Cross-Sector Groups Unite to Demand Independent Review of Fracking

 

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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.

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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

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

Fracking on the West coast of Newfoundland

Hydraulic fracturing is a type of well stimulation that involves the injection of high-pressured water, sand, and a mix of chemicals to crack and prop open fractures in reservoir rock formations in order to release oil or gas. Flow back fluid (liquid containing toxic chemicals that returns to the surface after fracturing) and produced water (water coming out of the oil-bearing formations) come back out of the wells and are contaminated with hydrocarbons, chemicals, carcinogenic compounds, heavy metals, and sometimes radioactive elements.

Hydraulic fracturing has been used since 1947. But the modern fracking technique, called horizontal slick-water fracking, was first used in 1998 in the Barnett Shale in Texas and made the extraction of shale gas more economical. Fracking was combined with horizontal drilling in the early 2000s. The injection of a highly pressurized fracking fluid creates new channels in the rock, which can increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of hydrocarbons.

Proponents of fracking point to the economic benefits from formerly inaccessible hydrocarbons. Opponents point to potential environmental and health impacts, including the chemical composition of fraking fluid, contamination of ground and surface waters, the large water footprint, risks to air quality, leakage of fracking fluid and methane from wells – especially as they age, surface spills, and challenges with wastewater decontamination and disposal. The chemical composition of fracking fluid is proprietary information, and companies are not required to disclose the chemical ingredients.

Toronto-based Shoal Point Energy, and Black Spruce Exploration – a subsidiary of Toronto-based Foothills Capital Corp., are applying to do exploration drilling and fracking at a number of locations on the west coast of Newfoundland, including: Sally’s Cove (an enclave in Gros Morne National Park and UNSECO World Heritage Site), Lark Harbour (Bay of Islands) and Shoal Point (Port au Port). A number of other locations of interest are Parsons Pond, St. Paul’s, Trout River, Chimney Cove and Little Port.

This is an important issue for our region and communities.  Check us out at  https://www.facebook.com/SaveGrosMorne and http://www.twitter.com/SaveWestCoastNL