The spectacle of an energy company’s CEO teaching the abecedarian facts about a drilling technology that’s been around for at least ten years to candidates for the highest elected office in the province is undeniably amusing.
Still, one or two of our premier wannabes might have cracked a book before showing up for class.
One can only imagine what crossed the mind of Corridor Resources’ Phil Knoll when he decided to pen a lengthy letter to the heads of New Brunswick’s five political parties essentially explaining that, no, gentlemen, it is not possible to extract gas from shale formations in this part of the Maritimes without fracturing the rock.
According to the letter, acquired by the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, Mr. Knoll is categorical: “There is no other method to release the natural gas from tight sandstone or shale other than through fracturing the rock. That is the reality.”
And if any political hopeful thinks that fracking (industry slang for hydraulic fracturing, the process by which water and chemicals, or, less commonly, gas, are injected under pressure into sedimentary rock to liberate the fossil fuel trapped there) can be restricted only to the production phase of development, he should think again.
“During the exploration phase, the only way to accurately determine the size of the resource and whether it can be produced economically is through the use of fracture stimulation,” Mr. Knoll explains. “Seismic research and the drilling of stratigraphic core holes can help evaluate the geological formations and their composition at different depths.”
What’s more, he writes, the debate in New Brunswick about hydraulic fracturing – whether, as its opponents claim, it will release vast quantities of methane into the drinking supply, enabling local farmers to literally light their water on fire – is largely misguided if not entirely moot.
In fact, over the past 10 years Corridor has used fracture stimulation to drill 43 wells with, as Mr. Knoll confirms, “no adverse impacts on potable water aquifers. . .Corridor operates some wells that were fractured 10 years ago and still produce natural gas without additional fracturing. Across North America, it is common to have wells producing more than 20 years after initial fracture stimulation.”
All of which suggests that fracking can, at least in this instance, be done safely. But that’s never really been at issue. The underlying quandry in the debate has always been: Will it?
That’s the question an article in Scientific American posed last year, to wit: “A new review article funded by the National Science Foundation and published in Science on May 16 examines what fracking may be doing to the water supply. ‘This is an industry that’s in its infancy, so we don’t really know a lot of things,’ explains environmental engineer Radisav Vidic of the University of Pittsburgh, who led this review. ‘Is it or isn’t it bad for the environment? Is New York State right to ban fracking, and is Pennsylvania stupid for [allowing it]?’ According to the review, the answer is no. ‘There is no irrefutable impact of this industry on surface or groundwater quality in Pennsylvania,’ Vidic says.”
Still, the article continues, “That’s not to say there haven’t been problems. That’s because there are many ways for things to go wrong with a natural gas well during the fracking process. A new well – or the 100,000 or so existing but forgotten wells – can allow natural gas from. . .deposits to migrate up and out of the rock and into water or basements. Leaking methane, in addition to being a potential safety hazard, is also a potent greenhouse gas that exacerbates climate change, although that environmental impact was not examined in this study.”
However New Brunswickers choose to chart their collective energy future, the wisest course will always begin with the self determination to obtain the best of all possible facts.
After all, to avert a risk, you must first understand it.