Reward doesn't come without risk, and where hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is concerned there is sometimes too much emphasis on the latter while the former is not fully appreciated, according to a study by the Vancouver, BC-based Fraser Institute.
"While there are risks associated with any type of oil and gas extraction, or any large-scale human endeavor, there’s no evidence of unmanageable risk associated with hydraulic fracturing that justifies a ban or moratorium," said Kenneth Green, senior director with the Centre for Natural Resources at the Fraser Institute.
The Fraser study concluded that decisions made on fracking should be based on "realistic appraisals of risk," so Canadians are not unnecessarily denied the benefits of their natural resources. The study, "Managing the Risks of Hydraulic Fracturing," examines the economic potential of energy resource development via fracking in Canada and the claims about the risks of fracking made by the well stimulation practice's opponents.
There have been anti-fracking protests across Canada, and temporary fracking bans and moratoriums in Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, according to Green.
Bans on fracking, according to the research, imperil development of Canada's valuable energy resources. Canadian reserves subject to development using fracking have an estimated market value of up to C$4.6 trillion. In Quebec alone, shale gas deposits (which can be accessed via fracking) are worth between C$70 billion and C$140 billion at current natural gas prices, according to Fraser.
"By all measures, Canada's shale gas and oil potential is significant, and the development of those resources could generate significant wealth for Canadians and their families," Green said.
The study finds that the risks of increased air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and earthquakes associated with hydraulic fracturing are real, but they are manageable with currently available technologies and existing regulation, according to Fraser.
With regard to the potential for water pollution caused by fracking, Fraser turns to the journal Science and quotes, "more than one million hydraulic fracturing treatments have been conducted, with perhaps only one documented case of direct groundwater pollution resulting from injection of hydraulic fracturing chemicals used for shale gas extraction."
Canadian governments should choose to work with the oil and gas industry to manage the risks of fracking rather than ban the practice, Fraser concludes.
"Alberta has been aggressive in the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, and the industry itself has also adopted voluntary self-regulation practices that should ensure safe operations. The call for bans and moratoria are passionate, and no doubt heartfelt by those who fear the technology and/or oppose the product of that technology (hydrocarbons), but policymakers should ignore the siren song of the simplistic solution," Fraser said in its report.
"Bans and moratoria may make it seem like one is taking action against risk, but they simply defer those risks to a later date, when activity invariably resumes. And to the extent that learning is foregone along with the hydraulic fracturing during a moratorium, bans may increase future risks rather than mitigate them."