Providing credible water resource solutions: Working with Nature's Science

  Company blog

Misinformation poisons the hydro-fracking well

Re: the Feb. 5 letters to the editor written in response to Chronicle Herald's Feb. 1 editorial, “Respecting the evidence.” My concern is the steady refrain of misinformation on hydro-fracking. It has been spread in amounts greater than the salt on our winter roads. We are long overdue for a fact-based and properly balanced discussion on this matter.

Having explored for oil and gas years ago, and working now for more than 25 years as a geoscientist in surface water and groundwater resource development and protection, I feel I can rightly say that fracking can present risks, just as many other accepted industrial activities can pose risks to the environment.

But hydraulic fracturing, which was invented in 1947, commercialized in 1949, and has been used over 2.5 million times worldwide for oil and gas development, is not new. So the risks are well understood, and are generally no greater than those posed by almost any other type of oil and gas development activity.

During fracking, water is usually introduced into deep, non-potable salt-water laden geologic horizons. There are typically large vertical separations between frack zones and drinking water aquifers, and fracking operations are monitored more closely than most outside the industry might realize.

After all, besides the economic incentives for successful fracks, the geologists and engineers who understand and apply the technology also share the same environmental-quality concerns as everyone else, because they live in and obtain their drinking water from the same environment as everyone else.

Besides surface spills, which the use of best practices can reduce, the greatest risks from fracking may arise where there is a legacy of oil and gas development with many old, improperly built and abandoned oil and gas wells. These can serve as vertical conduits along which fluids under pressure could migrate into shallower freshwater aquifers.

But since we have no such development history, that scenario doesn’t exist in Nova Scotia. And new oil and gas well construction procedures are designed to avoid those types of scenarios.

We keep hearing statements like “hundreds of chemicals are used in the fracking process,” which have no doubt caused many to fear that risks are greater then they really are. This type of misleading statement can perhaps be better phrased to say: “There are hundreds of chemicals available on the menu for fracking,” noting also that only three to six chemicals are ever used on any one frack job.

Many are chemicals we use daily in our homes, or to manufacture food. Through objective reviews, we can identify the hazardous ones and remove them from the menu.

Ocean water can be used, and recovered frack water reused on the next frack job — to be put right back into the salt-water laden horizons it came from. Plus, methods exist to treat frack water to near rainwater quality when necessary.

So there should be few concerns in Nova Scotia about finding water to frack with, or about treating frack water, once proper infrastructure is put in place as the industry gets underway.

Then there are the social issues that can result from a boom industry (should it ever come to that), versus the economic benefits that onshore oil and gas development can bring to Nova Scotia, versus the lost opportunities that may result from outright banning hydro-fracking.

I think these issues, rather than the technical or environmental ones, are the more complicated and difficult ones that we should be addressing and trying to resolve. So why do we hear so little about these?

Now that the Wheeler review expert panel selections have been made, I’m hopeful that we may begin to see, for the first time in Nova Scotia, sound action to properly sort fiction from fact — and accept to let the chips lie where they may fall.

My concern remains, however, that the anti-fracking advocates purposefully spreading their misinformation may have done their craft so well as to have tainted whatever process we deploy to get to the truth.

Opinion - editorial written for the Chronicle Herald
February 11, 2014 By:
Rick Gagn