Panel Finds Oversight Critical for Responsible Shale Gas Development in Canada

A new expert panel report, Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada, concludes that shale gas development must be supported by well-targeted science and management strategies to understand and mitigate potential impacts.

The report, released May 1, 2014 by the Council of Canadian Academies, was compiled following a request from Environment Canada for an arm’s length examination of the impacts of shale gas extraction — in particular, those impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing.

The panel’s report covers potential impacts associated with: well integrity; groundwater and surface water; greenhouse gas emissions; land impacts; seismic events; and human health. In each instance, the report concludes that not enough is known. Key findings are as follows:

"In most instances, shale gas extraction has proceeded without sufficient environmental baseline data being collected (e.g., nearby groundwater quality, critical wildlife habitat) ...The assessment of environmental impacts is [therefore] hampered by a lack of information about many key issues, particularly the problem of fluids escaping from incompletely sealed wells.

"Some of the possible environmental and health effects of shale gas development may take decades to become apparent. These include the creation of subsurface pathways between the shale horizons being fractured and fresh groundwater, gas seepage along abandoned wells, and cumulative effects on the land and communities.

"Full disclosure of chemicals and the chemical composition of flowback water is a necessary but insufficient step in the assessment of the environmental risks associated with drilling and fracturing. Information is also required on potentially hazardous chemicals produced down-hole by chemical interactions under high temperature and pressure. This includes information on concentration, mobility, persistence in groundwater and surface water, and bio-accumulation properties, for each chemical on its own and as a mixture."

For more information and to download a copy of the report, visit the Council’s website.

Canadian Water and Wastewater Association