"It Can't All Be True": Canadian Government Launches New Fracking Studies

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According to Environmental Minister Peter Kent, the Canadian government is entering into the shale gas debate by launching two simultaneous studies of fracking and its impacts on the environment.  Environment Canada is pursuing an in-house review of the controversial fracking process, while the Council of Canadian Academies will lead an independent investigation to provide an expert assessment of the science and environmental impacts associated with fracking.

Both federal and provincial governments have traditionally supported the development of the country’s rich unconventional gas deposits. Yet growing opposition has led to civil discontent in some areas like Quebec, where concern over fracking’s environmental impact resulted in a moratorium while a more thorough scientific review is conducted.
 
Quebec’s cautionary approach has prompted others to ask why provinces like British Columbia, Alberta, and New Brunswick, where there is equal cause for concern, are not taking a similar science-based approach. But the federal government has met calls for independent investigations and environmental evaluation with silence.

 
Ottawa can monitor shale gas development, says Minister Kent, and has the authority to oversee the industry, but leaves that responsibility to local jurisdictions and their provincial counterparts. This (heavily criticized) arrangement means there is a dangerous lack of national operating standards, giving rise to provincial self-regulation and back room deals with industry.
 
Minister Kent’s recent announcement that the federal government will now take part in determining the risks associated with fracking and shale gas development was met with mixed emotions.
 
According to University of Toronto’s Douglas Macdonald, federal intervention may be just what the situation calls for. “A lack of co-ordination is a real problem,” says Macdonald, “the environment may suffer, industry suffers.”
 
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) also welcomed the announcement. A review of this kind is what the industry needs to affirm fracking’s safety to the public, according to Tom Huffaker, CAPP vice president of policy and environment.
 
President and CEO of Questerre Energy, Michael Binnion says the government should stick to facilitating development between the provinces as an “honest broker.” Ottawa’s involvement “in regulating provincial assets or resources is not something I would support from the business, industry, or personal level,” says Binnion.
 
Questerre’s plans to drill in the Utica shale came to a halt with the moratorium in Quebec and anything less than a full endorsement from the government could make matters worse for the company. “There is a lot of different information out there about shale gas industry and hydraulic fracturing and it’s different enough that it can’t all be true,” says Binnion.
And while Minister Kent feels the study is necessary to assess “the state of scientific knowledge” surrounding the issue, NDP environment critic Megan Leslie sees the pair of studies in a different light.
 
“I find it hard to believe that Environment Canada and that the government doesn’t already know a lot of the information,” says Leslie, who considers the investigation a “stalling tactic” to further delay the implementation of a real regulatory framework.
 
According to the Council of Canadian Academies, the expert assessment could take up to 18 months.
 
For the provinces already experiencing drilling, Minister Kent’s announcement is long overdue and seems weak in the face of what holds in the balance.

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