Assessing the shale gas study
Jim Emberger :: Telegraph Journal :: 14 May 2014
The Council of Canadian Academies report on shale gas has recently reignited the debate in New Brunswick, with all sides spinning the commentary about the report. However, much of the body of research in the report is beyond spin, and just means what is says.
• The modern shale gas industry, including the type of hydro-fracturing it employs,is a recent development,about which there is little research on potentially serious,long-lasting effects on public health and the environment.
• The existing research raises many red flags,from contamination of groundwater,to the nearly total absence of knowledge about the health and environmental effects of fracking chemicals,to the amount of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Little has been done to address those concerns or systematically monitor them.
• As a consequence,the regulations designed to control the industry have little basis in science.The report states, “The Canadian regulatory framework governing shale gas development is evolving and remains untested.The research needed to provide the framework for improved science-based decisions concerning cumulative environmental impacts has barely begun”
Given those facts, most people using common sense would decide to halt the development of the industry until research can be conducted,realistic risk assessments made,and mitigation processes perfected.
However, the Alward government is instead taking the position that the report recommends ‘going-slow’, meaning business as usual, just slower. It has also reached the incomprehensible conclusion that the report urges us to develop this dangerous industry here in New Brunswick so we can then study it,rather than study it where it already exists.
In fact, the report makes no recommendations, and says so up front. The phrase ‘go-slow’ is mentioned only twice in the nearly 300 page document, and only in the context of acknowledging the common sense advice that caution is recommended if proceeding into an area of great and dangerous unknowns.
‘Going slow’ is not defined or suggested as a plan of action. The sentence following ‘go slow’ acknowledges that “there may also be some negative impacts of development that cannot be eliminated, and the scientific basis for identifying areas that are particularly vulnerable has not been established” Not exactly an endorsement for pushing ahead, regardless of speed.
But what might ‘go slow’ mean in the context of the report itself? The report states that, “Some of the possible environmental and health effects of shale gas development may take decades to become apparent.” It adds, “Most research projects conducted in Canada are planned for the relatively short term — five to ten years or less. To address some of the most important questions about shale gas, longer-term research will be needed.” The report even notes that some problems associated with the industry may be unsolvable.
It is unlikely that Mr. Leonard views 10 years as short-term, or can conceive of research timeframes in decades. Yet, to simply test the health and environmental effects of 650 plus fracking chemicals will take many, many years.
While Mr.Leonard is at the Legislature saying we are going slowly, the newspapers report the Alward government is on the road promoting plans to export gas to Asia and Europe, develop gas-based manufacturing in New Brunswick sell gas to the Irvings for a tarsands refinery, and run our electrical grid on gas, all while supplying cheap gas to New Brunswick citizens. His administration has apparently figured out the miracle of the loaves and fishes, as Mr. Leonard says it will do all of this while going slowly and drilling only 50 wells a year.
The report from the Academies is pretty clear, do the science first! It recounts examples of previous resource development tragedies, where problems were unnoticed until too late, or even worse, were known, but were ignored by governments swooning over imagined economic benefits. Sound familiar?
JIM EMBERGER is the spokesman for the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance.