If Ontario Energy Board (OEB) hearings sound like a dry affair to you, then you’re not alone, but don’t let this fool you.
Union Gas and Enbridge are trying to convince the OEB of the need for expanded and restructured natural gas infrastructure in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Ontario. They want to do this in order to diversify supply, lower upstream risks and reduce supply costs. The Council of Canadians has worked with three fracking expert witnesses who are saying this is bunk. While focussed on questioning Union Gas and Enbridge’s arguments, the reports are full of useful information and facts for anti-fracking activists.
Environmental Consultant Lisa Sumi highlights the serious environmental impacts of fracking and outlines regulatory measures underway in the U.S. Geoscientist David Hughes demonstrates how supply predictions for U.S shale gas plays are overblown. Cornell Professor of Engineering Anthony R. Ingraffea highlights his research exposing why natural gas is not the touted bridge fuel off of fossil fuel dependency; it will instead help us walk the plank into climate crisis.
I’ve included some highlights below, but first, an important missing piece.
Fracking and TransCanada Energy East tar sands pipeline: Bad bedfellows
The timing of these OEB proceedings, which coincide with TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline project, is no coincidence. Ontario and Québec have been receiving conventional natural gas from the Prairies through TransCanada’s Mainline. This is the 55-year-old pipeline TransCanada is proposing be converted to carrying oil (tar sands crude), extending it in Alberta and from Québec to Saint John, New Brunswick.
Talk about bad idea – replace conventional gas with imported fracked gas (wrong on so many levels) in order to ship tar sands crude in an old pipeline over precious rivers, streams, farmlands, through communities and Indigenous lands to reach Eastern ports for export. I will be working with Council chapters, members and allies to stop this pipeline.
Like her earlier report for us, Sumi’s research is detailed and thorough in explaining the myriad of environmental and health risks of fracking. She hones in on the industry’s water use, noting a staggering 5 million gallons per well is typically needed in the Marcellus shale. While there is a perception of water abundance in the area, water stress is already apparent. In Pennsylvania, 72% of the wells are in areas of medium to high water stress.
Sumi also discusses the threat to drinking water from methane contamination. In 2008, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection noted 83 cases of drilling-related impacts to water supplies. If you haven’t seen one yet, YouTube search "fracking, set tap on fire" for a demonstration of methane contamination. This contamination is largely the result of construction-related flaws.
Sumi also highlights the lesser-known health-related concerns from local air pollution. In 2012, a peer reviewed journal article looked at gas drilling in six states, finding local concerns such as reproductive problems, upper respiratory issues and neurological concerns. She concludes with a discussion of wastewater produced by the industry (a topic the Council has tackled), noting current waste disposal infrastructure for the Marcellus shale is already overwhelmed.
Sumi also provides a useful overview of federal and state regulations being developed that will impact the fracking industry as well as a list of local and state bans (60) and moratoria (112).
Fracking is a classic 'short-term gain for long-term pain’ example. Fracked wells produce a lot in the first three years of their existence and then go into steep decline. Hughes highlights that four out of five shale plays in the U.S., accounting for 80% of production, are already in production decline, or are "flat." Hughes warns the OEB against counting on an abundance of cheap fracked gas; easy-to-get gas will be used up soon and then industry will have to go after less productive wells, increasing costs and risks.
Ingraffea introduces the OEB to his damning evidence published alongside Robert Howarth in the influential Climate Change journal. While natural gas is often touted by industry as a bridge fuel off of (what is proposed as) more carbon-intense fossil fuels, this simply is not true of fracked gas. Ingraffea and Howarth bring to light the carbon footprint of methane that is vented and leaked during fracking.
Methane is a powerful climate change gas. In fact, it has 72 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide when looked at over the course of twenty years. The authors find that, even when looked at over the course of one hundred years, the carbon footprint of shale is still greater than that of gas, oil and coal for electricity generation. In other words, they blow the lid off the idea that fracking can be considered anything but disastrous when it comes to climate change. Ingraffea’s solution? Leave shale in the ground and focus on efficiency and renewable energy development .(Amen!)