“The introduction of shale gas extraction and hydraulic fracking methods in British Columbia could present the largest and most destructive industrial force that our waters have ever known,” warns a petition by the Fort Nelson First Nation. With over 24,000 signatories, it’s clearly resonating with people. The petition’s request for the provincial government to consider the effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and to make a greater effort to inform the public about the process should be taken seriously.
Shale gas is trapped within rock formations deep underground. To access it, a chemical cocktail must be injected at high pressure into the formations to open up fissures within the rocks through which the gas can escape. This involves blasting millions of litres of water into the ground and, as the Fort Nelson First Nation points out, that water will be diverted from, among many other places, the Fort Nelson River.
When fracking occurs, substantial amounts of methane leak out. Viewed over a 20-year time horizon, and on a molecule-per-molecule basis, these so-called fugitive emissions are 72 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Considering the potential contamination of well water and subsequently profound human health concerns, the shifting of gases and chemicals long buried deep in the ground to the surface, the reduction of air quality, and the fact that we are resorting to increasingly inaccessible forms of nonrenewable resources which will only accelerate the warming of the planet—fracking in B.C. must be reassessed.
The Fort Nelson First Nation’s petition is addressed to Christy Clark, the premier and leader of the B.C. Liberal Party, but it could have also been sent to the leader of the B.C. NDP, Adrian Dix.
The B.C. NDP, for instance, expresses emphatic opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline while supporting the planned 463-kilometre Pacific Trail Pipelines project—which will transport gas extracted by fracking. The B.C. NDP critic for energy, mines, and petroleum resources, John Horgan, mistakenly diminishes the severity of fracking, favourably comparing the shale gas it produces to oil. “One of the arguments being made,” he told the Straight this summer, “is that they’re both the same, and they’re not.” He and the B.C. NDP support the expansion of shale gas fracking in B.C., “provided that appropriate regulatory regimes were in place.”
But there are good reasons to believe that such regimes will not be in place. “British Columbia issued detailed regulations [in 2010] that limit where and when companies can drill and set rigorous environmental standards,” states an article published by ProPublica, “but also gave its Oil and Gas Commission the authority to exempt drillers from virtually all of these provisions.” This appears to be a glaring conflict that the B.C. NDP fails to inform the public about.
Both the NDP and the Liberal party justify fracking and liquefied natural gas (LNG) with some of the same dubious arguments. They claim we’ll see jobs created. But, most of the jobs are in the short-term construction phase and will likely be filled by offshore or out-of-province migrant workers. These will not be sustained, or even plentiful, jobs. Compare this to the B.C. film industry, for example, which provides four times as many jobs as the oil/gas and mining sectors combined.
Neither party takes seriously the industry’s fiscal instability. The price of natural gas is dropping because of a glut of natural gas in the market. This is likely to only get worse. The U.S. Department of Energy notes that China possesses the world’s largest recoverable shale gas resources, with more than three times than that contained in all of Canada. Even the U.S. has more than twice the shale gas resources than Canada. The reason why B.C. is in fiscal difficulties now is because of overestimates in royalty forecasts from the oil and gas sector.
Using nonrenewable resource royalties to fund current budget expenditures “is like spending your inheritance on throwing a big party,” writes Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “Instead, we should aim for something more like the Norwegian model, which banks royalties for the long term and for investment in clean energy sources. What we really need is a strategic management framework that...facilitates the transition to a zero carbon economy, and on the way provides revenues needed to make new public investments that green our infrastructure.”
Finally, neither the B.C. Liberals nor the NDP are being honest with the public about the serious effects that fracking and LNG will have on the environment. We can’t, for instance, maintain these sectors and still meet the goals of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act. They would have to be repealed, further solidifying Canada’s reputation as a laggard on environmental progress, since there is no hope we could meet 2020 targets with fracking plans.
The B.C. Greens want a moratorium on new fracking projects. We want to increase the carbon levy into the future and extend the levy to encompass fugitive emissions. Our focus will be on ensuring we implement energy policy that manages the transition to a low carbon economy and guarantees British Columbians a prosperous future for generations to come. Such an approach will provide a boost to B.C.’s nascent, yet innovative, clean technology sector, positioning B.C. as a powerhouse in tomorrow’s economy. Echoing the Fort Nelson First Nation, we also want to communicate clearly and consistently with the citizens of British Columbia about the reality of fracking and LNG.
It’s time we elect representatives who realize that their allegiance is to the interests of the public, and that the public deserves to know and to help shape the policies which are enacted in its name—policies which will ripple far into the future.
This article was orginally co-written with Andrew Weaver for the Georgia Straight.
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