Earlier this month, the Quebec government announced a temporary moratorium on shale gas development in the province. Although this moratorium will halt shale gas development for at least a year, it is by no means the end of the debate as to whether Quebec should continue investing in such a project in the future.
Shale gas development requires the use of the hydraulic fracturing process, or “fracking.” To put it quite simply, fracking involves drilling holes into the ground and injecting water, sand, and chemicals at a high pressure. This is done to create a fracture in the shale rock (hence, fracking) so that the natural gas may be readily obtainable.
The problem is that there are various environmental and health impacts involved: greenhouse gas emissions, industrial intrusions on agricultural land, and water contamination, for example. The latter has already been witnessed in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Texas where the drinking water is contaminated by chemicals such as benzene, believed to cause leukemia, as well as methane. The documentary Gasland illustrates the impact of drinking water contamination by showing citizens lighting their tap water on fire. Similar phenomenon were seen in Sublette County, Wyoming, where the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did a study in 2004 showing no risk in the drinking water. It was later proven that the EPA’s initial conclusions were false, and that the drilling activity in the area had indeed contaminated the drinking water, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
That being said, I am not ignorant of the economic demands. I understand that with a growing and over-consuming population, energy demands need to be met. However, as demonstrated by the EPA’s shortcomings, governments will often make rash decisions in order to make money. How do we know that this will not happen in Quebec? Moreover, even though the Quebec government has pledged to take this year during the temporary moratorium to inspect their projects and try to make then as safe as possible, will a year really be enough to do thorough inspections of the potential long-term environmental and health impacts? Of course not.
Stéphan Séjourné, a geologist and shale gas industry worker said that at least this industry is occurring in a populated and agricultural area, as opposed to remote areas like it is in the U.S. Séjourné argued that in this respect, the industry will be held accountable if any negative impacts were to occur. While I believe he has a valid point in that the project’s deficiencies will indeed be more apparent, he does not address the fact that if there is one small contamination issue it will impact thousands of people.
One thing that has impressed me this year is how active and involved the citizens in Quebec are, and how effective their activism has been. If it wasn’t for the multitude of protests, petitions, workshops, and meetings that have been happening surrounding this issue, the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) would not have had such a meaningful impact on the Quebec government’s decision to call for a moratorium, even if it is only temporary. It is important that we show our support for a full moratorium on shale gas development, because development is happening in our province, and even on the island of Montreal.
Sariné Willis-O’Connor is a U3 Psychology student, and a member of Greenpeace McGill. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Greenpeace will be hosting an event on lower campus on April 1 about shale gas, and you can go to montrealenergy.blogspot.com for more information.