Tag Archives: Environmental Protection Agency

Towards a clean-fracking future


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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Climate change is real. But do the feds care?



Senior federal Tories no longer deny, as more than a few once did, encroaching climate change. Their thinking on the issue has evolved. Now, they accept it, almost willingly, as a cost of doing business in the 21st Century.

With all the bellicosity that this proposition implies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper thumbed his nose at U.S. President Barack Obama this week, suggesting that the latter’s effort to enforce new emission standards for power plants was disingenuous.

“No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country,” he said during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Ottawa. “We are just a little more frank about that.”

Moreover, he added, “the measures outlined by President Obama, as important as they are, do not go nearly as far in the electricity sector as the actions Canada has already taken ahead of the United States in that particular sector.”

Finally, he said, “It’s not that we don’t seek to deal with climate change, but we seek to deal with it in a way that will protect and enhance our ability to create jobs and growth. . .Frankly, every single country in the world (feels the same way).”

Now, who’s being disingenuous?

Canada’s official government position on climate change is virtually non-existent. The feds do not maintain, let alone enforce, regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry for a very good reason: They are terrified of angering their pals in Big Petrol. 

According to a report in the Globe and Mail last year, the World Resources Institute stated that in 2010 this country’s carbon footprint was the tenth-largest in the world. “On a per-capita basis, Canada is 17th; among the G20, Canada trails only Australia and the United States,” the item noted.

As for Canada’s putative lead over the United States in regulating the electricity sector, Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank based in British Columbia, begs to differ. In a blog post on June 4, he wrote:

“While Canada did introduce federal coal regulations in 2012, the regulations have a long phase-in period that allows some of Canada’s coal plants to operate clear through the middle of the century, without any greenhouse gas controls whatsoever.”

Mr. Dyer observes that this “timid response” guarantees that meaningful drops in greenhouse gas emissions won’t appear until 2030. In this context, he writes, “The U.S. proposal is far more effective at reducing greenhouse gases from electricity generation in the short term, compared to business as usual. Analysis suggests the EPA rules would reduce power sector emissions by an estimated 23 per cent below business as usual by 2025, compared to five per cent from Canada’s federal regulations (according to Environment Canada’s own numbers).”

Apart from this, Pembina estimates that, between 2005 and 2020, tar sands expansion will have rendered preposterous Canada’s faint-hearted promise to the international community to cut its greenhouse gas production by 17 per cent.

“Environment Canada estimates that Canada will only be ‘halfway’ to meeting its 2020 target in 2020 – meaning that we’re on track to miss the 2020 target by 113 million tonnes, or double the current emissions of British Columbia,” wrote Clare Demerse, Pembina’s former director of federal policy, on the Institute’s website last year. “To date, the federal government has not published any plan or proposal to close that gap.”

Under the circumstances, how can any political leader in Ottawa claim with a straight face that the government has a plan for mitigating the effects of the nation’s increasingly rapacious fossil fuel industry?

Energy Minister Joe Oliver is practically apoplectic over the possibility that Alberta oil will forever languish where it does no one any good. In a recent speech, he described the black gold as “landlocked”, costing the national economy billions of dollars a year in lost revenue.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is ritually fond of stating that the federal government’s emissions policy demonstrates how she and her Conservative confederates are “standing up for Canadian jobs,” as if no clean, sustainable alternative is even worth considering.

Fair enough. But if certain federal Tories no longer deny the existence of climate change, neither should they deny the other truth: They couldn’t care less.


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