To Frack or not to Frack…

This is an article written by Jack MacAndrew submitted to the Maritime publication Rural Delivery (DvL Publishing) and printed in the January/February 2014 issue, which I just received; and I reprint here, with Jack’s permission:

        by Jack MacAndrew
          “Fracking” – No , it is not a euphemism for another “F” word not usually employed in polite company, or in a family magazine such as this.
          It is, in fact , a made-up word – a grammatical invention, so to speak, conjured up as a bit of technospeak to describe a process by which natural gas may be extracted from the depths of planet earth, to the benefit of anyone who cooks their food, drives an automobile and huddles for wintertime warmth; not to exclude shareholders in multi-national energy companies who may get unspeakably rich from this resource belonging to all of us.
          We have always had this habit of adding the letters “ing” to a noun, so as to turn it into a verb: as in fish-fishing, truck-trucking, helicopter – helicoptering.
          In the case of fracking, there is no noun. There is no such a thing as a frack; no animal, vegetable or mineral known as a frack. You can’t see one, touch one or box one to send off to grandma on her birthday.  Fracking, is a total grammatical invention, invented so you don’t need to keep saying – ” hydraulic fracturing”- which can give you a headache if you say it often enough. 
          There is just – ” fracking “; and for many ( for instance,those farmers in Ohio owning those cows whose tails began to drop off), that is fearsome enough.
          There are a lot of people in Atlantic Canada who don’t want big energy companies from away to come fracking down here, no matter what economic puffery and job projections the politicians and proponents offer as bait.
          Indeed a recent poll tells us that about 70 per cent of Atlantic Canadians are ag’in it.
          In Nova Scotia , the legislature has placed a similar restriction on fracking activity, at least until an independent committee verifies “…there is no risk to drinking water, human health, the climate or communities”.
          That is a very steep hill for proponents to climb. The committee will report back to government some time in 2014.
          Newfoundland/Labrador has responded with the same sort of stance; and in Quebec, a moratorium has been in place for some time.
          There’s a ban in place in Massachusetts, and New York State, and in France as well.
          But not in New Brunswick, as you may have noticed in your newspaper or on television newscasts lately. 
          Nosireebob… not in your New Brunswick. The government of that fair and picturesque province (“The Picture Province”, I believe it is nicknamed in tourist advertisements ) has turned over 1.4 million acres of its land mass to the subsidiary of an American owned company (Southwestern Energy) called SWN Resources Canada so it may zip about in large white trucks sinking test drills and using other seismic technology wherever it believes the underearth may secrete pockets of gas in beds of brittle shale rock.
          ” Get to ‘er lads…”, invited Premier David Aylward, “… fill yer boots !”…all for a promise by the company to spend 47 million dollars in New Brunswick along with the unproven estimate of 1000 jobs and 1.5 billion big ones in economic activity; a price some would argue is merely a contemporary version of selling a birthright for the proverbial bowl of pottage. 
          And never no mind that more than 60 per cent of herrin’chokers of all political stripes said in a poll they did not want fracking in their province.
          That would include members of the Elisipogtog First Nation, who pointed out to the provincial government that it had no business giving SWN permission to bore test holes on their territory ,for a very simple reason-the provincial government does not own that land and has no right to do so without their consent. The aboriginal people have never ceded it to any government under any treaty.
          In November, months of peaceful protests ended and the barricades came down with massed and menacing police riot squads facing unarmed women and band elders, and according to one observer” …. shot rubber bullets at the mothers and the grandmothers, at the children”.
          The protests were deemed by pundit Rex Murphy “…a rude dismissal of Canada’s generosity …” 
          The warrior societies sent in their own troops to defend their people on Indian lands.
          Then the whole shebang went south in a hurry.  
          The Prime Minister of Canada condemned the state use of riot squads to disperse and arrest peaceful protesters in the Ukraine. 
          He was so absorbed watching the massed cops in full riot gear over there, he didn’t seem to notice massed cops in riot gear assaulting women and elders protesting on the Elisipogtog Reserve.               
          Police cars were burned in reprisal, and more than 40 Aboriginal and Acadien protesters were arrested.  Most have since been released . Some are still facing serious charges. 
          SWN has now packed up its gear and driven away, presumably to some place more receptive to their activity.
          But opposition to the fracking of New Brunswick has not gone into hibernation . Instead ,core groups are organizing and expanding the coalition of church groups, environmentalists, and other like minded souls to take on Premier David Aylward when he leads his government to the polls on September 14.
          And in the other three Atlantic Provinces, those independent committees will be holding public meetings and reviewing such scientific literature as exists.
          Which takes us to an explanation of what hydraulic fracturing (1.e fracking ) is, and what it does, and why it upsets so many people and makes them sick.
          Here’s the recipe for what is admittedly a toxic brew.
          A slurry of so-called ” Slick-water ” is mixed up in a giant blender. The recipe calls for 90 per cent water; 5 percent sand ; and 5 percent chemical additives (acids , sodium chloride, polyacrylamide, ethylene glycol, borate salts, sodium/potassium carbonate, glutaraldehyde, guar gum, citric acid, and isopropanol, amongst other nasty stuff.
          It’s that 5 per cent of chemical additives which can cause a lot of misery should it permeate and pollute water drawn from underground aquifers.
          The acid , by the way , is used to make the rock structure more permeable.
          That’s a special fear on Prince Edward Island. If you kick a rock in New Brunswick, chances are you’ll break a toe. If you kick a rock in PEI chances are you’ll break the rock.  Already permeable sandstone, do you see.
          Anyhow, having mixed up your mess of slurry, you then dig a hole in the ground that could be as deep as 6000 metres ( 20,000 feet ), dump it into the hole , and then pump it horizontally into shale rock at a pressure high enough to crack the rock.The slurry then moves further into the shale , fracking away as it goes along , releasing any gas trapped in pockets along the way.
          The slurry and the natural gas then flow back up the borehole to the surface, where the millions of litres of slurry ( now termed ” wastewater “) is diverted into plastic lined tanks dug into the earth’s surface , and the gas is channeled into holding tanks. 
          A new study says that scientists who theorized that layers of impermeable rock would keep shallower aquifers pure are wrong in their conclusions; and that natural forces and fractures underground will allow chemicals to foul groundwater ” just a few years…”.
          Nova Scotia has already had that experience.
          In 2007 the government issued a permit to Triangle Petroleum,  allowing the company to 
explore the presence of natural gas in Hants County.Triangle drilled five exploration wells , three of which were fracked. The company used and then stored 14 millions of litres of wastewater in artificial , plastic lined ponds.
          Millions of litres of that highly polluted wastewater remains in those ponds.
          It contains everything from known carcinogens to radio active material.  Nobody knows what to do with the wastewater. Some of it was secretly released into the environment. Some of it has leaked from one of the ponds.
          Indeed, the wastewater from fracking poses an enormous environmental problem all by itself. 
          A report on that experience, entitled ” Out of Control: Nova Scotia’s Experience with Fracking for Shale Gas” ,was  prepared by the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition ( NOFRAC)and released in April of 2013.
          It said : ” At this time there is no scientific evidence indicating that any method of disposal of fracking wastewater is environmentally safe “: and that , ” Emerging science is exposing unexpected and serious risks”.
          The report posed two choices for government ; press on with a trial-and-error learn as we go approach to shale gas development; or, slow down and look at all the costs and benefits , and especially the reality that if things go wrong , they may be unfixable.
          The report notes that some of the effects of fracking may only become evident years later ; after the fracking company is long gone, and it’s responsibility impossible to prove.
          The people of Hants County know this better than anyone.
          NOFRAC recommended either a ten year moratorium, or an outright ban on fracking.
          During the months to come , both sides of the issue will undoubtedly produce volumes of documentation to prove their case .
          The anti-frackers will have a rich record to draw on .
          In Blackpool, England, a fracking company named Cuadrilla Resources admits : ” It is highly probable that the hydraulic fracturing ( of a well ) did trigger a number of minor seismic events”- in other words – mini-earthquakes.
          In Louisiana seventeen cows died after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid; in Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached and 70 of them died while the others got sick;in Hickory , Pennsylvania , Darrell Smitsky got rashes on his body from exposure to toluene, acrylonitrite, strontium , barium and manganese;and in Washington County , Stacey Haney’s dog and goats died, while her son and daughter suffered stomach and kidney pain along with nausea and mouth ulcers. Glycol and arsenic will do that to you.
          The incidence of human and livestock ailments after exposure to fracking fluid and/or wastewater is extensive.
          The case for fracking can only be expressed in vague, ambiguous forecasts, and promises made according to complex economic models.
          The case becomes a spin doctor’s challenge. 
          It’s hard to convince people of an economic nirvana, when the other side counters with documented horror stories of individual suffering.
          Which by itself raises an essential question – on which side does the burden of proof rest – with the frackers ,to guarantee no harm will result to people , their animals or the environment on the road to economic benefit; or the anti-frackers , maintaining there is no safe way to exploit the reserves of shale gas under our feet; and no particular need to do so in any case.
          And this question emerges – We now know what happens when we send noxious gases skyward.  So what does it do to the underearth environment when hundreds or thousands of explosions take place underground in a few hectares of land mass ?
          We do not know with any certainty , and the penalty we would pay for challenging and changing the very foundations of planet earth evolved over eons of time – could be severe and irreversible. 
          The anti-fracking crowd will document hundreds of cases of visible harm; from benzene in the bathwater to cows without tails in the barnyard.
          There is that matter of “unintended consequences”, should the energy companies frack away to their bankers’ joy .
          And if they come at the expense of farmers and country people, what recourse will there have when the well goes sour and the water is undrinkable for them or their livestock?

**The one fact I am not sure of is legislation this spring in the PEI Legislature about fracking, based on Minister Sherry’s comments from a couple of weeks ago.

I would also mention that Rural Delivery, if you haven’t ever read a copy, is a great publication (as are the sister publicationsAtlantic Forestry, etc.)
The website is here, with older stories, but new monthly or bi-monthly issues are available at the feed stores and some bookstores.  It’s quite a good connection about people interested in living and working in their communities.

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