Environmental Opportunities in HydroFracking

In November of 2014, President Obama stated in the press conference that he was skeptical of the claims by proponents that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would create jobs. In its review of the project, the U.S. State Department estimated that the project would create 3,900 jobs during the two years of construction and 50 permanent jobs during operation.

With the recent Presidential election results in the United States, there are many who think that the Keystone XL pipeline project may well be approved and other controversial activities, such has hydrofracking, will also get the go-ahead by a “jobs-first” administration.

Opponents of the hydrofracking claim the environmental harm from accessing oil and natural gas from shale is not worth the jobs and cheap energy.

In Canada, fervent environmental activists have made up their minds that hydrofracking anywhere in the country is too dangerous and should not be pursued (there is natural gas trapped in shale rock deposits in various provinces including the Maritimes, Upper Canada, and Western Canada).

Opposition to hydrofracking has been so ardent that there are moratoriums on fracking in Nova Scoatia, New Brunswick and Quebec. A poll conducted by EKOS Research and released by the the Council of Canadians (a not-for-profit lobby group that is anti-fracking) claims 70% of Canadians support a national moratorium on fracking until is scientifically proven to be safe (the question asked during polling was prefaced with anti-fracking statements).

The Council of Canadians (CofC) wants no fracking in Canada because of, amongst other things, its high water use and the danger it poses to groundwater and local drinking water. It seems the CofC is of the opinion that no technology exists today that can treat the water used in fracking to acceptable levels despite the fact the wastewater generated from fracking is no more difficult to treat than industrial or municipal sewage.

Since fracking first began in 1950’s, there continues to be much research, development, and implementation of new technologies and methods for the safe extraction of oil and natural gas along with the proper treatment and reuse of water.

What is Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “hydrofracking or “fracking”, is a method of recovering natural gas and involves the injection of large quantities of water, sand, along with chemical additives (i.e., surfactants and gelling agents) at high pressure down a well into a rock formation. The pressurized mixture causes fractures in the rock which results in the release of natural gas or oil.

Fracking releases the petroleum products that had been embedded in the rock where they are captured at the surface along with a portion of the original fracking fluid (flowback water). The controversy around fracking is the concern of the contamination of local water supplies.

Fracking has been taking place in Canada for over 50 years. During that time, there have been over 175,000 wells drilled and not a single case of drinking water contamination has been recorded.

Environmental Issues

One of the major environmental concerns related to fracking of the water used in hydrofracking that flows back up the well (referred to as “flowback”). There are a number of options for treating the flowback including deep well injection (relatively inexpensive) to treatment prior to discharge to receiving waters (relatively expensive).

With available water be a limiting factor in the development of some natural gas resources, much focus has been placed on recycling the flowback so it can be reused in other fracture wells. Recycling flowback can offset water source requirements while avoiding the relatively high cost associated with flowback water disposal.

There is nothing special about fracking water that cannot be treated using today’s wastewater treatment technologies. According to Statistics Canada, there were 61, 572 jobs in the oil and gas industry in 2013. There were 99, 435 jobs in “Support activities for mining and oil and gas extraction” in 2013. Included in these figures are environmental jobs.

Moving Forward

The incredible natural resources in Canada have been a key to our prosperity. Tapping these resources does impact the environment. Managing and mitigating the environment impacts is important to our continued prosperity. Shutting down any development of oil and natural gas supplies is short sighted and ignores the continued advances in innovation water recycling and wastewater treatment technologies. It also destroys jobs in the oil and gas industry as well as the environment industry.

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