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Ontario be Warned – Importing ‘Fracked Gas’ is Not the Way To Go, Say Experts

The days of cheap abundant natural gas from US shale gas ‘fracking’ operations are most likely numbered, three experts testified before the Ontario Energy Board (OEB). Far better for Ontario to increase energy efficiency and look elsewhere to meet its natural gas needs.

“If (US and state) governments respond with effective regulatory and economic measures to the environmental challenges facing the shale gas industry, the cost of shale development will certainly rise, and in some cases is likely to become uneconomic,” says Lisa Sumi, one of the three experts and a environmental consultant, in a recent report The Regulation of Shale Gas Development: State of Play.

Ontario’s gas distributors Enbridge Gas and Union Gas want to expand the Greater Toronto Area’s natural gas delivery network and import natural gas from the surging shale gas industry in the US northeast (primarily the Marcellus shale and Utica shale gas reserves).

“The first step in any energy strategy should be looking for ways to conserve energy, not increase energy consumption,” Mark Calzavara, Ontario-Quebec organizer for the Council of Canadians, told DeSmog Canada.

Lisa Sumi, along with geoscientist David Hughes, and Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, professor of engineering at Cornell University warned the OEB importing US shale gas will increase Ontarians’ household heating costs in the future. And using shale gas from fracking operations will put more global warming greenhouse gases (GHG) into the planet’s atmosphere.

“The large GHG footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming,” says Ingraffea in his report.

Fracking Has Dirtied Natural Gas’ Clean Energy Name

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking to get access to unconventional sources of natural gas like shale gas involves digging underground wells 200 to 3,000 meters vertically and another 1,000 meters or more horizontally to penetrate the rock-like shale. Pressurized water laced with toxic chemicals is shot down the well to break apart the shale and push the natural gas to the surface.

Poorly constructed or cracked fracking wells have led to fracking chemicals and methane (natural gas is mainly methane) contaminating drinking water. A study of 141 drinking water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania (home to the Marcellus shale) published last June found 82% of water samples taken within a kilometer of fracking wells contained levels of methane six times higher than samples more than a kilometer from fracking wells. 

Fracking operations also leak methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading scientific body on climate issues, methane has 84 times more global warming potential over twenty years than carbon dioxide.

“This does not justify the continued use of either oil or coal, but rather demonstrates that substituting shale gas for these other fossil fuels may not have the desired effect of mitigating climate warming,” concludes Cornell's Ingraffea.

Ingraffea was named one of TIME Magazine’s “People Who Mattered” in 2011 for his research on methane emissions from shale gas. A study published last August by the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicates fracking wells may leak anywhere between 6 – 12% of the methane they produce. A 2% methane leakage rate is already too much according to the Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

These ‘fugitive emissions’ from fracking operations remain largely unreported or under reported by the gas industry as DeSmog Canada revealed in an exposé on British Columbia’s gas industry last May.

Shale Gas is Becoming Uneconomical

“U.S. supply growth assumptions made by Enbridge and Union Gas are overly optimistic at the natural gas prices assumed,” wrote geoscientist Hughes in his critical report on the GTA project.

Hughes has spent four decades studying energy resources, and says many of the projections for the US shale gas industry are overblown.

“Four of five shale gas plays comprising 80% of shale gas production in the U.S. are in or near decline,” states Hughes.

Fracking wells tend to produce a lot of natural gas in the first three years, but then head into a steep production decline afterwards. Hard-to-access shale gas is expensive to produce and reduced supplies of shale gas will increase the price of natural gas coming from the US.

The Pushback Against Fracking

According to environmental consultant Sumi, the US is introducing regulations that are slowing the production of shale gas and making it less economic for producers. Sixty bans and one-hundred and twelve moratoriums on fracking have been introduced in New York alone, which is part of the Marcellus shale.

Public pushback against fracking in the US alone could make shale gas uneconomical. And the bans and moratoriums go beyond New York.

France and Bulgaria have banned fracking and Germany has been very hesitant to endorse the method. Quebec’s moratorium on fracking is still in place and indigenous and non-indigenous residents of New Brunswick have locked horns with their government to stop fracking exploration in their province.

Fracking has created a new type of environmental movement that has brought rural farmers and environmentally conscious urbanites together. In pro-mining countries such as South Africa and Australia the fracking industry has come up against surprisingly stiff public opposition in the Treasure the Karoo and Lock the Gate movements.

On October 19th, the second annual Global Frackdown will be held “to challenge fracking” worldwide. Last year’s Global Frackdown took place in over 200 communities in twenty countries.

Ontario may be betting on the wrong horse by locking their energy future into ‘frack gas’ imports to warm the homes of the most populous province of Canada.

Image credit: Global Frackdown, Fracking Resources, Council of Canadians

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