For almost a century Canada has been globally recognized as an energy titan endowed with incredible oil, natural gas, coal, and mineral resources. Our prosperity and economic stability as a nation has depended on a strong energy sector driven by innovation and a free market. High energy prices have bequeathed Alberta and Saskatchewan with substantial royalty windfalls and vast employment opportunities, the East, unfortunately, is not so naturally blessed. It is common knowledge that Quebec and Ontario are not home to significant oil deposits anymore, but the new energy game changer, shale gas, could be found in plentiful quantities.
Shale gas is merely natural gas found deep underground in sedimentary shale rock formations, it is extracted by a process known as hydraulic fracking. The process is simple and safe: 1-2 mile holes are drilled, a compound of sand, water and chemicals is inserted to loosen up the shale formation, and finally the released gas is collected. The chemicals usually make up just 1% of the injected loosening mix, and are not dissimilar from the inherent, natural chemicals found in the rock formation itself. Shale formations are almost always well below water tables, so groundwater contamination is essentially impossible.
When groundwater tables are drilled through to get to the shale, the concern lies with contaminants leaking into the water through poorly constructed pipes and low integrity well casings. The industry has responded by developing well sealed, pressurised, multilayered drilling pipes. Any contaminants must pass through these layers of constantly monitored piping. Furthermore, fracking operators consistently monitor and observe groundwater sources for any pollution, greatly increasing safety and control over drilling wells. This is done through separate, monitoring water table wells, which are drilled before any shale gas extraction commences.
No independent, scientific reports have provided firm, empirical evidence linking fracking to human sickness. Close co-operation between the industry and government has and will continue to ensure safety. Contrary to the claims of many environmentalists, fracking is heavily regulated by state governments in the United States, many companies, such as Shell, are transparent, open, and supportive of these regulations. Critics have unfairly and wrongfully compared the supposed dangers of fracking to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The differences could not be more acute, fracking does not tap high pressure reservoirs and high flow rates into water zones are practically non-existent.
Shale gas has already changed the U.S. energy market and will provide an enormous new source of desperately needed domestic energy. Reports indicate that the United States will produce more energy than Saudi Arabia by 2020, energy independence, long desired by American politicians, could be achieved by 2035. This growing energy bonanza can be attributed to new technologies and innovation, and was basically inconceivable a decade ago. Depressed communities in America’s rust belt have benefited from fracking and manufacturing is returning to service the sector’s needs. The downward pressure on gas prices has been extraordinary, falling from 15$ per million BTU to 2.5$ per million BTU.
The perspicacious, much lauded Drummond Report on Ontario’s dilapidated finances emphasises the fact that high energy costs will remain a heavy burden on consumers and manufacturers. While much of the foundational basis of these higher costs has been enormous international demand, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have done everything in their power to make the problem worse. Expensive, wasteful interventions in the energy market have driven jobs out and hydro bills up; meanwhile green special interests are pocketing huge sums. The government’s response to shale gas is a classic case of textbook Liberal regulatory statism: no fracking because the technology is ‘unsafe.’
While some activity is underway, a clear green light would usher in a major boom in exploration and investment; this would create jobs, tax revenue, and would lessen our dependence on foreign energy. There are three prospective regions in Ontario which could hold shale gas. The northern periphery of the massive U.S. Marcellus Formation and the Kettle Point formations affecting south western Ontario are the largest. The other two are located around the Blue Mountain and Collingwood areas. The potential shale deposits in Ontario have yet to be fully discovered but it is clear that domestic and foreign companies are ready to step in and invest. Ontario has consistently suffered higher unemployment than the rest of the country, jobs are scarce and over 600,000 men and women cannot find employment.
Instead of complaining about the ‘science’ of fracking, the government of Ontario should respect the 50 year old technology and free up the market to the private sector. Let’s create jobs, opportunity and energy security, let’s get fracking.