Friday, July 29, 2011

All the "easy" oil and gas may be gone, but still ...

While most regions of Canada have imposed moratoriums on "fracking," using jackhammers and / or high pressure water injections to get out natural gas, one province -- British Columbia -- is going, pardon the expression, full steam ahead and allowing our favourite (NOT!) mining company Talisman Energy to draw water from one of the few pure water sources left in the country for the next twenty years.

Many states in the US have put either moratoriums or outright bans after complaints that the release of gas buried underground for aeons caused health problems for many, not the least of which were headaches that could not be explained otherwise.   Ontario has long had a ban on fracking in Lake Erie for the same reason (although the practice continues elsewhere), and Québec earlier this month also put a hold on the practice until more can be found out about how to do it safely.  The next thing we know we may see the rise of cancer clusters -- technically defined as when an area near a suspect source has a rate of cancer at least five percent above the national average.

In these tough times revenues are scarce and if there was indeed a way to do it safely even I would support it.   But the current methods are only "safe" because the industry tells us that it is and they pay off commercial media (with advertising) and government (via royalties) to maintain the status quo.   To the argument that over the counter medications can cause the same issues, one has to reply that if there was a proven causal link with the drug it would be either banned or put into a more restrictive class.

But there is no such recourse with water supplies that are deliberately depleted for short term profit.   One only has to look at the ongoing water wars in California which date back more than century and still continue to this day.    The Owens River is only about 5% of what it was around 1908 and that's because of the clever way Sacramento dealt with the issue of sharing the water -- it ruled that if a community in the "Southland" wanted to get the water it had to merge into Los Angeles.   This partly explains why so little of LA remains irrigated land.  This also explains the convoluted city map of the "City of Angels" and why communities such as Hollywood, Bel Air, Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks and South Central are all part of LA; whilst West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Flintridge, Marina Del Ray and the City of Industry are not.     Even now farmers are pitted against urban dwellers -- and that's not taking the interests of aboriginal Californians into account.

California is taking the step of requiring would be "frackers" to disclose just much water they are using as well as what chemicals and a realistic environmental assessment of what the worst case scenario would be.   Then that assessment would be subject to public hearings.

I think my home province of Ontario ought to do the same.   We may be the land of 250,000 lakes but water is no longer the infinite resource we once thought it was.

Going out west, the rapid decline in ice melt is going to cause headaches for the Prairies as the Athabascan and Saskatchewan Rivers flow less freely in future years, and which provinces have to ask their brethren in BC to share what's left in their lakes via pipeline.    But what if there's nothing left but water polluted with tailings from mining and harsh petrochemicals from the extraction of oil and gas?    The future is not friendly by any means.   Even the oil workers on the tar sands know their bosses are using too much water and are oddly on side with the city parents in Fort McMurray in fighting to keep what little water is left.

There's no question all the easy oil and natural gas may be gone.   But just allowing a company to take the water with no questions asked and a promise of royalties that do not account for the long term damage is just irresponsible.   On this one, I say proceed with caution.    If there are more efficient ways to extract the oil and gas while ensuring a renewable supply of potable water then I'm all for it.   Until then we should hold off.


Anonymous said...

The same thing is being argued about wind turbines...

The Mound of Sound said...

Yeah, BC is gung-ho on fracking but that's partly because the northeastern part of the province is very lightly populated. It's the same "out of sight/out of mind" thinking that lets Calgarians stay enthusiastic about the tar sands.