The Council of Canadians called on the federal government Tuesday to implement regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Canada. The process, widely used for unconventional oil and gas recovery in western Canada, is linked to numerous human and environmental health threats and currently faces bans or moratoria in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The next Oka in Canadian history is going to be in B.C. and it’s going to be about energy,” indigenous lawyer Caleb Behn said during a press conference in Ottawa addressing the fracking boom in northern British Columbia and other parts of western Canada.
“I guarantee it. The writing is on the wall. It is just a question of when in my view. That is why the regulators need to step up.”
Behn, who is Eh Cho Dene and Dunne-Za from Treaty 8 Territory in northeastern B.C., and Dr. Kathleen Nolan, co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, joined the Council of Canadians today in calling on the federal government to safeguard Canadians and their drinking water from the controversial method of releasing natural gas and oil trapped in rock-like shale.
“We need a national water policy that addresses threats to water such as fracking,” Emma Lui, water campaigner with the Council of Canadians, told the press conference this morning at Parliament’s Centre Block.
“With the upcoming federal election, the Council of Canadians hopes to see real federal leadership and commitments to protect our communities, health, water and our water sources from fracking,” she said.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves drilling underground wells 200 to 3,000 metres vertically and another 1,000 metres or more horizontally to penetrate the rock-like shale. Pressurized water mixed with hundreds of toxic substances (including benzene, hydrochloric acid, mercury and formaldehyde) is shot down the well to penetrate the rock and force natural gas or oil to the surface.
A single fracked well consumes anywhere between seven to 23 million litres of water. Poorly constructed or cracked concrete wells have led to the contamination of groundwater with fracking chemicals or methane, a main component of natural gas.
“There are roughly 200 chemicals used in fracking that we know about that have not been assessed by Health Canada or Environment Canada,” Lui explained.
“There is a rapidly emerging body of evidence that shows harms from this activity (fracking) at every stage of the process. With contamination of air, water and social,” Dr. Nolan said.
“People are getting sick.”
Headaches, disorientation, rashes, seizures and asthma are some of the immediate health impacts airborne contaminants from fracking operations can have on people living nearby, Nolan said.
“With water contamination there’s a lag time between the time the contaminants enter the water and then enters the person and then the person gets ill….it could take years or decades before the contaminants reach people,” she said.
“What we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg and that the people who are sick now are basically our biomarkers.”
Behn fears his home territory, which is located in and around Fort Nelson, B.C., and which is at the centre of the Fractured Land documentary, will be destroyed if federal and provincial regulators do not take significant steps to determine the impact fracking operations have on local populations and the environment.
“Absence of proof of harm is not proof of the absence of harm,” Behn said.
A report commissioned and released by Environment Canada last year concluded the potential threat of fracking operations on groundwater “cannot be assessed because of a lack of scientific data and understanding."