Tracking Hotspots: The Nation's Shale Gas Formations, Key Water Aquifers and Fracking Wells

Alternatives Journal, January-February 2014 | Go to article overview

Tracking Hotspots: The Nation's Shale Gas Formations, Key Water Aquifers and Fracking Wells


The development of shale gas promises to fuel North America's energy future but with substantive environmental and energy costs. Assumptions that shale gas can be produced at low cost for over a century remain just that: faith-based assumptions. In fact the revolution could dramatically slow down while costs climb dramatically.

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"To date, Canada has not developed adequate regulations or public policy to address the scale or cumulative impact of hydraulic fracking on water resources or conventional oil and gas wells. Moreover, the country has no national water policy. In the absence of public reporting on fracking chemicals, industry water withdrawals and full mapping of the nation's aquifers, rapid shale gas development could potentially threaten important water resources, if not fracture the country's water security."

--Ben Parfitt, from Fracture Lines, written for the Program on Water Issues, Munk School of Global Affairs, uToronto

This map shows the overlap of shale gas basins, aquifers, fracking wells and callsfor moratoria below the 60th parallel. But hydraulic fracturing is dividing Canada's northern territories as well. In June 2013, for example, the Yukon Council of First Nations unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Yukon government to prohibit tracking and declaring their traditional territories as "frack-free."

This map also does not show potential water contamination or increased earthquake activity and GHG emissions from fracking. It doesn't show the cumulative impact of pumping unknown chemical concentrations underground, or the heavy metals, VOCs, brine and radloactive materials that can resurface with flow back. It does not show the lack of government oversight or violated environmental regulations.

BC More than seven billion litres of British Columbia water was used for fracking in 2013. With provincial plans to develop liquefied natural gas as a cornerstone of the economy, this amount could spike by 500 per cent or more.

AB Some fracking chemicals are burnt off in flare stacks in Alberta, not only becoming dangerous in and of themselves, but also combining to become new chemicals not present prior to burning. Phosgene is formed by a reaction between carbon monoxide and chlorine gas; it is used as a chemical warfare agent. The US EPA describes it as extremely toxic by short-term inhalation exposure.

SK The Bakken shale formation underlies part of southern Saskatchewan. Crude oil fracked from these fields is explosively flammable and is increasingly being shipped by rail. Last summer a rail shipment of Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 citizens and incinerating the downtown.

MB Most of Manitoba's 3,600 active oil wells are being fracked, which is a newer practice in this province than in some others. …

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