Summary of Positions on Hydraulic Fracturing in Eastern Canada and New York as of January 2015

New Brunswick Dec 2014 Moratorium

5 conditions before lifting moratorium and proceeding:

  • A social license be established
  • Clear and credible information on the impacts on air, health and water so a regulatory regime can be developed
  • A plan to mitigate the impacts on public infrastructure and address issues such as waste water disposal be established
  • A process be in place to fulfill the province’s obligation to consult with First Nations
  • A proper royalty structure be established to ensure benefits are maximized

Nova Scotia Sept 2014 Moratorium (with limited testing and research)

Minister of Energy Andrew Younger: “This is neither a permanent nor a time-limited ban…instead, our government recognizes that the availability and understanding of the science of hydraulic fracturing in shale will evolve one way or the other.” (quoted in the Chronicle Herald, Sept. 3, 2014)

Main Recommendations of the Wheeler Report:

  • Hydraulic fracturing for the purpose of unconventional gas and oil development should not proceed at the present time in Nova Scotia.
  • Independent conducted research of scientific and public participatory nature is required to model economic, social, environmental, and community health impacts of all forms of energy production and use – including any prospect of unconventional gas and oil development should not proceed in Nova Scotia – at both provincial and federal levels.
  • Nova Scotia should design and recognize the test of community permission to proceed before exploration occurs for the purpose of using hydraulic fracturing in the development of unconventional gas and oil resources.

In other words, The Wheeler Report stressed the need for social license and social acceptability. The report also outlined 32 recommendations to safeguard community health, local economies, ecosystem health, and the environment should the Province and communities wish to proceed with hydraulic fracturing at some point in the future.

Quebec Dec 15 2014 De Facto Moratorium    


The BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement / Office for public consultation on the environment) is a Quebec neutral public body dedicated to public information and consultation on projects that could potentially
 have a significant impact on the environment or on any other issue related to the quality of the environment. Only certain types of projects listed in regulations are subjected to such environmental assessments and scrutiny by the BAPE. The Environment Minister has discretionary power to give the BAPE any public inquiry mandate related to any question concerning the quality of the environment.

For a comprehensive reference on issues related to oil exploration and potential impacts in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, see:

St-Lawrence Coalition. 2014. Gulf 101 Oil in the Gulf of St-Lawrence: Facts, Myths and Future Outlook. Available online at:

Feb 2011

The first BAPE report on shale gas concluded that there was not enough scientific knowledge to determine the risks.

From May 2011 to Dec 2013 the Committee for the Strategic Environmental Evaluation on Shale Gas commissioned dozens of specific research reports. A list of the studies performed during the 31 months of the SEA are available at:

Jan 2014

The Committee for the Strategic Environmental Evaluation (SEA) released its final report.

Conclusion: Lots of questions remain unanswered especially on human health, safety and a lack of social acceptability.

Dec15 2014

Quebec released the BAPE report (review panel of experts). An English translation of Chapter 13 is available online at:

Main Conclusion:

“In conclusion, because of the magnitude of potential impacts associated with shale gas industry activities in an area of populated and as sensitive as the St. Lawrence Lowlands, because also of uncertainties that subsist regarding potential impacts on water quality of aquifers and the incapacity of the industry to guarantee long-term integrity of gas wells, the review panel is of the opinion that it has not been shown that the exploration and development of shale gas in the St. Lawrence Lowlands, using the technique of hydraulic fracturing would be for the benefit of Quebec.”

Other findings include:

  • All exploration and exploitation will increase Greenhouse Gas Emissions and could have an impact on air quality (locally and regionally).
  • Hydraulic fracturing could have major impact on nearby communities, from polluting the air to increasing traffic and noise.
  • The royalties and other financial benefits payable to Quebec would be insufficient to compensate for the social and environmental costs and externalities or to ensure financial viability for the industry. In other words, hydraulic fracturing would not be economically advantageous for Quebec.
  • There is a lack of knowledge, particularly with respect to water resources.
  • There is a lack of social acceptability.

In other words, three reports arrived at the same conclusion:

  1. Shale gas exploration and extraction in the region is not economically advantageous
  2. Social license / acceptability is not present
  3. There is a lack of knowledge

Dec16 2014

Premier Couillard is quoted as saying “There will be no shale gas development in Quebec.” “Right now, I do not see the interest in developing (the resource).”

Dec 17 2014

The Couillard government draws a line on the shale gas adventure…for the time being…reported La Presse,

Dec 19 2014

Premier Coulliard refuses to impose a moratorium: “I don’t like moratoriums because when you put a moratorium in place, you lock the door. I want to keep the doors open…”

Dec 22 2014

Gov’t of Quebec announced the information / consultation process for its Energy Policy for the Future (Future Politique Énergétique du Québec), with a report due in the Fall of 2015.

New York State Dec16 2014  Ban

After a multi-year review process, the Department of Health undertook a Health Impact Assessment. Following the release of this report, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a ban because of concerns over health risks and the lack of comprehensive knowledge over long-term and cumulative effects on both environmental and human health.

Dec 2014

New York State Department of Health released its report A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development, available online at:

The Review investigated impacts related to: air; water quality; seismic; communities; and human health. The Review also evaluated peer-reviewed scientific research, non-peer reviewed information, as well as gaps in knowledge.

Conclusion: The overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information contained in this Public Health review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF).

  • The dispersed nature of the activity magnifies the possibility of process and equipment failures, leading to the potential for cumulative risks for exposures and associated adverse health outcomes. Additionally, the relationships between HVHF environmental impacts and public health are complex and not fully understood. Comprehensive, long- term studies, and in particular longitudinal studies, that could contribute to the understanding of those relationships are either not yet completed or have yet to be initiated.
  • While a guarantee of absolute safety is not possible, an assessment of the risk to public health must be supported by adequate scientific information to determine with confidence that the overall risk is sufficiently low to justify proceeding with HVHF in New York. The current scientific information is insufficient.
  • Furthermore, it is clear from the existing literature and experience that HVHF activity has resulted in environmental impacts that are potentially adverse to public health.

Dec 11 2014

NY State health professionals and scientists released an analysis of 400 Peer-Reviewed Studies on Fracking (Towards an understanding of the environmental and public health impacts of shale gas development: an analysis of the peer-reviewed scientific literature, 2009-2014) Available online at:

Key Findings:

  1. 96% of all studies published on health impacts indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.
  2. 87% of original research studies published on health outcomes indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.
  3. 95% of all original research studies on air quality indicate elevated concentrations of air pollutants.
  4. 72% of original research studies on water quality indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination.

Approximately 73% of all available scientific peer-reviewed papers have        been published in the past 24 months.

Prince Edward Island Undecided

Minister of Environment Janice Sherry has stated that “Hydraulic fracturing is a non-issue for PEI…unless the province receives an application to drill, the province sees no need to declare whether it will ban or support the practice,” quoted in CBC news, Sept 11 2014. An environmental impact assessment would be conducted should an application be brought forward.

Newfoundland and Labrador Nov 2013 Moratorium Pending Review

Nov. 2013

The government stated it would not accept proposals for onshore and onshore to offshore exploration using hydraulic fracturing pending an Internal government review.

Oct. 2014

Minister of Natural Resources Derrick Dalley announced the composition of a five-person Panel to conduct an Independent Review of Hydraulic Fracturing for the west coast of the island of Newfoundland. A Terms of Reference for the Review was posted on the Government’s website (under News and Highlights) as well as a link to documents produced by the Government’s Internal Review:

As of January, 2015, the Panel has yet to announce any public consultations. Groups across the Province have questioned the composition of the Panel, its independence, and the scope as outlined in the Terms of Reference.

A geological report conducted as part of the Internal Review raises caution. It notes:

  • how the Green Point Shale Formation of western Newfoundland differs from other unconventional shale reservoirs;
  • that the geological complexity “carries the potential for increased risk;”
  • “the potential of the Green Point shale as a suitable target for hydraulic fracturing must be fully and carefully evaluated;” and
  • it is difficult to quantify the risk with the current available data.

The report is available online at:


Council of Canadian Academies. 2014. Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada. Ottawa: The Expert Panel on Harnessing Science and Tehcnology to Understand the Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction. Available online at

A Panel of 14 experts and 8 review members assessed a number of environmental impacts associated with: well integrity; water (risks to groundwater and surface water, amount of water required, wastewater disposal, and management); Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions; land impacts and seismic events; human health and social impacts; and monitoring, mitigation options and research.

Among the key findings, the Panel concluded that:

  • Overall, the Panel found that well-targeted science is required to ensure a better understanding of the environmental impacts of shale gas development. Currently, data about environmental impacts are neither sufficient nor conclusive.
  • For Canada, regional context matters. Environments, ecosystems, geographies, and geologies are not uniform across the country. Therefore, consideration of different potential regional impacts need to be closely considered when determining the suitability for shale gas development.
  • Advanced technologies and practices that now exist could be effective to minimize many impacts, but it is not clear that there are technological solutions to address all of the relevant risks, and it is difficult to judge the efficacy of current regulations because of the lack of scientific monitoring.

Cross-Sector Groups Unite to Demand Independent Review of Fracking



May 15, 2014

A province-wide network of organizations is calling for the provincial government to commission an independent review of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technology proposed for use in oil exploration on Newfoundland’s west coast. The groups outlined their concerns at a news conference in Corner Brook today, citing examples from two recent reports.

“The recent report by the Council of Canadian Academies clearly shows major gaps in scientific knowledge of hydraulic fracturing.This federally commissioned report recommends we move slowly. Unfortunately, we have received the opposite view from the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board who has concluded that oil exploration including hydraulic fracturing can proceed as usual, despite the scientific gaps that exist around that technology, ” said Simon Jansen, spokesperson for the Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness Network.

In November of 2013 the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced that they would not accept any applications for oil exploration that involved hydraulic fracturing (fracking) until they completed an internal review.

On May 1, the Council of Canadian Academies released their report on the Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada. The Council is a not-for- profit organization that supports independent, science-based, authoritative expert assessments. The report notes that few peer-reviewed articles on the environmental impacts of shale gas development have been published. They stress that society’s understanding of the potential environmental impacts has not kept pace with development, resulting in gaps in scientific knowledge about these impacts. The expert panel also states that the health and social impacts of shale gas development have not been well studied.

The latest Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for oil and gas exploration in Western Newfoundland released May 5 by the Canada – Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) does not assess the environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing.

In reaction to these reports an unprecedented number of organizations including labour, tourism, health, fishery, religion, conservation and environment have united to demand that the planned review of hydraulic fracturing for this province be external, independent and science-based.

The groups echo the concern over the gap in scientific knowledge when it comes to the degradation of the quality of groundwater and surface water (including the safe disposal of large volumes of wastewater); the risk of increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; disruptive effects on communities and land; and adverse effects on human health.

“I am pleased that the Council of Canadian Academies is letting the federal and provincial governments know that the concerns of their constituents are backed up by peer-reviewed science. Unfortunately, even though they commissioned this scientific study, they are not showing the leadership necessary to protect residents and communities. This leaves it to our provincial governments to take leadership on this issue,” notes Gretchen Fitzgerald from the Sierra Club.

The board of directors of Go Western Newfoundland, an organization representing more than 600 registered tourism operators along the west coast of Newfoundland, are asking for a hold until “an independent, science- based, comprehensive assessment of all aspects of the project be conducted.”

“In light of the lack of scientific knowledge outlined by the Council of Canadian Academies, we have serious concerns about hydraulic fracturing and its potential impact on workers’ health and safety as well as our drinking water,” says Jeannie Baldwin, Atlantic regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

“We want a commitment from government for an external, public, independent review. The public deserves nothing less,” said Wayne Hounsell of the Port au Port/Bay St. George Fracking Awareness Group. “The government is currently conducting a number of public reviews, for example on power outages and Bill-29. Surely public concern over fracking and the future of the west coast of Newfoundland are just as important. Premier Marshall has asked for the public to give him feedback. That is what these sixteen groups are doing,” he adds.


CPAWS Welcomes UN World Heritage Support for Gros Morne Protective Buffer Zone

CPAWS Press Release published on May 1, 2014  

OTTAWA — CPAWS is welcoming a UNESCO recommendation encouraging Canada to create a buffer zone around Gros Morne National Park and World Heritage Site to protect it from industrial threats.  The recommendation in UNESCO’s annual report on the state of conservation of World Heritage Sites was released this week and will be considered for approval at the World Heritage Committee’s June annual meeting in Doha, Qatar.

“We’re delighted with this recommendation,” said Alison Woodley, Parks Director with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “A carefully designed buffer zone would be a huge step towards ensuring that the park’s remarkable natural beauty and ecosystems are well protected from industrialization for the long term.

Last June the World Heritage Committee expressed serious concern about proposed oil drilling and fracking activities next to Gros Morne National Park, and indicated it would be monitoring the issue closely.  If the “outstanding universal values” of a World Heritage Site are damaged or destroyed, the Committee can remove the site from the World Heritage List.

Gros Morne, in Newfoundland and Labrador, was designated a World Heritage Site in 1987 because of its exceptional natural scenic beauty and geological features.  Petroleum development or other industrialization of the coastline would jeopardize the natural beauty and ecosystems of this spectacular national park.

“Creating a protective buffer around the park is important for the region’s long term economic well-being,” said Sue Rendell, owner-operator of Gros Morne Adventures, an adventure tourism business that has operated in the region for 25 years.  “Gros Morne National Park is a huge tourism icon for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and for Canada because of its spectacular natural beauty and unique geology. Over the past 40 years, a sustainable tourism economy has developed around this icon, especially in the Gros Morne region. The park has also had a significant impact on the growth of tourism from Port aux Basque to Southern Labrador. Making sure Gros Morne’s natural beauty and ecosystems are safe from the potential threat of incompatible industrial activities is of great importance to the tourism sector here and to the entire provincial economy.”

Last fall, in response to public and tourism industry outcry against proposed oil exploration, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a province-wide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing to allow for more study and public debate.  Then in December, the federal-provincial offshore petroleum regulatory board refused to extend the proponent’s petroleum exploration license along the coast of Gros Morne and the Great Northern Peninsula. CPAWS welcomed these positive steps, but noted that they would not prevent future harmful industrial development proposals. 

CPAWS wrote to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in January suggesting that it recommend creation of a permanent protective buffer zone around the park to secure the site’s globally significant natural values for all time.  Buffer zones are a tool that is used to protect many World Heritage Sites around the world.

“We look forward to the World Heritage Committee approving this recommendation at their annual meeting in June, and to working with local community members, the provincial and federal governments, tourism operators and others to design and put in place a buffer zone that will help protect Gros Morne forever,” adds Woodley.


For interviews, contact:

Alison Woodley, National Director, CPAWS Parks Program
613-569-7226 ext 230
613-203-1172 (cell)

View the UNESCO document at:


Navigating the Terminology Used in Unconventional Oil Exploration

The terms used in oil and gas well exploration can be confusing to anyone not involved in the business. At worst, these terms can be used to mislead non-specialists who are trying to learn about the potential consequences of the industry. Fracking is only one of the techniques used to stimulate oil flow, and the oil industry tends to use the term very narrowly when compared to its use by the general public.

The province of Newfoundland and Labrador has imposed a temporary “moratorium” on fracking to allow time to investigate the safety of the procedure and to conduct public consultations. It is very important that we understand what these terms really mean if we are to protect what we value about western Newfoundland.

We have compiled a glossary of terminology commonly used in the industry. It is accessible here: A Glossary of Terminology Used in Unconventional Oil Exploration

Drill Baby Drill: Can Unconventional Fuels Usher in a New Era of Energy Abundance?

Summery and Commentary by Heather King

By J. David Hughes. Copyright © 2013 (February) by Post Carbon Institute. All rights reserved. Original paper available at:

A geophysicist and former research manager with the Geological Survey of Canada, J. David Hughes presents here an exhaustive and extensively referenced treatise examining the production and consumption of fossil fuels as the primary engine of global economic activity. The report, produced by the California think tank, Post Carbon Institute, provides a historical and technical analysis of unconventional fuels and their real-world potential to replace conventional oil and gas in global – and particularly US – energy production, in both the short and long term. Hand in hand with detailed technical information, Hughes addresses the pro-fracking rhetoric used to promote the potential of unconventional fossil fuels – most commonly shale gas and tight oil (shale oil) – to relieve (particularly the US’s) dependence upon (imported and dwindling supplies of) conventional oil and gas. Based on data from energy industry and government reports, both globally and from various resource basins throughout the US, Hughes’ presentation systematically demonstrates how industry projections that newly accessible reserves of unconventional fuels could provide the US with “100 years of gas” (p. i) are inaccurate, and possibly even misguided (see excerpt: p. 50 – ‘Shale Gas – Key Takeaways’, below).

Hughes’ discourse leads purposefully through discussion of energy production in the context of global economies and politics.  He touches only briefly on environmental concerns.  His observations penetrate the vast and complex network of an ever-expanding global economy inextricably entwined with fossil-fuel powered energy production, while his forecasts and conclusions shed light on the implications of increasing fuel costs and diminishing future supplies. With the aid of plentiful tables and graphs, we are shown a highly detailed ‘big picture’ of the past, present, and projected future of fossil fuel demand, production, and consumption, in a trajectory of continuous and accellerating economic growth which, despite political and energy industry rhetoric to the contrary, Hughes argues cannot be sustained.

He acknowledges that there do exist in North America and elsewhere significantly large untapped reservoirs of unconventional fossil fuels, but that these large ‘tanks’ have small and inhibitively inaccessible ‘taps’. Hughes additionally points out that development of these reserves is increasingly expensive and damaging to the environment. Overall, he argues that to carry on along our current economic path in a manner of ‘business-as-usual’ and unrestrained growth is to turn a blind eye to the real issue at hand: our ever-expanding global economy will consume far more energy than can be produced in the future from any source. He concludes that what is really needed is an economic make-over: a new framework that will consume less energy, find new and innovative ways to use more efficiently the energy we must, and develop alternative energy sources that can work in concert with the remaining fossil fuel reserves that exist.

There’s a reality check here, reminding us what we all inescapably know: fossil fuels remain fossil fuels, whether conventional or not, and as such are a finite resource. The subtext of Hughes’ conclusion is that to foster continued dependence upon new reserves of unconventional fuels is to proceed full speed into a dead end. At the end of the day, even with all economic and environmental considerations aside, and no matter how much the oil and gas industry may have us believe otherwise, the available supply of unconventional fossil fuels, too, shall run dry — in about 25 years, based on Hughes’ forecasts of diminishing supply coupled with escalating demand. That’s a considerable difference from the 100-year projections put forward by what he has termed the ‘vested interests’ of the oil and gas industries. In response to the question posed in the report’s title, “Can unconventional fuels usher in a new era of energy abundance?” Hughes arrives at an unequivocal ‘No’. By his calculations, there is simply no long- term future in fossil fuels, of any kind.

What, then, we cry, shall we do? While he is brief on the subject, and in no way pretends to have an answer, Hughes in the end lends his voice to a growing chorus chanting that the solution to our present energy versus environment dichotomy lies not only in renewables, but also in a new paradigm of social thought: one that perceives in new and different ways how energy is produced and consumed.  He allows that unconventional fuels – those which have become accessible only in recent years at great economic and environmental expense, via newly developed and admittedly problematic extraction methods such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – have a place in the near future as a short-term bridge: a tool to facilitate a global transition from energy dependence upon fossil fuels to a more sustainable economic platform based on energy supplied by renewable resources. Perhaps more poignantly, he observes that to achieve that transition, some carefully considered energy and environmental trade-offs will very likely have to be made.

Ultimately, we are reminded that our only possible sustainable future lies in energy derived from renewable sources.  Hughes doesn’t predict exactly what those sources will be, only emphasizes the imperative that we begin to rethink our patterns of energy use and supply; and that those of us in the high-energy-consuming developed nations might begin by assessing our excessive energy use and demand, and find ways to reduce the amount we consume.  Given the dual realities of shrinking fossil fuel supplies and increasing environmental degradation, it’s time for our industry leaders, politicians, and policy-makers to wake up and smell the well burning dry; and to turn their collective attention toward enabling the development of viable alternative energy resources.  Numerous technologies already exist.  An influx of capital investment, along with a bit of corporate and social will, would go a long way toward bringing them fairly quickly into mainstream energy production.  The final take-away message here may be that our efforts and investment as a global society could be more wisely and constructively directed toward developing an infrastructure that will enable our transition to a renewable resources future, than toward acquiring and burning ever more finite oil and gas.

Recommended Highlights:

p.3 – The Context of Energy Production and Consumption – KEY TAKEAWAYS

p.50 – Shale Gas – KEY TAKEAWAYS

p.78 – Tight Oil (Shale Oil) – KEY TAKEAWAYS

p.108 – Other Unconventional Oil – KEY TAKEAWAYS

p.109 – Tar Sands – KEY TAKEAWAYS

p.142 – Other Unconventional Gas – KEY TAKEAWAYS

2013 In Review

Green Point

Green Point

2013 was a busy year. In January and in March, Shoal Point Energy and Black Spruce Exploration applied to the Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board to conduct exploratory onshore to offshore drilling using hydraulic fracturing in the Port au Port region and in the region stretching from the Bay of Islands to north of Gros Morne National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. During 2013, a Strategic Environmental Assessment for the western Newfoundland offshore area of the Gulf of St. Lawrence was conducted. Prior to the completion of the SEA, a call for bids was issued to explore parts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence for oil and gas. Throughout 2013, concerned citizen groups across the west coast of Newfoundland organized presentations, public forums, and a range of events on hydraulic fracturing. A national CPAWS campaign to protect Gros Morne National Park from industrialization around its borders was launched. Finally, in November, the Provincial Government issued a statement that no applications to conduct hydraulic fracturing would be accepted and that the government would conduct an internal review. Citizen groups, members of the public, and organizations with concerns regarding hydraulic fracturing in Newfoundland praised the government for taking a precautionary approach and issued calls for an independent, non-industry, science-based review of hydraulic fracturing that includes transparent and extensive public consultations and a health impact assessment. In January 2014, one of the exploration licenses (EL 1097R) expired, and the government refused to provide an extraordinary license extension to Shoal Point Energy and its partner Black Spruce Exploration.  However another company could apply for this license in the future. Shoal Point Energy, Black Spruce, and Enegi Oil continue to hold licenses along the west coast of Newfoundland (such as EL 1116, EL 1070, and EL 1120), and are moving forward with proposals to conduct exploratory drilling.

The following is an archive of selected media coverage during 2013: Archive_Selected_Media_Coverage_2013

Book Review: Tom Wilber, Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale (Ithaca and New York: Cornell University Press, 2012)

In the discussions surrounding fracking, Pennsylvania certainly has been central.  One of the first areas to experience a rush from the shale gas industry, the state offers a cautionary note to what happens to people and the environment when things move too quickly.  This book tells us what exactly happened.

Those interested in learning more about fracking and its impact would be well advised to read this book.  This is a solid, meticulously researched study published by a prestigious university press, written by a journalist who has had a long professional career not only in journalism but also in teaching the subject at the college and university level.  Based on an extensive array of interviews, government reports, academic case studies, newspaper articles, Wilber’s book examines the rush to develop shale gas extraction through fracking in the state of Pennsylvania, and then New York State, over the past several years.

The book focuses mainly on Pennsylvania, when the impact of fracking was not well known by the broader population.  Here, Wilber takes us through the process by which companies obtained leasing rights from landowners, then the enormous speculation on the amount of gas reserves, which triggered a “gas rush” among companies; then arose the problems (especially in Dimock, Pennsylvania), the rise of popular anti-fracking activism, and then the resistance in nearby New York State to another gas rush.  Wilber’s book is very accessible to a general reader in that he is adept at explaining the complicated issues and industrial components involved in fracking.  Moreover, he adds a very human dimension to the investigation by incorporating the stories of families who have been adversely affected by fracking in their areas and even how fracking has divided communities.  The fascinating mini-biographies of the activists and company executives also make for an engaging book.  Likewise, the book offers an interesting slice of American history, as the country struggles to find new economic initiatives in a somewhat post-industrial landscape, to attain independence from foreign oil in the aftermath of 9/11, and to navigate the dilemmas involved in extracting previously unrecoverable fossil fuels now that most of the world’s more accessible reserves have dwindled.  That historical context and brutal economic necessity can help explain why fracking is attractive to so many people.

Wilber is a balanced and objective writer.  He gives voice to both sides of the debate; hence, the book’s prologue begins with an outdoor interview with Terry Engelder, fracking proponent and professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, followed by the contrary opinion of Tony Ingraffea, the engineering professor at Cornell University who had developed hydraulic fracking technology but came to view it as quite risky and problematic.  Wilber interviewed people from across the spectrum, from landowners to company representatives, to farmers, geologists, engineers, politicians, mayors, and activists.  Overall, the author wants his readers to arrive at their own conclusions.

Even though Wilber does not definitively state a position for or against gas-fracking, the evidence that he weighs inclines one to the conclusion that much has gone awry in Pennsylvania due to fracking, as companies rushed in and governments and residents did not have adequate time to become fully informed or to regulate and monitor this new industry.  Instances have been reported where dangerous levels of methane gas migrated upwards from the targeted shale gas formation through cracked cement casings into private aquifers.  In this state, the industry still struggles with how to properly dispose of their fracking fluids and wastewater, which can contain radioactive materials; municipal sewage systems generally are unable to handle such chemicals.

There have been accidents and violations.  The most well-documented example is that of the town of Dimock, where 60 water wells have been contaminated.  Elsewhere, in the first half of 2010, environmental regulators inspected 1,700 sites and found 530 violations: spills, leaks, faulty containment pits and so on.  Looking outside the state, a Democrat congressman found 300 records between the years 2003 and 2008 in Colorado documenting water contamination due to fracking, more than 700 in New Mexico.   There have been too many such instances to simply disregard them as relatively rare mishaps or anomalies.

Some company practices do little to inspire public confidence.  Instances have been reported where company representatives (called “landmen”) used pressure tactics and misinformation to obtain leasing rights from landowners.  Other company representatives stated that the chemicals found in fracking fluids are the same as those found in personal care products.  Likewise, the industry argues that shale gas offers a cleaner alternative to coal or other fossil fuels.  Their argument is well received among people who strongly believe that North America should become more energy independent.  On the other side of the argument, the extensive release of uncaptured methane gas from the fracking rigs contributes significantly to climate change.

In terms of company practices and approaches, Cabot Oil and Gas is in the spotlight here.  It was proven that the water contamination in Dimock was caused by Cabot fracking operations, but they did everything in their power to deny full responsibility for the complaints, disparaging those who made them.  Obtaining full redress has been difficult (a fact that incidentally conveys the necessity of obtaining good baseline data prior to fracking operations so that disputes like these can be resolved more easily).  Also, Wilber has documented industry-wide stances, in one instance the opposition to further regulation.

That raises the question: could better and more extensive regulation make fracking viable?  Wilber has discovered much hesitancy to fracking in New York State, notably due to the potential threats to water supplies, “The known and unknown impacts associated with drilling simply cannot be justified” (Acting NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection Commissioner Steven Lawitts).  Moreover, there are too few regulators, too few inspectors who simply cannot keep pace with the enormous shale-gas development.  And, constrained state budgets have reduced funding for environmental protection.  New York’s Department of Environmental Protection lost 23% of their staff.

If fracking poses risks to public health and the environment, what are benefits of this industrial process? Some of the landowners did gain from the royalty payments from the shale- gas extraction that has been taking place on their lands.  For a farming family that is struggling to make ends meet, the temptation to lease the land is understandable.  The fracking boom has brought some welding and construction jobs in its train, although such employment is largely temporary, available mostly during the construction phase.  Still, in the larger scheme of things and thinking of the long-term cumulative impact of fracking, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, such economic benefits may prove to be quite minimal when compared with the far greater impact on public health and the environment.

Edwin Bezzina