BY MIKE DE SOUZA, POSTMEDIA NEWS – OCTOBER 25, 2011
Water use and contamination are at the top of the list of environmental concerns surrounding shale gas exploration in Canada, Environment Minister Peter Kent was told earlier this year in an internal memorandum released on Monday.
The advice, drafted by Environment Canada’s top bureaucrat and deputy minister, Paul Boothe, acknowledged that the emerging industry is considered a “game changer” in the energy market, but it also noted that most sites are using millions of litres of water and hundreds of thousands of litres of unidentified chemicals that are injected in the ground at high pressure to extract natural gas from shale rock formations.
“There is potential for water contamination from the use and disposal of drilling muds and fracturing fluids,” Boothe wrote in the memo to Kent, dated March 8, 2011.
“There is also a risk of natural gas or saltwater from the formation leaking into surface water, water wells or water aquifers.”
Several jurisdictions in North America, including Quebec and New York, have slowed down development to investigate the impacts of unconventional oil and gas exploration.
Environment Canada also launched its own reviews this year, coinciding with the memo that was sent to Kent and released to Postmedia News through access to information legislation.
The memo indicated that a typical shale gas site with average wells would use about 110 million litres of water taken from ground or surface sources, affecting aquatic flora and fauna and potentially resulting in “decreased availability of water for surrounding municipalities.” It also said that the average well “may require between 55,000 and 220,000 litres of chemicals.”
“Little information is available on the composition of these chemicals,” Boothe wrote.
“I am not aware of any jurisdiction in Canada that requires the disclosure of chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing: However, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission has announced that it may require companies to disclose chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing in the future.”