B.C. to continue ‘fracking’ for gas, despite bans elsewhere


From the Vancouver Sun – March 30, 2011

by Jeff Lee

British Columbia has no worries about the controversial use of
hydraulic fracturing in natural gas production, even though other
governments have recently instituted moratoriums on the process, Energy
and Mines Minister Rich Coleman said Tuesday.

Earlier this month
Quebec halted the use of so-called “fracking” technology, which involves
pumping large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into shale gas
deposits to fracture the rock and force the gas into collection pipes.
Several U.S. states, including New York, and France have also halted the
use of fracking over concerns that not enough is known about the
long-term effects of the extraction method.

A number of
jurisdictions have worried that the method may lead to the contamination
of groundwater supplies and there have been periodic complaints from
neighbours, including allegations of gas seeping from domestic water

But Coleman said B.C. gas extraction companies have been
using fracking for many years without problems and have to meet what he
termed “the world’s most stringent environmental regulations.”

actually pretty comfortable with the maturity we have in this
particular field,” he said. “I have seen nothing to date that would tell
me that we are not out front on all the environmental issues compared
to other jurisdictions.”

Doug Bloom, the president of Spectra
Energy Transmission’s western division, says he doesn’t believe
“fracking” in B.C. is as much an environmental problem as it is one of
access to sufficient water supplies.

“We know it has become an
issue elsewhere, but frankly … fracking is not a new technology,” said
Bloom. “We’ve been fracturing wells in Western Canada for decades and to
my knowledge there haven’t been any problems associated with that.”

Energy, a Fortune 500 company, has five natural gas-processing plants
in B.C. In North America it has more than 30,000 kilometres of
transmission lines and more than eight billion cubic metres of storage

Natural gas is one of B.C.’s most valuable resources.
This year royalties from gas exploration will deliver nearly $1.4
billion into provincial coffers. Nearly a third of Canada’s entire
natural gas reserves are in B.C. But it comes with the use of technology
that some opponents and environmentalists say has yet to be proven.

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives suggested in a recent paper the
long-term effects of fracking have yet to be understood.

And in
the Peace region, a group of residents called the Peace Environmental
and Safety Trustees Society has asked the province for a formal inquiry
into the health effects from sour gas wells.

But Bloom said the
use of fracking in B.C.’s northeast gas fields “has more to do more with
the water supply” than any long-term environmental concern.

bigger issue in British Columbia is water use, what water supplies you
will use for fracking. Increasingly, what we’re seeing producers do is
recycle water so that they can reuse it and not use as much.”

He said Spectra isn’t concerned about the technology’s safety.

“We worry to the extent that the debate is informed and that it is science and fact-based.”

But not everyone is convinced that fracking is environmentally harmless.

John Walker, president of FortisBC, thinks B.C. will likely have to look at the impacts of the technology at some point.

is a challenge. I think it is a challenge [of] how you manage this from
a regulatory point of view,” said Walker, whose company is the largest
natural gas distributor in Western Canada.

“You have to manage
the environmental impacts as you go forward and that is absolutely one
of the challenges that we have to work with.”

Bloom and Walker
were part of a Vancouver Board of Trade panel Tuesday that looked at the
benefits and business opportunities of natural gas in B.C. Both believe
natural gas production will lead to the continued development of new
forms of use, particularly in the area of transportation.

has in recent years led to the revival of natural gas exploration
because it has solved a problem that has long vexed companies: how to
unlock gas trapped in shale deposits.

Ten years ago when B.C.
began to seriously expand gas exploration, it had a 10-year supply of
gas reserves, Coleman said. Now it has more than 100 years of proven
reserves in the northeastern part of the province, the Horn River and
Montney Basin deposits, and that doesn’t even include new reserves being
developed in the Liard, he said.

But that same technology has
also led to the development of numerous shale gas reserves elsewhere in
North America, with the result that the U.S. also has a 100-year supply.

As a result, gas prices have plummeted from a high of about $14 to $4 per gigajoule.

who is not opposed to fracking, said the moratoriums against it in
other jurisdictions may have an impact on B.C.’s market.

“If you
curtail the use of fracking, there is no doubt that is the technology
and methodology that drove the ability to exploit these shales.

“I think we are going to have to find a way to manage it.

is always about trade-offs, whether we build a hydroelectric dam and
dam a river, whether we put windmills in bird migration routes. We’re
trading on that balance we have to strike between energy policy, the
environmental policy and economic outcomes.”

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About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.