All posts by John King

About John King

John King was a reporter and editor at a number of newspapers in Western Canada. Today he runs a design firm.

Why the electric automobile is for real

Why the electric automobile is for real this time


Why the electric automobile is for real

The electric pump station furthest north in British Columbia belongs to someone by the name of Robin S. in Fort St. John, a small city in Northeast B.C. — a place smack dab in the middle of an oil-and-gas feeding frenzy.

In fact, when comparing the map of such fuelling stations in Western Canada with a 2006 Government of Canada oil-and-gas pipeline map (the latest of its kind), there’s an interesting theme that emerges. In regions that see the highest oil-and-gas activity, there are the fewest electric fuelling stations.

Calgary and Edmonton are both on the top five largest cities by population in Canada list, yet they contain a combined 12 public electric pump stations. Compare this to Vancouver, Canada’s eighth largest city according to 2011 census data, which boasts more electric fuelling stations than both Edmonton and Calgary combined in its downtown core alone.

A comparison between pipeline and electric vehicle fuel pump infrastructure in Western Canada (Graphic by John King).
A comparison between pipeline and electric vehicle fuel pump infrastructure in Western Canada (Graphic by John King).

In the autumn of 2012, the B.C. government announced a massive program to help fund the installation of electric pumps throughout the province. The electric vehicle charging stations are funded for a total of 454. The money for the project was derived from a $2.7 million Community Charging Infrastructure Fund. Municipalities, regional districts, and senior levels of government applauded the program because of its diverse make-up — more than 70 universities, organizations, and governments signed on to the project.

Some legacy news outlets, however, balked at the idea and offered up their predictable, cynical commentary à la carte. The Vancouver Sun went so far as to suggest the program created too much access to electric pumps, which represented a “niche” automobile market.

This is a theme among the news organizations that refer to themselves as the “legacy” news media, which is an overused term attributed to essentially newspapers, news channels, and radio stations. To air on the side of fairness, however, some legacy news organizations reported how the options are getting better for consumers looking for alternative ways to get around.

This is the real story when talking about electric vehicles. The rise of the electric automobile is really about how practical the alternatives to fossil-fuel dependent vehicles are. In recent days, Tesla Motors announced the expansion of what it calls the “Supercharging Network” so that electric motorists are able to travel from LA to New York for free.

In Canada, a quick glance at the Canada Plug Share map reveals a consistent pattern of charging stations extending across the country that may indicate the ability to travel from B.C. to the Maritime Provinces without getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. There are sections that look somewhat dicey, and one would want to do a thorough check on whether such a cross-country trip is feasible. Of course there are a chorus of concerns about whether an electric vehicle is able to stand up to the harsh Canadian weather. On the flip side, there is a counter-chorus suggesting electric vehicles are able to hold their own against the snow and ice.

Change is not change until it’s made at the source. Whether someone drives a pick-up truck or hybrid, the use of gasoline at the consumer level is a large demand for its parent — oil. While it’s well known oil is used for a variety of products, it’s most used in industries requiring massive amounts of energy, this includes creating the energy to move large objects. The electric vehicle is not perfect. There remains concern over how eco-friendly it really is, which is a subject well explored.

What people must not lose sight of is that this technology is still in its infancy. What the Tesla Motors story shows us is that there are power structures in place that do not wish to see alternatives succeed. The best recent example of this is Ballard Power. The creation of new clean technologies is critical to the success of the human species. The method to harness power in cleaner forms will get better if our free markets are not manipulated and capital is allowed to flow into human agencies that again improve people’s quality of life, as well as the environment.

If humans play their cards right, there is a future where personal, commercial, and industrial transportation is fuelled by sustainable technologies that equal the power created by oil.

This will only happen if people allow it to happen. And this time they are despite the interference.


Rise of the Electric Automobile


There’s a battle rumbling south of the border. And it’s one Canadians aren’t hearing a lot about unless they plumb the news feeds online.

It started for Tesla Motors during the 2012 U.S. presidential race. As the electric car company paid off its bailout loans earlier this month, American government news watchdog AllGov reminded readers that during the recent U.S. election republicans Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin both referred to the company as “losers.”

Tesla Motors is in the news a lot these days. If it isn’t a controversial New York Times review that caused the venerable newspaper to eat crow, it’s making headlines about selling their automobiles direct to the consumer, whittling away the middle man.

The company ought to get a sincere pat on the back for their efforts to introduce electric cars into the mainstream. Instead, their efforts were derailed in Texas despite a favourable opinion of the company on Wall Street. What this seems to indicate is that despite political backlash and negative press, Tesla Motors continues to move forward — disrupting the current fossil-fuel dominated automobile industry by offering a radical choice for consumers.

So how are you able to take advantage of this choice?

Well, it’s not easy of course. Our roads and geography in British Columbia weren’t made for the electric car in mind. But as proponents will point out, the options are getting better every year. Right now, there are basically four types of electric vehicles. In B.C., the provincial government offers a wide range of interesting incentives for consumers, which includes covering some of the costs to install charging stations at multi-unit residential buildings in the province.

If you already have an electric vehicle requiring a fuelling station, then Richmond is the place to go. The Lower Mainland city boasts 10 such terminals. And for those thinking about buying an electric car, Clean Energy Vehicles for B.C. provides all the information you need to make a decision.

It even lists all the places in B.C. where you are able to plug-in.


Polls apart: Making sense of surprise BC election outcome


Premier Christy Clark was right when she told the Canadian Press it’s“the people of British Columbia that choose the government.” For months polls indicated the BC NDP was winning the hearts and minds of British Columbians. Then a couple of weeks prior to the election, the gap narrowed as the news media rushed to publish poll after poll suggesting this.

But the polls did not all agree on how close that gap really was – some said nine points while others suggested a much closer “horse race.” Politicians have known for a long time that the news media makes a lot of money during political campaigns and elections, and they make even more when elections are close. While Clark doesn’t come out and say this word for word, there are hints of this idea within her words. And she’s right, it’s a good thing Canadians don’t listen to the polls, or else we’d just all give in, or give up.

As most Canadians are aware, the legacy news outlets in general are not doing so hot these days, which means the pressure to profit from elections is heightened. The few that are doing well are innovating – such as the Hearst Corporation, a media company with a long and storied history, that has taken to the tablet industry with great success.

While it’s undoubtedly a shocking time for many of our readers at The Common Sense Canadian, what’s more important to ask at this point is who benefited from a 20-point NDP margin that became a four-point margin in a few short weeks. These are not easy questions to ask as a voter living in a democratic country such as Canada – questions many Canadians shy away from asking because they sound conspiratorial in nature. At the end of the day, however, it was a poll conducted by Toronto-based Oraclepoll Research Ltd. that proved closest to the truth by suggesting a four-point margin. The actual difference was 4.9 per cent for the Liberals, not the NDP. So even the closest poll was wrong by 8.9 per cent. At worst, early predictions of a 20-point advantage for the NDP were off by a staggering 25%.

There are voter turnout issues to consider, since much of the NDP base consists of younger people who may not have turned out to cast their ballot. Perhaps pollsters should be asking citizens not only who they support, but whether they actually intend to vote for them. As reported earlier in these pages, the condition of the polling industry which is represented as a whole by the Marketing and Research Intelligence Association, is not so good. While most news organizations are pointing out that polls conducted by Angus Reid were perhaps the most wrong in this election, despite the venerable pollster’s solid reputation, Reid did say on the record about nine years ago that the polling industry was “shaky” to say the least.

So nine years ago a leading polling expert raised the red flag, but did our collective Canadian consciousness listen? Maybe, maybe not. But recent elections here in Western Canada should cause concern. There are many good points being made in the news media the morning after the B.C. election about how the 2012 Alberta election differed from our just-concluded 2013 election here. That being said, there are also many similarities.

As suggested by several good Canadian Press articles published in the last 12 hours, in Alberta it is thought polling was correct and that a last-minute shift occurred. As Canadian Press reporter Tyler Harbottle points out, there is no reason to believe that’s the case with the B.C. election. In the Edmonton Journal, the Alberta leaders weighed in on the B.C. election outcome, pondering how the same thing could happen here in B.C. as it did in Alberta not so long ago.

In the final days of the campaign, the mainstream media laid its cards on the table with a series of editorials backing Clark, praising her economic credentials. Despite their declining revenues, these newspapers still enjoy large readerships and are therefore able to wield influence. The impact they had on the BC election outcome is difficult to quantify, but it’s there nonetheless.

John King was a reporter and editor at a number of newspapers in Western Canada. Today he runs a design firm.


Can political polls be trusted?


BC and Alberta Elections Raise Serious Questions about Political Polls and the Corporate Media who Publish them

Good thing most people don’t listen to the polls. If they did, they just might throw in their cards and give up. The clearest indication yet that pollsters don’t know what they’re doing – or are driven by motives other than the accurate prediction of election outcomes – was the 2012 Alberta election. Polls indicated the young, upstart Wildrose Party (a.k.a. Wildrose Alliance Political Association) was ahead by a wide and startling margin. While the party is little known to many Canadians, it is clear that it derives its support from Alberta energy companies. Go figure.

Of course we all know what happened. The other party won, to everyone’s apparent surprise. The Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta has retained power in Alberta since 1971, and continued to do so in 2012 by defying the odds set against it by the pollsters who claimed their surveys showed voting Albertans no longer backed the venerable party.

Who knew, right? Wrong. Canadians now live in a political environment so illusionary that unknown pollsters are able to come from out of nowhere to try and persuade the public into believing any unsubstantiated claim. But do Canadians bite? Generally, no.

Heading into the 2013 B.C. election, voters are seeing this same theme. Suddenly, obscure pollsters often funded by unknown sources are constructing the narrative that the ailing B.C. Liberal Party checked itself into the ER, bandaged itself up, and is making a contest out of what was anything but.

Leading into the final weeks of the election, the provincial NDP showed strength and endurance – outpacing their dogged counterparts. Then came the paid advertisement featuring none other than the “Comeback Kid” herself, Premier Christy Clark, on the front page of the Sun Media-published 24 Hours newspaper – the Vancouver edition that is. It’s probably worth mentioning this is a company owned by that monolith back East known as Quebecor Inc., which in case you haven’t been following, wants its conservative-slanted news channel on the docket of must-see TV for Canadians.

The headline reads, “Poll: Christy Clark stands tall in debate,” and shows our glowing leader all smiles, arm raised in a triumphant pose. Critical and discerning B.C. voters might ask, “How can a poll say Clark stood tall in the recent televised debate?” Did the people who were polled unanimously suggest this by using these exact words? Mysterious to say the least.

Back in 2004, respected pollster Angus Reid suggested there was a problem in the way polls were conducted. While it’s now 2013, Reid’s concerns should raise the hairs on any honest voter’s neck.

In two Tyee articles, Reid suggests there are too many non-media funded polls being conducted. In addition to this, he says many polling firms don’t say how many people refused to participate in the survey, whether conducted by phone or online. He goes on to explain that polls conducted in provincial elections, which are more regional in nature and see a smaller sample size, allow for as much as a 20-point margin of error.

While Reid toots his own horn in the Tyee articles, saying his method has allowed for his polls to be more accurate than his competitors, if this is a fact then what’s the problem? And the facts do demonstrate that Reid, now an executive director at Vision Critical, is much more right more of the time than many other pollsters out there. So what he has to say matters. And it resonates no less today than it did eight or nine years ago.

Case in point: polls closing out the last working week leading into the BC election show wide discrepancies. An Angus Reid poll has the NDP out in front by a nine-point margin after going from 20 points ahead down to six, then back to nine. Meanwhile, a poll commissioned by the Victoria Times-Colonist says the NDP lead has “narrowed to just four percentage points.”

It’s worth highlighting the fact that the current publisher of the Times-Colonist is none other than ex-Hollinger executive David Radler. For those who thought he was locked up somewhere in jail for participating in fraud along with his former pal and partner, Conrad Black, Radler actually now enjoys a leadership role at Glacier Newspaper Group. Radler tattled on Black and got off. And now he’s busy commissioning polls from unknown firms (in this case it’s Oraclepoll Research Ltd. – check out their website and decide for yourself if you’d trust them), suggesting the Liberals are in the midst of a miraculous comeback. Huh? Did we British Columbians miss something?

The B.C. election supposedly became a “horse race” when Adrian Dix said he opposed a B.C. Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, which would see a dramatic increase in Alberta bitumen departing from the Lower Mainland where tankers park in the waters off Georgia Straight one after another to fuel up. In a laughable article from the Edmonton Journal (where we see a good example of journo-speak, i.e. the word “some”, as in “some pundits,” is used to somehow create credibility), the writer indicates that Dix’s flip-flop might cost him the election. Yet, a poll from Justason Market Intelligence says the exact opposite, using hard facts rather than the term, “some pundits.” Who are these pundits anyway?

According to Justason, 35 per cent of B.C. voters polled supported Dix more after his opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. This is compared to just 24 per cent who were less supportive. Many large newspapers would have B.C. voters believe otherwise. It’s a good thing voters aren’t as stupid as pollsters apparently believe they are.

You’d think the media and the polling firms would take a hint and start serving the public they say they serve, rather than corporate interests that only work to their shareholders’ benefit. It’s time newspapers and polling firms do proper investigative work to show the truth to voters, and not deceive them. Newspaper people bemoan their industry as dying because of the Internet. This couldn’t be more wrong. Newspapers, and legacy news outlets in general, are losing ground to more innovative online news agencies because they no longer serve the public’s best interest.

It remains to be seen what happens in Tuesday’s provincial election, but if it’s anything more than a close finish between the NDP and Liberals, then our pollsters and corporate media will have some serious explaining to do.

John King was a reporter and editor at a number of newspapers in Western Canada. Today he runs a design firm.

A cow moose drinks from a pond. Another important water source for moose, mineral springs, are drying up. (photo: wikimedia commons)

Moose licks: mineral springs disappear amid drought and hydraulic fracturing


Amongst the willows lining the road just below where the tall poplar, birch, spruce and pine trees stand, there is a passage. A small party of hunters hopes it leads to a healthy mineral spring. But hunting in B.C.’s South Peace isn’t what it used to be. The hunters fear the mineral spring is gone: disappeared in the oil-and-gas rich area that saw one of its driest years on record in 2012.

There are no clear reasons why the springs, which are used by animals such as Canada’s iconic moose, are vanishing in the province’s northeast corner along the B.C.-Alberta border. These springs are known to hunters in the area as moose licks.

One hunter in the party stops to consider the disappearing mineral springs. “We hunted these licks since our childhood. My brothers and I would hunt them with our dad, and we travelled to them by foot over the years,” the hunter says. “There has been a change to how we access the trails to the licks; in some cases these changes have been made by the oil-and-gas companies. In many cases, the licks are gone when we do get to them.”

Resting at the northern tip of the Rocky Mountains, the South Peace is an embattled land where farming anchored the economy until a natural gas boom in recent decades changed things. The cultural centre of the region is Dawson Creek, B.C., a town of about 11,000 people that boasts the title “Mile Zero” of the Alaska Highway.

The area is situated 600 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, and about 1,200 kilometres northeast of Vancouver. The South Peace covers 32,000 square kilometres of land stretching north to Fort St. John, west to the Williston Reservoir, east to the Alberta-B.C. border, and south to the Pine Pass where the Rocky Mountains begin.

2012: a dry year

People hunt largely for subsistence in the South Peace, not to acquire trophies. This is a distinction proud hunters in the area will emphasize. Many South Peace hunters believe it’s their right to hunt for subsistence. Many hunters belong to families that have hunted for generations.

Métis elder Malcolm Supernault belongs to one such family. As a respected elder, former North East Métis Association president, and private security contractor, Supernault has hunted and trapped all his life. He enjoys talking about Canada’s icon, the moose – a hulking member of the ungulate family that can weigh up to 700 kg and measure more than 2 metres tall. Supernault is worried about the impact of consecutive droughts on moose that he says rely on mineral springs in summer for water.

“This year was a dry year,” Supernault says in a recent phone interview. “As a rule, moose licks are used in the summer. You’ll find those moose licks will dry up.” Supernault says human activity often pushes wildlife out of traditional mating areas. “Every cow moose has an area where they raise a calf, and unless they’re forced off, they will stay. It’s humans that have caused the most havoc. Industry is everywhere.”

It’s not all bad for moose licks though. Supernault says resource development often creates new areas where springs are able to bubble back to the surface as long as there’s enough moisture created from the ground below or air above. He explains not all moose licks are mineral springs; instead, many are swamps that dry up faster than mineral springs during droughts.

Supernault is cautious about placing blame on any one reason for the disappearing moose licks, but says he’s seen how resource activity affects water supplies. “Anytime you put equipment over a piece of ground, it impacts the moisture right away. Drilling as well, pretty soon the underground streams change. Now industry is starting to pay attention. Water is our lifeline,” Supernault says.

More natural gas than you can imagine

In April 2011, the Canadian National Energy Board and B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines released a report entitled, “Ultimate Potential for Unconventional Natural Gas in Northeastern British Columbia’s Horn River Basin.” The report says there are 5.58 trillion cubic metres of natural gas deposits in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin – an area spanning from the B.C.-Northwest Territories border to southern Alberta.

With large new discoveries continuing to emerge like Apache Corp’s play in the Liard Basin, west of the Horn River, that number will likely end up being much higher.

The report also says there are 3.09 trillion cubic metres of natural gas from this basin in Northeast B.C., with 2.21 trillion cubic metres of shale gas compared to .878 trillion cubic metres of conventional fields. This means there are many more shale gas deposits in B.C. requiring hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short, to extract.

By comparison, Canada’s Lake Superior contains 1.21 trillion cubic metres of water, and is the third-largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, and the largest by surface area. Yet its water volume is only half the estimated volume of shale gas in Northeast B.C.

In the South Peace, where mineral springs are disappearing as severe droughts cause water supplies to vanish, the City of Dawson Creek saw its average water use spike to 9,464 cubic metres between August and September this year, whereas water use hovers around 5,678 cubic metres on average in other months.

This year the city and B.C. Oil and Gas Commission issued a water restriction in September on industrial use of water in the South Peace. In its 2011 provincial water use report, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission indicates rivers where shale gas is extracted see an increase in water volume usage.

For instance, the Upper Petitot, East Kiskatinaw, and Kiwigana rivers see on average a .81 per cent use of annual water runoff compared to other rivers which fall far below this average. This may seem an insignificant amount of water, but when natural gas activity increases during summer months, these rivers’ annual runoff is much depleted by the time there’s a drought.

Drought response level 4

Outside of the regular problems associated with resource activity, such as loss of habitat for wildlife and pollution, fracking requires substantial amounts of water. In B.C., water-use permits are granted by municipalities, which supply much of the water the oil-and-gas industry in the area requires.

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, a regulatory agency, also grants short-term water permits (known as Section 8 permits) if companies apply to draw water from sources outside of municipal boundaries. These two institutions work together in times of drought by restricting the use of potable water by industry, as was the case this past summer.

For Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier, it’s a balancing act because the oil-and-gas industry drives the local economy. In a recent phone interview, Bernier acknowledges severe droughts are changing the way city officials deal with water shortages. For instance, the municipality partnered with Shell Canada to build a water reclamation plant that uses waste water to feed natural gas fields.

The Kiskatinaw River, a tributary of the Peace River that branches off and travels southwest through resource-rich lands, is at its highest in spring when the snowpack melts. Bernier says the city is looking to build more reservoirs to store water collected when the city’s water source is at its peak.

“It has been quite something the last couple of years with four out of six as recorded drought years. This year was our driest year in recorded history,” Bernier says in the phone interview. “It’s always a balance with industry in the area so heavily dependent on water. We do work with different companies in the area and look for different ways to recycle. Companies are sensitive on issues around water shortages.”

This past summer, the city issued a Drought Response Level 4 advisory that required the city to obtain maximum reduction of water use as directed by the B.C. Drought Response Plan to avoid a loss of water supply. This cut off the oil-and-gas industry from both city and B.C. Oil and Gas Commission water-use permits. “It’s a last resort,” Bernier says. “We value our economy and jobs more than green lawns.”

Bernier explains city officials are working to further their understanding of the watershed. He says water issues are cyclical. The mayor compares 2012’s drought with 2010’s flooding that destroyed roads, homes, and entire hillsides all across Northeast B.C. “It’s been all over the map. This year, because of the drought, the river almost dried up to nothing,” Bernier says, adding there are times the Kiskatinaw River produces more water than the city needs. Now the municipality is looking at ways to increase the number of reservoirs in the area to ensure there’s always water in times of drought.

Water troubles further north

A five hour drive North from Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson First Nation is grappling with its own water challenges relating to shale gas development in the Horn River Basin. The nation’s new chief Sharleen Wildeman is quick to point out her members benefit from employment in the industry, but her community is concerned about 20 new long-term water licence applications on their territory currently before the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

“Fort Nelson First has worked with the natural gas industry and government to provide economic opportunities for our members and the entire province through responsible resource development. But our concerns regarding irresponsible, unsustainable water use have gone ignored,” the chief says during a delegation she led recently to Vancouver to raise these concerns.

These new licences mark a shift in water use for shale gas in both their long-term duration and in the enormous volumes of water they represent. For example, Encana is applying to draw up to 3 billion litres a year out of the Fort Nelson River for its nearby shale gas operations. Nexxen Corp.’s licence, the first and only  application to be approved so far, is for five years, but under the current Provincial Water Act, these long-term licences can extend for up to 40 years. Fort Nelson First Nation recently won the right to challenge Nexxen’s licence at the Environmental Appeal Board.

Fort Nelson First Nation is calling on the provincial Liberal government to halt the issuance of these new licences until the community and general public have been properly consulted and a responsible long-term water management plan is in place. The nation’s leaders put forth a series of additional demands, such as gathering proper baseline data, adequate monitoring and enforcement measures and the ability to make certain culturally sensitive rivers off-limits to development.

Watch a timelapse animation of increasing water withdrawals for shale gas in Fort Nelson First Nation territory.

Water shortages are no coincidence

For groundwater expert Dr. Gilles Wendling, water shortages in areas of heavy natural gas extraction are no coincidence. Wendling is managing director and director of the technical and professional division of the B.C. Groundwater Association. He’s also president and founder of Global Aquifer Development Foundation, a Canadian charity that helps create groundwater management systems in developing nations.

“The problem is most of the cyclical perception is anecdotal. We are seeing low flows in rivers. We have to take notice of what people are reporting, especially First Nations people who have a close connection with the land,” Wendling says in a recent phone interview.

“Surface and groundwater are intimately connected. Water can travel deep into the subsurface, 1, 2, 3 kilometres is possible. What they’re doing with fracking may affect the groundwater at that depth. If you start reducing groundwater, it can result in a drop of the water at surface. It may shut down springs.”

Wendling said when fracking occurs, holes are often drilled deep below ground to allow for the injection of water to free up natural gas. This water dissipates, leaving conduits from the surface to the natural gas layer that rests sometimes 3 kilometres deep. As the natural gas is extracted, there’s a potential for the creation of high-pressure zones near the surface where shallow water is contained below lakes, rivers, swamps and springs.

This creates a vacuum between low pressure areas at the natural gas reservoir level and the high pressure areas at the more shallow depth where there’s groundwater. “You end up with a depressurization with a drop in the water table of the groundwater shallow aquifers,” Wendling says.

This means subsurface aquifers supporting above-surface water, such as mineral springs, are depleted as the water moves deeper to low-pressure zones created by the fracking.

A fracturing debate

The leading scientific journal Nature published an article last year asking the question, “Should Fracking Stop?”

In the article, Cornell University engineering professor Dr. Anthony Ingraffea and Penn State Geosciences professor Dr. Robert Halwarth argue against natural gas fracking. The academics point out most fracking today occurs to obtain natural gas from shale gas plays. It’s shale gas deposits requiring fracking that make up most of the fields in Northeast B.C.

“Fracking also extracts natural salts, heavy metals, hydrocarbons and radioactive materials from the shale, posing risks to ecosystems and public health when these return to the surface. This flowback is collected in open pits or large tanks until treated, recycled or disposed of,” the authors write in the article “Should Fracking Stop?” (September 15, 2011).

The professors outline water concerns as well, referring to a peer-reviewed study that “[found] about 75 per cent of wells sampled within 1 kilometre of gas drilling in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania were contaminated with methane from the deep shale formations.” As for drinking-water contamination, municipalities that handled waste from fracking operations have reported serious problems.

The article goes on to say pollution of water is also a problem. “[There] has been contamination of tributaries of the Ohio River with barium, strontium and bromides from municipal wastewater treatment plants receiving fracking wastes. This contamination apparently led to the formation of dangerous brominated hydrocarbons in municipal drinking-water supplies….”

Dr. Terry Engelder, who is a leading authority on the recent Marcellus gas shale play in the U.S., argues in the same Nature article that the benefits of burning natural gas far outweigh the negative effects of extraction using fracking methods. “Global warming is a serious issue that fracking-related gas production can help to alleviate. In a world in which productivity is closely linked to energy expenditure, fracking will be vital to global economic stability…,” Engelder writes.

Engelder admits one of the biggest causes for concern in fracking is water use. “Millions of gallons of water are required to stimulate a well…. Obtaining adequate water for industrial fracking in dry regions such as the Middle East and western China is a local concern, but is no reason for a global moratorium,” he writes.

According to the New York Times article, “Studies Say Natural Gas Has Its Own Environmental Problems” (April 11, 2011) by Tom Zeller Jr., the arguments for natural gas as clean energy are disputed. “The problem, the studies suggest, is that planet-warming methane, the chief component of natural gas, is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities than previously thought, with as much as 7.9 percent of it puffing out from shale gas wells, intentionally vented or flared, or seeping from loose pipe fittings along gas distribution lines,” Zeller writes.

Many are gone

Ahead of the hunters, the forest opens up to reveal a healthy moose lick. There is a thick pattern of wildlife tracks in the muddy clay where water bubbles to the surface. Moose licks are shallow by nature, and are protected from humans by the fact that if a person walks into one, they end up sinking into mud up to their knees. And it isn’t the kind of mud that’s easy to walk out of. Many licks are littered with the boots of hunters who wandered too far into a spring.

The hunters make their way to the top of a perch overlooking the mineral spring. It stretches out before them. It’s one of the largest in the region according to a hunter, who smiles when he looks out over the lick. He’s happy this one remains. Many moose licks are gone.

As effects of global warming increase, it’s not just places such as the Middle East and China that experience the side effects. Already regions across the globe are experiencing unprecedented changes to weather patterns. This includes the consecutive summer droughts in places like the South Peace where the mineral springs are drying up.

With files from Damien Gillis.