister has also asked the Council to assess the current state of knowledge regarding associated mitigation options.”
Bans and Moratoriums
Due primarily to mounting evidence to support the contention that fracking has serious risks, bans
and moratoria have been put into effect in: France, Switzerland, Bulgaria, New Jersey, South Africa, New South Wales, New York State and a number of counties in the USA, like County Clare, Donegal, Sligo Roscommon & Leitrim in Ireland.
In sum, concerns with fracking are multiple. They include, but are not limited to, the following,
some of which were addressed above:
1) air pollution from multiple sources,
2) water contamination,
3) noise pollution and the impact on psychological and physical health,
4) the vast amount of water used in fracking and that is permanently removed from the planet’s water cycle,
5) the question of whether waste water can be safely treated in the quantities required,
6) the fact that not all the chemicals/ waste water is recovered (flowback) after the fracking process - where do contaminants eventually end up?,
7) the exposure of workers to toxins
8) the safe transport of this waste to facilities (i.e, potential for spills), which will likely be hundreds
of miles away from the well pad sites,
9) the industrialization of our rural areas and impact on agriculture etc.,
10) the fact that this quest for shale gas is yet another focus on fossil fuels at a time when we should be desperately trying to develop cleaner sources of energy,
11) the carbon impact of shale gas extraction (bigger carbon footprint than coal),
12) serious questions about whether the NB government has the resources, personnel, and expertise to
monitor all of these activities,
13) the integrity of the well sites after they are no longer being fracked i.e., how secure are they 20, 50, 100 years from now?
There have been only about 10 wells that have been horizontally hydro-fracked in N.B. (only a couple using the convergence of the technologies most disputed: See above), and even so there was an ‘incident‘ that did make it into the public realm.
1,200 pages of fracking related documents compiled a by The New York Times documenting problems and negative environmental impacts associated with energy extraction activities, particularly drilling for oil and gas.
The research is still ongoing. See, for example, Environmental Protection Agency Draft Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of HydraulicFracturing on Drinking Wsources. EPA February 2011. www.epa.gov/research