Towards a clean-fracking future

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In a singularly breathtaking review of the facts, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – still, the gold standard on all matters ecological – says ‘yes’ to hydraulic fracturing, within limits, of course.

Its long-awaited, durably delayed report on one of the most controversial resource-extraction technologies in 15 years resolves thusly: “From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources. These mechanisms include water withdrawals in times of, or in areas with, low water availability; fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources; below ground migration of liquids and gases; and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.”

Still, it insists in terms that could not be more certain, “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”

To be clear, it reports, “This finding could reflect a rarity of effects on drinking water resources, but may also be due to other limiting factors. These factors include: insufficient pre- and post-fracturing data on the quality of drinking water resources; the paucity of long-term systematic studies; the presence of other sources of contamination precluding a definitive link between hydraulic fracturing activities and an impact; and the inaccessibility of some information on hydraulic fracturing activities and potential impacts.”

What does all of this mean to New Brunswick, where a potential 73-trillion cubic feet of shale gas nestles below ground, obstructed not so much by drilling technology than by public policy (a moratorium on the stuff is, after all, in effect)?

Well, say the pooh-bahs in Fredericton, ‘we’re just going to have to study the study, because, well, you know, that’s what we do.’

And so they will with all the enjoyable attention the issue deserves, given that New Brunswick currently ‘enjoys’ one of the highest jobless rates in the country, an absurdly high annual, per capita deficit and a long-term debt that would make a reality showrunner bleat for a chance to film the coming fiscal apocalypse for both prime time and Netflix.

The problem, of course, is that the Gallant government has moored itself to an ideological anchor. Its determination to utterly ignore the relevant research paid for by the previous government – for purely partisan and, therefore, spurious, reasons – has, in the light of new and independent findings from its largest international trading partner, forced its feet of clay.

If, as the EPA insinuates, fracking need not ruin the soil, water and air of this naturally pristine province (given proper regulations and industrial protocols), then what prevents the Province from engaging in the hard, indisputably contentious business of charting a ‘clean-fracking’ future? Technically, it now seems, the endeavour is not impossible. Politically, however, it remains untenable, as the gritty Libs try to ford the gulf between campaign rhetoric and pragmatic, responsible governance.

As for the EPA study, “it’s a major report,” a ranking member of the Province’s three-person Commission struck to examine the fracking conundrum here told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal earlier this week. Said Cheryl Robertson, who hadn’t yet perused the document in its entirety before her interview: “It will be an interesting read.”

More interesting, of course, will be hers and her colleagues’ own findings.

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