Fracking Requires Transparency
Northern Journal January 27, 2014
Column by Peter Redvers & Lois Little; NWT Chapter Co-chairs Council of Canadians
On June 13, 2013, GNWT Ministers David Ramsay and Michael Miltenberger were guests on a CKLB radio phone-in show about fracking. The phone-in show came on the heels of the approval of the first horizontal hydraulic fracturing project in the NWT.
People phoned in to share concerns about the use and management of fracking chemicals, fresh water quality and supply, impacts to aquatic species, displaced wildlife, landscape fragmentation, induced earthquakes and the negative consequences of bypassing environmental assessment processes. The ministers dismissed these concerns by speaking of extensive monitoring, groundwater mapping, wildlife baseline and habitat studies, best practices and safeguards including horizontal hydraulic fracking guidelines, and full transparency.
It is seven months since the phone-in show and the first frac is about to happen. ConocoPhillips, the company doing the fracking, is following a chemical management plan based mainly on its chemical supplier’s guidelines and on guidance from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. The plan maintains “trade secrets” on various chemicals used. Industry guiding industry, along with lack of full disclosure, certainly doesn’t ensure any best practices and safeguards for public and environmental safety.
Concern about trade secrets was a reason the Council of Canadians (NWT Chapter) used the Environmental Rights Act to call for an investigation of contaminants likely to be released as a result of the fracking project. The minister responsible for the Act refused to undertake this investigation. Now, we learn through Northern Journal articles on Jan. 13 and 21, 2014 that the results of this fracking project, including impacts on groundwater, may not be known for a year or more after drilling results have been collected.
Northerners, especially those in close proximity to the ConocoPhillips project, are becoming increasingly concerned about fracking. A rumoured application from Husky Oil to launch another fracking project in the area adds to these concerns. A Jan. 6, 2014 Northern Journal article reported that there are 200 names on a petition in Tulita and 900 on a petition in Fort Good Hope, calling for the suspension of fracking until there is a region-wide vote.
The current situation leads the Council of Canadians to ask many questions. Without thorough environmental assessments, how can we or regulators know what risks and impacts are involved with this and future fracking operations? How do we know whether industry or regulators are monitoring the right things or implementing the correct mitigation measures? What baseline research can we compare monitoring data to? Where are the promised GNWT “world-class” fracking guidelines promised by the minister? Why does our government allow industry to contaminate massive volumes of fresh water that cannot be reclaimed and are permanently dangerous to our ecosystem? What will the cumulative impact of multiple horizontal fracking operations be on the land, wildlife and water? Why do we allow industry to set their own rules for disclosure of toxic chemicals? Why does the oil and gas industry resist environmental assessments of their activities? What are they trying to hide?
These and other questions make it clear that without rigorous public environmental assessments and full transparency with respect to horizontal fracking operations, we are setting ourselves up for a situation similar to Giant Mine – contamination that cannot be removed or mitigated and must be managed for generations, if not forever.
It is time for government and regulators to step up to protect the environment and the public trust.
Environmental assessments on all horizontal hydraulic fracking operations must be mandatory. And if the social and environmental risks are too high, projects should not be approved.
NWT Chapter Co-chairs
Council of Canadians