Residents of the Northwest Territories are demanding environmental reviews be conducted before companies are permitted to ‘frack’ for oil in the NWT. Despite controversy in Canada and other countries around the effects fracking or hydraulic fracturing has on water and climate change, the NWT’s first fracking project was approved last October without an environmental assessment.
“We can’t let another fracking project dodge an environmental assessment,” says Lois Little of the Council of Canadians NWT chapter.
“There is a lot of international concern about the environmental and social impacts of fracking,” says Ben McDonald, spokesperson for Alternatives North, a social justice coalition in NWT. “The moratoriums on fracking in the U.S. and eastern Canada are in place for good reasons.”
The Council of Canadians, Alternatives North along with Ecology North have launched a petition calling on the NWT government to refer fracking projects to environmental assessments that include public hearings from now on. Signatures will be collected until March 7th when the petition will be delivered to the NWT legislative assembly. Two hundred and fifty NWT residents have signed the petition.
“A full, thorough environmental assessment would provide all levels of government with information on the possible impacts of fracking on the NWT and create a venue for all voices to be heard,” says Christine Wenman, a water management campaigner with Ecology North, an environmental organization based in Yellowknife.
NWT Canol shale oil play could rival Bakken shale
The central NWT region called the Sahtu is home to the Canol shale, a shale oil play that could rival the booming Bakken shale oil industry in North Dakota. Shale oil (not to be confused with oil shale) is oil locked in the pores of rock-like shale underground. The Sahtu itself is an area of pristine wilderness accessed by ice roads and many residents live off the land.
The Sahtu Region
The method commonly associated with shale gas development – fracking – is employed by industry to release the oil trapped in the shale. ‘Frack wells’ are drilled vertically between two hundred to two thousands meters to penetrate the shale and then horizontally through the shale up to three kilometers. Pressurized water laced with chemicals is shot down the well to break apart the shale and force the oil to the surface.
Improperly constructed or cracked frack wells have contaminated water tables with methane (natural gas is mainly methane) or fracking chemicals, some of which are toxic.
“No one has done any mapping locating the underground waterways or aquifers of the Sahtu. We are playing in the dark here,” Little told DeSmog Canada.
Many of the proposed fracking operations in the Sahtu would take place along the Mackenzie River, the main artery of the Mackenzie River Water Basin, one of the world’s largest watersheds and Canada's 'Serengeti.'
“An EA (environmental assessment) would be a sober second thought about fracking in NWT before its too late,” NWT MLA Bob Bromley told DeSmog Canada in an interview. Earlier this week Bromley expressed his suspicions that NWT government employees were being discouraged from signing the petition for environmental reviews of fracking projects.
Canadian oil and gas on pace to be No.1 contributor to climate change
“There is a fundamental problem in developing the Canol shale when we know the impact producing more greenhouse gases will have on climate change,” says Bromley.
Methane once unlocked from shale during fracking operations can escape into water tables and the atmosphere. If it makes it above ground, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas.
Over twenty year period methane has eighty-four times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide according the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest findings. This global warming potential is thirty-four times greater than carbon dioxide over one hundred years.
A DeSmog Canada exclusive revealed last year Canada is most likely already under reporting escaped methane emissions or fugitive emissions from the oil and gas sector. Even with these inaccuracies in calculating fugitive emissions Environment Canada projects the oil and gas sector will be Canada’s biggest contributor to global warming by 2030. Canada’s overall greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase 38% by 2030 as well.
“Pursuing fossil fuels projects takes us in the wrong direction. Fossils fuels belong with the dinosaurs,” Bromley told DeSmog.
The Bakken shale oil industry in North Dakota burns off or flares around 30% of the natural gas byproduct that comes with fracking on the Bakken shale. An estimated $1 billion worth of natural gas was flared in 2012 alone. This is equivalent of adding one million more carbon dioxide emitting cars on the road.
Social impacts of fracking already emerging in the Sahtu
Divisions are already emerging in the five Sahtu communities over developing the Canol shale. Sheila Karkagie of Tulita in the Sahtu received a death threat last January for her strong stance against fracking.
“I was scared and I was hurt,” Sheila Karkagie told CBC in an interview about the threat. “I'm fighting for my dad's land, because this is his land, his trap lines, his everything; our means of living, our backyard, our everything!”
The death threat came via telephone after Karkagie publicly stated past members of the Tulita Land and Financial Board are in conflict of interest for approving ConocoPhillips fracking project – NWT’s first fracking project – and then accepting contracts with oil and gas companies afterwards.
“We are seeing divisiveness in communities where it seldom existed before,” says NWT MLA Bromley.
“The lack of a thorough public process on the issue is causing stress, anxiety and pitting people against each other in the Sahtu communities,” Lois Little of the Council of Canadians told DeSmog. The Council of Canadians, one of the Canada’s foremost water advocacy groups, released a ‘Fractivist Toolkit’ earlier this month to assist Canadians confronting fracking in their communities.
The petition for environmental assessments of fracking projects in NWT can be found on the NWT legislative assembly’s website:
Image Credit: Transnational Institute, Council of Canadians, Environment Canada