Wants review of extraction process
More than five million cubic metres of fresh water were allocated for fracking in Alberta last year, the NDP said Tuesday as it renewed calls for the province to conduct an independent scientific review of the controversial energy extraction practice.
The Tory government said the amount is only a drop in the bucket compared to the total amount of water allocated in Alberta annually, but noted it's trying to reduce the use of freshwater for fracking and sees no need for a broader investigation.
In Lethbridge, NDP environment critic Rachel Notley said figures provided by the Environment Department to the Alberta Federation of Labour estimate 5.5 million cubic metres of non-saline water were provided for hydraulic fracturing between June 2011 and June 2012.
Fracking involves the underground injection of water with sand and chemicals under high pressure to allow natural gas and oil previously trapped in unproductive reservoirs to flow.
"There is a growing level of development in this area and there are still very, very significant questions and concerns that need to be answered," Notley said in an interview.
"We understand the economic interests behind extraction but at the same time, if we put our water supply at risk, at the end of the day there will be no net benefit,"
The NDP initially called for a review of fracking last year. Notley said the primary concern to be examined is the effect on both the quality and sustainability of the province's water supply.
Alberta Environment figures show a total of 10.2 million cubic metres were allocated for oil and natural gas drilling in the province last year. The province only began tracking how much was used for fracking earlier this year.
Fracking has been used in Alberta for years but the practice is expected to grow exponentially to access shale gas reserves and hard-to-get conventional oil.
Mark Cooper, spokesman for Environment Minister Diana McQueen, said the amount of water earmarked for fracking comes from more than 10 billion cubic metres of water allocated annually for all uses in the province.
But he said the government does plan to talk with Albertans about the province's water supply, reviewing issues such as its use in fracking.
"We need to look at ways in which we can reduce the amount and perhaps look at ways where industry can use non-potable water," said Cooper.
However, he said the government does not see the need for a comprehensive review of hydraulic fracturing. "We have a very, very strong safety record. I don't know of a fracking incident that resulted in any contamination to groundwater," he added.
Environment is taking part in the Energy Resources Conservation Board's current review of regulations around fracking, he noted. ERCB spokesman Bob Curran said Tuesday the review is taking place in anticipation of greatly increased use of the procedure in the province.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers issued voluntary guidelines around fracking for its members in January that encourage producers to use additives with the least environmental risks, protect groundwater, and disclose fracking fluid additives.
"Hydraulic fracturing is a proven technology that is tightly regulated by government," David Pryce, CAPP vice-president of operations, said in a statement. "However, we can always do better."
The Calgary Herald, Wedn August 22 2012
Byline: Jerry Wood