WESTERN NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR OFFSHORE AREA STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT (SEA) UPDATE

A Summary By the St. Lawrence Coalition to foster public participation

** Deadline for Public Comments is on September 27th **

CONTENT OF THE FOLLOWING REPORT

What does the report say?

What are some of the gaps?

How to participate in the consultation?

Ideas that can be used when writing of comments to the C-NLOPB

1.          Context 

The C-NLOPB (Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board) has undertaken an updating of the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) it completed in 2005 (amended in 2007) in the part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence under its jurisdiction (approx. 17% of the Gulf). The contract was awarded to AMEC, a consulting firm very active in the oil and gas industry.

The SEA is an umbrella environmental assessment (not project-specific) that has the following main objectives:

  • Update the bio-physical portrait of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and of the potential impacts of oil and gas activities;
  • Inform the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) on the suitability of issuing new offshore exploration licenses in the part of the Gulf under its jurisdiction; and
  • Inform the Office of mitigation measures to adopt if permits are eventually issued (measures to minimize environmental impacts).

The C-NLOPB has mandated a 17-person interprovincial working group (from the 5 Gulf provinces) to oversee the completion of the SEA. During the Fall of 2012, public consultation sessions were held in ten localities around the Gulf. In both cases (interprovincial working group and public consultations), the fact that five provinces are involved is an implicit admission, by the Board, of the wide and interprovincial impact that the offshore oil and gas industry could have.

In addition to the public sessions, a total of 81 written submissions were sent in the Fall of 2012 by citizens, environmental groups, municipalities, First Nation communities, fishermen associations, etc.[1] The vast majority of these submissions show major apprehensions concerning the presence of an oil and gas industry in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

A draft SEA report has been released on June 21st, both in English and French versions. The 700-plus pages report, written by AMEC for the C-NLOPB, is now open to public comments. The deadline for this consultation is set for September 27th.

Complete SEA report : http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/pdfs/wnlsea/wnlseaupdateen.pdf

Summary of the report : http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/pdfs/wnlsea/wnlseasummen.pdf

2.          Identification of Sensitive or Biologically Important Zones 

An important part of the report is devoted to identify sensitive or biologically important zones within the Newfoundland part of the Gulf. A careful reading of the report makes one realize that all of the Newfoundland part of the Gulf could be labeled as important or sensitive.

  • Huge sectors of importance for marine mammals (sect. 5.3.3.2)
  • Sectors unique and essential for cod, redfish, plaice (spawning, juveniles, migration) (sect. 4.2.1.7)
  • Unique winter refuges for herring and capelin (sect. 4.2.1.7)
  • Important sites for lobster, krill, etc. (sect. 4.2.1.8)
  • West Coast Atlas of sensitive zones show that the vast majority of the Newfoundland West Coast could be qualified as sensitive (sect. 4.2.1.1).

Unfortunately, no synthesis map of all the sensitive or biologically important zones is presented in the report. Such a map would have helped us realize that nearly all of the Western Newfoundland coast could be qualified as important or sensitive. Only sectoral maps are presented.

3.          Socio-economic Importance of the Gulf 

The report elaborates at length on the importance of fishing activities (including First Nations fisheries) in the Newfoundland part of the Gulf. The report states that fishing is occurring almost in the totality of the studied sector and during most of the year. According to AMEC this fact poses a major challenge for the cohabitation of fishing and oil activities in the Gulf.

Even if it is missing many vital details, the report still insists on the importance of tourism activities on the West Coast of Newfoundland. It says that fisheries and tourism could be affected directly by oil and gas activities, but could also be affected by indirect impacts caused by negative perceptions of the public following a spill (sect. 5.4.1).

4.          Knowledge Gaps 

The draft report confirms that we have a relatively good biophysical knowledge of the Gulf. However, the report insists heavily on great gaps in biological knowledge that still persist, both for commercial or non-commercial species.

Examples of knowledge gaps are numerous. The migration patterns of cod, redfish, salmon, halibut, etc. are badly known, as well as the coral occurring zones. We are missing a lot of data on coastal areas. Knowledge on zooplancton is incomplete, even though it is a crucial group of organisms at the base of the food chain. The establishment of ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs) is based on incomplete data. Knowledge on birds of the Newfoundland West Coast are deficient since last inventories date more than 25 years.

In addition, the draft report says that knowledge of the impacts of seismic surveys on fish (adults, juveniles, larvae) as well as on marine mammals are still poorly known.

5.          Risks  

The draft report often makes reference to the known impacts of offshore oil and gas operations (seismic surveys, drilling mud, oil spills, etc,.). The report clearly says that impacts on fisheries and tourism can be direct, or indirect because of people’s changing perception following an oil spill.

The report mentions that a major oil spill in the Gulf has the potential to affect a vast territory because, among others, of the dynamic character of currents in the Gulf and the mobility of species. According to the report, coastal areas could be hit (sect. 5.4.1). It should be noted that this is in flagrant contrast with the Old Harry oil spill simulation presented by Corridor Resources according to which the oil slick would be less than 20 km across.

The draft report insists on the presence of ice in the Gulf and on the major problems in the event of a winter oil spill.

The report evaluates the probabilities of offshore spills. The central message is that impacts of a spill would be real and important, but the probability of occurrence is extremely small.

6.          Hydraulic Fracturing

Drilling projects on the West Coast of Newfoundland plan on using hydraulic fracturing, in onshore-to-offshore operations, to extract shale oil from underneath the seabed. The offshore portion of the operation falls under the jurisdiction of the C-NLOPB.

While AMEC had not planned on covering that aspect of oil activities, intense concerns and public pressure on the West Coast during the Fall 2012 public consultation forced them to consider the hydraulic fracturing issue.

After a very short and incomplete review of techniques and potential impacts, AMEC concludes that public concerns are sufficiently high in Newfoundland to justify more consultations and discussions before allowing this industry (sect. 5.4.2).

7.          Mitigation Measures

The report presents numerous mitigation measures designed to minimize environmental impacts of oil and gas activities, on various species or on fishing activities (sect. 5). These mitigation measures often are simply:

  • Respect rules and regulations in place;
  • Avoid sensitive zones or crucial periods of the year for fishing or fauna;
  • Improve communications with fishermen;
  • Implement various technical measures; and
  • Ensure preparedness, response procedures, spill prevention and spill containment. No further details are given by AMEC.

It is interesting to read in the AMEC draft report that efficiency of numerous mitigation measures is poorly known (sect. 5.3.5), for example in the case of seismic surveys.

8.          Public Consultation Report (Fall 2012)

In Appendix A to the draft SEA report we find a report on public consultations held in the Fall 2012 in 10 localities around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. To these sessions were added meetings with First Nation communities in Gesgapegiag (Mi’gmaqs) and Ekuanitshit (Innus), both communities being in Quebec.

This over 80 pages consultation report lists the commentaries made by citizens as well as by local stakeholders during these sessions. The vast majority of comments, in all provinces including Newfoundland, show strong apprehensions concerning offshore drilling in the Gulf or hydraulic fracturing on the West Coast. In addition, a total of 81 briefs were submitted last fall, briefs which are available on the C-NLOPB web site[2].

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to evaluate to which degree AMEC considered the hundreds of verbal comments or written submissions in the writing of its draft report. It would have been helpful, like it is the usual procedure, to present a table of comments and the way AMEC addressed the issue. Table 2.2 presented by AMEC is much too simplistic to be truly helpful. It is almost impossible to see how individual public comments were integrated in the draft report. In addition, the AMEC report avoids any statement on the evident lack of social acceptability for oil and gas projects in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

9.          Absence of « Conclusions and Recommendations » Section in the AMEC Report

Apart from the proposed mitigation measures, the AMEC report does not contain any recommendations or conclusions on, for example, the relevance of issuing new exploration licenses or on sensitive zones to protect. Strangely, AMEC has left blank the « Summary and conclusion » section and the C-NLOPB has inserted a note that almost reads like a legal notice.

It is worrying to learn that recommendations will be known only next Fall, when the final SEA report will be released. Indeed the public will have no opportunity to comment on these recommendations, potentially very important for the future of the Gulf, since no other specific consultation period is planned.

10.       How to Participate in the SEA Draft Report Consultation

The complete report as well as the summary are available (English and French) at the following address: http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/wnlsea.shtml

In addition, all the written briefs submitted in the Fall of 2012 during the Gulf-wide consultation period are available on the same web page.

Deadline to submit comments on the draft report: September 27th 2013.

Comments must be sent to the following address: information@cnlopb.nl.ca

Ideas that can be used when writing of comments to the C-NLOPB

AMEC’s final report will be a tool for the C-NLOPB to evaluate if they should or not go ahead in issuing offshore exploration licenses in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (including the offshore portion of onshore-to-offshore drilling operations) and if so, what should be required mitigation measures. It is thus important to tell the C-NLOPB that:

I. Even if it is weak and incomplete, AMEC’s report still contains enough elements to tell the C-NLOPB that oil and gas activities should not be allowed in Newfoundland’s part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence:

  • The draft report shows a complete lack of social acceptability in all five Gulf provinces;
  • Newfoundland’s part of the Gulf has many sensitive and unique sectors, vital to the Gulf ecosystem’s health;
  • Knowledge gaps are important;
  • Fisheries and tourism are very important and their cohabitation with oil and gas activities would be very difficult; and
  • The draft report says that the efficiency of proposed mitigation measures is not proven.

II. Notwithstanding the preceding points, AMEC’s report is weak in many aspects and is not adequate to serve as a decision tool for the C-NLOPB:

  • Comments and briefs presented by the public in the Fall 2012 were not correctly addressed and integrated in the draft report;
  • Impacts and risks of offshore oil and gas activities as well as hydraulic fracturing have been minimized throughout the report;
  • Economic importance of fisheries and tourism are greater than shown in the draft report; and
  • Mitigation measures proposed by AMEC are weak and intervention capacity in case of oil spill are clearly inadequate.

The St. Lawrence Coalition will make the following recommendations to the C-NLOPB. Do not hesitate to use these recommendations in your own comments!

WHEREAS the Western Newfoundland offshore SEA draft report clearly establishes the following points:

  • Biological importance and sensitivity of Newfoundland’s offshore area in the Gulf;
  • Importance of fisheries and tourism;
  • Huge gaps concerning biological knowledge and impact of oil and gas activities;
  • Uncertainties concerning the efficiency of mitigation measures;
  • Real and enormous impacts of any oil spill, despite the fact that the draft report minimizes the probabilities of occurrence; and
  • Very little social acceptability in all five Gulf provinces.

WHEREAS intervention capacity in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is inadequate as has been shown by the Commissioner to the Environment and Sustainable Development;

WHEREAS the liability limit for oil companies is still limited at $30 million dollars (this limit could be increased to $1 billion according to minister Oliver, an amount which remains small compared to potential costs of a major spill – costs which surpass $42 billions in the Gulf of Mexico);

WHEREAS any major spill could negatively affect all five Gulf provinces;

WHEREAS an integrated environmental review of oil activities in the complete Gulf of St. Lawrence has still not been performed;

The St. Lawrence Coalition recommends to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board:

  • To defer the issuing of any new exploration licenses in the Newfoundland offshore area;
  • To cancel the call for bids issued on May 16th 2013 for four parcels in the Newfoundland offshore area;
  • To refrain from giving authorizations to projects currently submitted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including Corridor Resources’ Old Harry project or Shoal Point Energy and Black Spruce Exploration’s Western Newfoundland drilling program; and
  • To submit to public scrutiny the recommendations and conclusions of the final SEA report.

St Lawrence Coalition, http://www.coalitionsaintlaurent.ca/

[1] http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/wnlsea.shtml

[2] http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/wnlsea.shtml

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Reminder September 27th Deadline for Public Comments on SEA Update

 The Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is accepting comments on its Draft Strategic Environmental Assessment Update for the Western Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area until September 27th.

If you have concerns about oil and gas activities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, consider submitting comments to:

1. C-NLOPB at:  information@cnlopb.nl.ca  

OR by mail to:

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

5th Floor, TD Place, 140 Water Street, St. John’s, NL, A1C 6H6

2. Premier Kathy Dunderdale at: premier@gov.nl.ca 

OR by mail to:

Confederation Building, East Block,
P.O. Box 8700
St. John’s, NL
A1B 4J6

 The Draft SEA Update and all supporting documents can be found at: http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/wnlsea.shtml

For a short background of this SEA process, and how it relates to site-specific projects that have been proposed for on-land to offshore drilling on the west coast of Newfoundland, see our July 8, 2013 post. 

Nova Scotia Announces Independent Hydraulic Fracturing Review

The Nova Scotia government announced on August 28th that it is commissioning an independent review of the effects of hydraulic fracturing to be led by a multi-disciplinary panel of experts.  The review will look at the social, economic, environmental, and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing and will include public consultations. “We’ve heard from Nova Scotians that they want to have their say and that the review should be independent of government,” says Nova Scotia Energy Minister Charlie Parker.

Individuals and organizations on the west coast of Newfoundland are calling for a similar review in which the government would employ a precautionary approach, institute an immediate hold on any oil exploration using hydraulic fracturing, and conduct a scientific and public review to be led by an independent, non-governmental, non-industry panel.  For more information, and to sign-up to the joint position statement, visit the Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness Network (NL-FAN): http://www.nlfan.ca/

Hopefully Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of Natural Resources Tom Marshall, who recently visited hydraulic fracturing sites in Saskatchewan and met with energy regulators in that province, will visit Nova Scotia to consult with his colleagues in Atlantic Canada and learn more about this pending independent review.

The full Nova Scotia Government press release is available at: http://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20130828001

Methane Contamination of Drinking Water

Minister Tom Marshall has stated in interviews this week that decisions on whether or not to allow hydraulic fracturing on the west coast of Newfoundland and along the Gulf of St. Lawrence should be based on science and not emotion.  The following is a short review of research findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that looks into methane contamination of water resources.

Osborn et al. (2011) collected 68 water samples from bedrock aquifers in private water wells that overlie the Marcellus or Utica Shale, in the states of Pennsylvania and New York.  The study measures the impact of gas-fracking operations on water quality.  These private wells are fairly close to the surface and are used to supply water to farms and private homes.  Fifty-one of sixty wells that are within 1km of a fracking rig contain detectable and in many cases dangerous levels of methane contamination due to fracking operations.  Such methane, while not categorized as a health hazard, as a gas does pose significant dangers as an asphyxiant and is potentially explosive in an enclosed space.  The study of the isotopic signature, which indicates the precise composition of the methane in question, has traced the gas to the Marcellus Shale layer that had been targeted through fracking.  That means that the methane that has been appearing in the water wells cannot be traced to other, perhaps natural causes unrelated to fracking, and therefore is a direct product of the fracking operations.

This is an important conclusion, because the methane was able to find a pathway to the private water well, even though the targeted area for fracking is over 2,000 meters below the ground.  A number of hypotheses explain how such a surprising development could take place: the methane could be migrating through cracks in the well casings (caused by tectonic activity in the ground); or, the explosions of the fracking operations may be creating new fractures above the targeted shale formation through which the methane can migrate upwards as a gas.

In terms of policy, the article does not call for a moratorium on fracking (since the article is primarily a scientific study rather than a policy paper); yet the article does characterize the shale-gas industry in the United States as poorly regulated relative to other fossil-fuel extraction industries.  The authors recommend independent water baseline sampling before a drilling operation commences as well as continuous monitoring.  However, most significantly, the authors state: “Our results show evidence for methane contamination of shallow drinking-water systems in at least three areas of the region and suggest important environmental risks accompanying shale-gas exploration worldwide” (p. 1).

Reference:

Osborn, Stephen, Avner Vengosh, Nathaniel R. Warner, and Robert B. Jackson.  “Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing.”  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, no. 20 (May 2011): 8172-8176.

Update of the Western Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) – Open for Public Comment

What is the SEA and Where are we in the Process?

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) has been in the process of updating its SEA for the western Newfoundland offshore area.  The Draft is now available for public comment.  As a result of public concern over the short time period alloted for public comment, the C-NLOPB has extended the comment period to September 27th, 2013.  Both the full report and a summary report can be found at: http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/wnlsea.shtml.

This umbrella process is looking into oil and gas activities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence as a whole.  As such, the SEA would offer a baseline of environmental information.  Any potential future oil and gas projects could draw on this baseline data for their own project-based environmental assessments.

One of the main challenges with this current Draft SEA is that it does not include any of the report’s conclusions or recommendations.  Therefore one is left wondering how the public and how stakeholders could properly comment.

Public comments on this Draft SEA can be sent by email to: information@cnlopb.nl.ca

Comments can also be sent by mail to:

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

5th Floor, TD Place, 140 Water Street, St. John’s, NL, A1C 6H6

What is an SEA and Why is This One Important?

An SEA is meant to offer a systematic and comprehensive process to both identify and evaluate the environmental concerns and potential implications of proposed policies or plans.  It also provides a tool for incorporating environmental concerns into early stages of decision-making.  By their definition, SEAs are meant to be strategic and proactive in nature.  A good quality SEA process is defined by the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) as being: integrated, sustainability-led, focused, accountable, participative, and iterative.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence is a rich and ecologically sensitive area that functions like an inland sea and has complex circulating currents.  This means that any spill or accident would have serious consequences and would likely spread over a large area.  It is surrounded by 5 provinces and supports a $1.5 billion commercial fishery.  There is a multi-billion dollar tourism industry in the Gulf, with the west coast of Newfoundland alone bringing in $229 million annually in tourism revenue.  These are some of the reasons why communities living around the Gulf are concerned about potential future oil and gas activities in these waters.

Background on the Western Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area SEA

  • The current SEA update was initiated by ministerial request in 2011, and is designed to provide a broad vision for oil and gas activities in the Gulf before specific policies are developed.
  • The SEA “will assist the C-NLOPB in determining whether exploration rights should be offered in whole or in part within the area and may identify general restrictive or mitigating measures that should be considered for application to [petroleum] exploration activities.” (This is quoted from the C-NLOPB SEA Update Western Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area Scoping Document, released on February 21, 2012, which outlines the objectives and the scope for the SEA.  It is available through the web page listed above.)
  • The area being assessed includes an offshore and onshore area roughly from Port aux Basques to north of Port Saunders.  This represents a large area covering the waters off most of Newfoundland’s West Coast and as far as the Old Harry oil prospect, approximately half way between the Port au Port peninsula and the Magdalen Islands.
  • The original Strategic Environmental Assessment was published by the CNLOPB in 2005, and amended in 2007, enlarging the area to include Old Harry.  These earlier versions were criticized for glossing over risks related to accidents and spills in the fragile Gulf, and deferring assessment down the road.

2012 Public Consultations and Some Shortfalls

During October 2012, the C-NLOPB held public consultations, and one of the goals was to collect local environmental information and knowledge. The consultations were held in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick, The Magdalen Islands, the Quebec North shore, and the Gaspé.  However, the consultations received criticism for being poorly advertised, not providing substantive information, not recording debate or dialogue, and overlooking important communities.  The SEA process was also criticized for lacking independent review, with groups calling for an independent, third-party review conducted by experts in the fields of biology, ecology, emergency response, environmental assessment, petroleum geology, geochemistry, and spill modeling.

Useful Resources:

Western Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area Strategic Environmental Assessment Update, all relevant documents, and all comments submitted by individuals and organizations during consultations in 2012 are available at: http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/wnlsea.shtml

Comments submitted during the 2012 consultation period, from Attention FragÎles, David Suzuki Foundation, and SNAP-Québec.  This submission outlines core concerns with the process, and identifies issues and potential risks that should be considered and/or better addressed: http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/pdfs/wnlsea/dec2012/uofo.pdf

Original SEA from 2005:

Western Newfoundland Offshore Area Strategic Environmental Assessment (2005, 350 pp): www.cnlopb.nl.ca/pdfs/wnsearpt.pdf (main document); and

The Amendment to the above (2007, 60 pages): www.cnlopb.nl.ca/pdfs/wnlseaaf.pdf

Deer Lake Fracking Awareness Seminar Raises Difficult Questions

This editorial piece has been re-posted by permission of the 4 O’clock Whistle. © 4 O’clock Whistle: http://4oclockwhistlenews.tumblr.com/

 

     Thirty five people showed up to a fracking awareness seminar in Deer Lake on the 19th of June at the Hodder Memorial Stadium. Entitled “Facts on Fracking” the seminar presented a wide array of information on the history of the process and what is known about its potential effects. As those present learned, while some of the basic technology of fracking has been around for quite some time, slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing is a relatively new phenomenon.

     For example when companies assert that they have been conducting hydraulic fracturing since the 1940’s they are referring to vertical hydraulic fracturing. Horizontal slickwater “fracking,” by contrast, can be traced back to as early as 2002. Since much of the fracking fluid, which contains a complex mixture of chemicals (some of which are known to be carcinogenic or to have other health effects) remains underground after the process, the potential area affected by seepage into aquifers and towards the surface is greatly increased during horizontal fracturing. The fracturing could extend out as much as three kilometers, if not more, horizontally from each drill site in multiple directions, and one key problem is trying to control the fractures during the process. Several countries and states currently have moratoriums on fracking awaiting more information, as does the province of Quebec, and in many others there are growing demands for the institution of moratoriums.

Chicken Little?

     The presenters wanted to make it clear this seminar was not a case of claiming the “sky was falling,” instead stating that the potential damage of hydraulic fracturing, should it take place on the West Coast, could happen over many years. Chief among their concerns was protecting future generations. That said some of the evidence presented is certainly worrying in terms of the immediate future as well.

    Dr. Ian Simpson, one of the presenters at the seminar, gave a particularly insightful account of the potential health problems associated with the process (an account based upon research of peer-reviewed literature). The fracking fluid is itself a source of concern (the exact chemicals added are often company secrets), as is the large amount of methane and other chemicals that would be released into the air by each fracking site; sinus problems, nasal irritation, eye burn and throat irritation are among the statistically significant symptoms reported near fracking sites in one study cited by Dr. Simpson.

Black Spruce: Disciplined Communication?

     The seminar, open to all, came just after news that Black Spruce Exploration Corp., one of the companies hoping to undertake fracking on the West Coast, had essentially acquired Deer Lake Oil and Gas – the latest in several expansions by the company [The Western Star, “Deer Lake Oil and Gas acquired by Black Spruce Energy,” June 17, 2013]. David Murray, CEO of Black Spruce has been making many extensive promises, we learned, to residents along the West Coast as of late too, which may not be surprising as it appears he has invested – rather extensively – in the success of fracking here.

    A Western Star article from last month made it clear Mr. Murray sees Newfoundland in terms of oil potential as being like North Dakota. According to the article he seemed to indicate that the population of North Dakota had nearly doubled in the last 10 years and that the unemployment rate had dropped from 9.8% to just 3% [The Western Star, “Oil company making a difference with presentations: Murray,” May 31, 2013]. A comment made by a reader under the online copy of that article suggested that there may be a discrepancy in the information presented, and a quick scan of census data from the U.S. does appear to contradict the information in the article. First, the current estimated population of North Dakota (as of 2012) is 699,628, it was 642,200 in 2000 and it was 638,800 in 1990 – so one fails to see how it has almost doubled [United States Census Bureau]. Further the unemployment rate is currently 3.2% in North Dakota and hasn’t been above 4.2% since 2000. In fact since 1980 the highest unemployment there has been was in 1983 at 6.8%, which doesn’t seem to provide real evidence for the idea of horizontal hydraulic fracturing as a great source of employment growth for a local population [statistics from United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

     Murray’s statistics come across as particularly troubling given his recent assertion that the Black Spruce board and management team had previously worked on drilling programs in Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania and North Dakota [The Western Star “Black Spruce takes the reins in western N.L.” June 19, 2013]. It may be of interest for readers to take a look at the past unemployment rates – if this is indeed Mr. Murray’s measure of success for fracking – of some of the other states in which the Black Spruce team has worked on drilling programs. As of January 2002, around the time slickwater horizontal fracturing came onto the scene as a technology, the unemployment rates of Colorado, Texas, and Pennsylvania were 5.7%, 6.1% and 5.5% respectively. As of January 2013 they were 7.3%, 6.3% and 8.2% respectively [United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

      The Black Spruce team’s history is also interesting given the many worrying complaints, news pieces, and peer-reviewed articles, now emerging about the health impacts of fracking technology coming from these very same states [for example see: Ellen Cantarow “Fracking Ourselves to Death in Pennsylvania,” May 2, 2013].

     The seminar in Deer Lake also addressed the issue of job creation, but presented evidence that most of the jobs created during fracking operations would probably go to specialists brought into the Province from elsewhere on a temporary basis, and would not be long term, something there is evidence to suggest [see for instance Barth, New Solutions, Vol. 23(1) 85-101, 2013].

     Meanwhile the [former] chairman of Black Spruce’s partner company, Shoal Point Energy’s Davidson Kelly, has gained negative attention recently after a CBC article cited the following quote from a report by Australian Commissioner Terence Cole, a report tabled in the Australian Parliament; “On the evidence before me, Mr. Davidson Kelly is a thoroughly disreputable man with no commercial morality.” [CBC News, “Fracking firm chairman cited for role in UN-Iraq scandal,” June 11, 2013]. 

Has Fracking Been Conducted Safely in Canada?

       The seminar also challenged claims that fracking has occurred elsewhere in Canada without any local water supply damage, something Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources president, Kevin Heffernan, recently implied in the above coverage from the Western Star [June 19, 2013]. In fact the National Farmers Union of Alberta asked in 2012 for a moratorium on fracking due to firsthand accounts of water contamination, accounts that rarely see the light of day because, as stated on the NFU website by member Jan Slomp: “the oil and gas companies usually force farmers to sign confidentiality agreements in return for replacement of their water wells” [NFU Website: “Hydraulic Fracking a Danger to Water, Food, Farmland: NFU Calls For Moratorium”].

     Given current research being undertaken into water contamination across Canada, and the cases only now coming to light (both in Canada and in several U.S. states), it would definitely appear highly premature for anyone to suggest that no contamination of water supplies has taken place.

General Impressions

     The question of whether or not to proceed with fracking is a troubling one: it may be that further regulations are needed, or it may very well be that fracking is simply an undertaking not worth the detriments it creates. One way or the other more information is being uncovered about this relatively new process – information and peer-reviewed studies the companies themselves don’t seem to want to discuss – or are surprisingly un-aware of.

    The overall feeling of the presentation? While many were concerned, those who have concerns are certainly open to a discussion of both the pros and cons of fracking. Graham Oliver, another presenter, wanted to make it clear to the audience during the question and answer period at the end that they should feel free to voice any questions or make any statements they wanted, whether in support of or against fracking. “We accept all opinions here and welcome them” he said. Indeed sheets of paper with links to online copies of the key sources used in the health portion of the seminar were handed out, and audience members were encouraged to further research the subject and come to their own conclusions. The presentation, in short, was not just about presenting “the facts,” it was about letting people know where those facts are coming from, and there was general atmosphere of free speech and dialog.