Submissions > To Make Critical Decisions, We Must Employ Critical Thinking by Debra Hopper

To Make Critical Decisions, We Must Employ Critical Thinking by Debra Hopper

“To Make Critical Decisions, We Must Employ Critical Thinking”

At a point in history when humans are consuming the Earth’s natural resources at an alarmingly unsustainable rate, when the planet is warming and a large portion of the world’s population will become climate refugees and when there is not enough clean, potable water to sustain the world’s ever growing population, I have to wonder how fracking for the fossil fuel shale gas is even an issue.

How could any thinking people allow such heavy demands on its most precious resource (the fracking industry is an extremely thirsty one), let alone allow them to poison that water. Then be stuck with the problem of disposing of the toxic return water spreading even more contamination. (This is the life cycle of a shale gas well, not including the leaking that will eventually ensue. ALL shale gas wells will leak eventually. It’s just science). Then I shake my head and remember who’s really in charge. Who benefits. Who has most of the power.

The fact that there is even a commission looking into whether or not to lift the moratorium on shale gas development, is a testament to the fact that the government does not have the social license to proceed. The plan was for this industry to be up and running by 2014. The smooth talking that was done was supposed to convince us all that this would be a “game changer” for our humble little province. We were being courted with the idea that there would be jobs, jobs, jobs, and money, money, money. Why, we would no longer have to hang our heads in shame for mooching off of the West! We’d become respectable at last. (I have little doubt that a PR firm came up with that strategy).

The problem for the industry was, they did not have the facts to back up their claims. People who had worked for the oil and gas industry in the west and had moved back home, had seen things that contradicted what we were hearing from the industry and, sadly, our own government. They were sounding the alarm. We contacted government officials and expressed our concerns. They nodded as we spoke. We foolishly thought that we were being listened to. Eventually, it became very clear that the government was not listening to our concerns about the shale gas industry and the potential damage it would bring. We held meetings and became organized. (Thirty-nine grass roots environmental groups were formed). We educated ourselves. We did networking, conference calls, planned rallies, marches and raised funds to bring in experts to give public presentations.

Citizens were doing the due diligence that our government should have been doing. We were on our own as the Alward government was clearly going to allow fracking to happen. (This brought about the defeat of the Alward government who campaigned on the Say Yes slogan). Because many of us also did networking on social media, we were able to talk to people who were already living in or around shale gas plays. Their stories were alarming.

We soon found out that “world class regulations” was a standard line that meant nothing. It is a public relations ploy and it is, I have learned through extensive research, a lie. Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, who holds a Ph.D in Rock Fracturing Mechanics and is a professor at Cornell University, was one expert that gave presentations. Dr. Ingraffea was one of the key inventors of the technology being used to do the unconventional deep vertical and horizontal drilling. He had warned the industry that the technology was not ready. I think that he would know that and should have been listened to. It seems to be very irresponsible to ignore the warning of the inventor of the technology. Professor Ingraffea’s presentations dispelled the myths that the gas industry perpetuates.

Myth 1. “Fracking is a 60-year-old, safe, well proven technology.” This has what Ingraffea calls a kernel of truth- fracking has been around for 60 years, but, as he says, “what’s at issue here isn’t really just fracking. It's the entire process of coaxing gas from shale using high-volume, slickwater fracking with long laterals from clustered, multi-well pads.” This myth has been going unchallenged by government and, for the most part, by media. I saw reference to this myth in Robert MacDonald’s submission. I have no doubt that CAPP and other industry groups will use the same line. I beg you to be very clear on this in your deliberation. Please do your due diligence.

Myth 2. “Fluid migration from faulty wells is rare”- quoting Dr. Ingraffea, “Fluid migration is not rare. For example, industry researchers Watson and Bachu, in a Society of Petroleum Engineers paper in 2009, examined 352,000 Canadian wells and found sustained casing pressure and gas migration…Most recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found benzene, methane and chemicals in water-monitoring wells in Pavilion, Wyoming…”

Myth 3: “The use of clustered, multi-well drilling pads reduces surface impacts.” Quoting Dr. Ingraffea, “Such pad sites are large and growing, up to 10 acres or more. Newer sites, in Canada, are bigger than 50 acres, and each will leave behind clusters of wellheads and holding tanks for decades. Cluster drilling facilitates and prolongs intense industrialization and leaves a larger, more concentrated, and very long-term footprint, not a smaller and shorter one.”

Myth 4: “Natural gas is a 'clean' fossil fuel.” Quoting Dr. Ingraffea, “NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell’s work, published in the prestigious journal, Science, shows that methane – natural gas – is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor over a 20-year time horizon, and 33 times more powerful over a century.” Dr. Ingraffea explains that methane gas is prone to leakage, which is not taken into account when proponents tout gas as a “clean” source of energy. Leaks happen routinely during regular drilling, fracking and flowback operations, liquid unloading, processing, and along pipelines and at storage facilities. The rate of leakage is anywhere from 3.6 per cent to 7.9 per cent of the lifetime of production of a shale gas well, which means from three to 200 per cent greater leakage rate than from conventional gas wells.

Dr. Ingraffea agrees with Dr. Jannette Barth (an economist who constructs economic models for industries) that the shale gas industry is also very misleading when it comes to it claims for jobs created. We only have to look at Penobsqusis where, at one time there were 39 producing wells, to see that there are few jobs. The jobs in that area came from the potash mine, not shale gas. Dr. Barth ( [email protected] Jannette M. Barth, PhD. Pepacton Institute LLC conducted an economic study that looked at a ten year period of fracking in Pennsylvania. It compared communities that had allowed fracking with nearby communities that did not have fracking. The areas that did not have fracking were much better off economically ten years down the road than those that had allowed it. Her economic model included the damage that the industry does to roads, bridges, agriculture, fisheries, tourism, health, decline in property values (and subsequently the tax base), drinking water contamination, land and air contamination, decline in communities, etc. There are many hidden costs to this industry including government subsidies. Dr. Barth also noted that the benefits had been greatly exaggerated promising a 30 year production when in fact it was more like 4 years.

Recent studies are showing that the majority of the “easy” gas will be extracted in the first year or two. (This is very important to note for royalties especially if the company is allowed the first year or two to be royalty free). If you have not yet seen any of the presentations by Dr. Ingraffea and Dr. Barth on youtube, you really need to do so. They are leading experts with impeccable credentials. They cut through to the heart of the matter and ask the questions that the industry tries hard to avoid. (Industry hires very slick PR firms to help them manipulate public perception. Hill and Knowlton, the firm that successfully kept the correlation between serious health problems and tobacco industry at bay for many years has done campaigns for the oil and gas industry as well). Canada’s Dr. David Suzuki has been warning us for the last 35 years about global warming and the fossil fuel industry’s heavy contribution. In terms of jobs, studies show that there are far more jobs in renewables and these are clean jobs.

This has been a difficult task for me to write. I need so very much to have my concerns taken seriously. I need for this commission not to be another rubber stamp for government and industry. Not just a forum whereby the Gallant government can check it off its list. There is fear that, with the Irving Corporation having so much to gain from shale gas production, extraction will be pushed through.

Historically, it has always been difficult for our governments not to acquiesce to their requests. I am hoping that your commission will do its due diligence.

Respectfully submitted, Debra Hopper B.A, B.Ed.

PS I must say that I appreciated Premier Brian Gallant’s response to MLA Bruce Fitch when Fitch said that Gallant should allow shale gas drilling in the province. Gallant asked Fitch if his constituents wanted to take the return frack fluid. Fitch did not answer. This is the heart of the matter. If we do not want to live near shale gas wells or return fluid sites, we should not expect anyone else to do so either.

Submitted by Debra Hooper, Indian Island, NB