What is fracking and why is it so controversial?
Oil and natural gas production sites in New Brunswick are displayed in a map supplied by the Government of New Brunswick. (GNB)
Published Sunday, October 20, 2013 4:33PM EDT
Over the weekend the protests against fracking widened in New Brunswick. In recent months native groups have called attention to a resource company that is attempting to perform 2D seismic imaging to see if underground shale beds might contain natural gas. If there is gas, SWN Resources Canada would use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract this natural resource
What it is?
Fracking is a form of natural gas extraction that involves pumping millions of gallons of pressurized, chemically treated water into shale formations or coal beds. The fluid, injected deep into the ground, creates or widens cracks in the rocks, leaving methane gas free to escape from underground.
Where are shale reserves?
Over the past several years, fracking has made vast caches of natural gas in North America, which was previously trapped in deeply buried rock, accessible. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, shale gas will account for nearly half of the natural gas produced in the country by 2035.
Shale reserves in New Brunswick
The New Brunswick government says the province has the thickest shale gas reservoir in North America.
The province's energy and mines minister has said natural gas extraction from shale gas formations has "transformed the energy marketplace," noting that New Brunswick has an estimated 80 trillion cubic feet of shale gas resources.
"If used to generate electricity, it could supply all of New Brunswick’s residential, commercial and industrial needs for over 100 years," Craig Leonard said.
- Interactive map: Oil & Natural Gas in New Brunswick
SWN Resources of Canada
SWN Resources of Canadaplans to drill a couple of exploratory wells in New Brunswick, which involves drilling a vertical hole, between 6,500 and 11,000 feet, to take samples of the various rock layers.
It is also continuing a seismic exploration program, which uses sound wave technology, like an ultrasound, to create images of what's underground. Before the program began, the government required the company to offer before and after water well testing for all wells within 200 metres of seismic work.
Elsipogtog First Nation
Since late September, members of the Elsipogtog First Nation have protested against the SWN Resources proposal at a potential shale gas site in the eastern part of the province.
Local First Nations leaders have raised concerns about the failure of government and industry to consult with them before development went ahead.
Late last week, First Nations communities in several regions of the country staged protests in support of the demonstrators in Rexton, N.B.
Rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada and lower courts have established a duty to consult and accommodate aboriginal people when development is considered on their land, even non-reserve traditional lands.
Fracking also face strong opposition from environmental groups, which raise concerns about the effect shale gas extraction has on water sources and climate change.
The EPA estimates one well in a coal bed can require anywhere from 200,000 litres to more than 1 million litres while a horizontal well in a shale formation can use between 7.5 million to 19 million litres of water.
Critics argue that fracking can lead to the contamination of underground sources of drinking water and surface waters due to spills and faulty well construction.
The Council of Canadians is calling for a country-wide halt on fracking operations.
"There's not enough known about the long term effects of fracking fluids on water sources and its impact on climate change," Emma Lui, national water campaigner, recently told CTV News Channel.
Ban in Quebec
Meanwhile, the Quebec government has imposed a moratorium on shale gas drilling and fracturing in the Lowlands of the St. Lawrence River while new legislation establishing rules around the practice is adopted.
Opposition parties have denounced the move, saying the possible five-year moratorium could undermine major investments in the province.