Is natural gas green? When you’re addicted to the planet by Adria Vasil, March 21-28, 2013, Vol. 32 No. 29, NOW
Put the word “natural” in front of anything and it sounds so much sweeter, doesn’t it? Unless it turns out to be a natural disaster. Canada is the world’s third-biggest supplier of natural gas, to which you may respond, “Amazing! We’re fully loaded with a squeaky-clean-burning source of energy!” But is it as clean and green as its marketers would have us believe? It depends on how and where you get it. There’s our “conventional” gas that’s basically easy-access free gas found trapped below rock. And then there’s Canada’s biggest “unconventional” supply, meaning it’s a pain in the ass to get at (tightly locked in shale, coal beds, tight gas sands) and makes a fracking mess of things via hydraulic fracturing.
Many Canadians, especially in Ontario, have the impression that fracking is an unfortunate American problem, the process you see Matt Damon dramatizing in Promised Land or director Josh Fox documenting in GasLand. Alas, that’s far from the case. The ecological devastation that accompanies the high-pressure injection of millions of litres of water and tens of thousands of litres of chemicals per underground well is a reality in Canada, too. One biologist and former enviro consultant to the oil and gas biz in Alberta, Jessica Ernst, went public in 2006 about the burns she was getting from her shower and the fires she could light at her taps after Encana fracked into her aquifer. She’s suing Encana as well as the Alberta Environment and Energy Resources Conservation Board for $33 million, refusing to settle if it means signing a confidentiality agreement, which purportedly is what others have been doing.
Over in BC, records are being broken by the biggest hydraulic fracking ops in North America, triggering a slew of mini-earthquakes and a day of action against heavy fracker Chevron at the end of the month. Right now, there’s no fracking in Ontario – the Libs are “reviewing” their rules around the whole issue. To mark World Water Day today (Thursday, March 21), tell your MPP you want a Quebec-style moratorium. And tell your MP the same thing, especially in light of the federal enviro commissioner’s recent assessment showing that Ottawa is way too lax on fracking. The oil and gas biz is exempt from reporting the chemicals being pumped into the ground, which means Environment Canada and Health Canada can’t research and track fracking’s impact.
Don’t take the natural gas your pad uses for granted. Turn your furnace down, take shorter hot showers and try a few more raw food meals – beyond this weekend’s Earth Hour.