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Canada Launches Separate Studies on Fracking Science

The Canadian government is launching two separate studies on the science of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and its potential impact on the environment.

According to media reports, Environment Minister Peter Kent said he has approached the nonprofit Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) to conduct the science study, asking the corporation to assess "the state of scientific knowledge on potential environmental impacts from the development of Canada's shale gas resources."

CCA spokeswoman Samantha Rae told NGI's Shale Daily that Kent's request had not been officially received yet, adding that all assessment requests from the federal government ultimately needed to be approved by Industry Minister Christian Paradis.

"My guess is [the request] is in the pipeline to be received but it hasn't actually come through our doors yet," Rae said Thursday. She added that it typically takes the CCA between 12 and 24 months to complete a study, the average length of time being about 18 months.

Henry Lau -- a spokesman for Environment Canada (EC), the ministry's official name -- told NGI's Shale Daily that Kent has also asked ministry staff to prepare an in-house plan to examine potential environmental impacts from shale gas development.

"These studies will help [EC] better understand how the environmental impacts of shale gas may be different from conventional gas extraction, what gaps there may be in our understanding of these impacts and what science and technology are needed to fill those gaps," Lau said Thursday. "[We] have been and are continuing to monitor ongoing studies related to environmental impacts of shale gas development [and] are working closely with other federal government departments on this file."

Ottawa had threatened to intervene if officials there thought the provincial and territorial governments across Canada weren't doing enough to safely regulate fracking (see Shale Daily, June 22). Since then, both British Columbia and New Brunswick have declined to conduct environmental impact studies on the practice but have taken other regulatory and precautionary measures (see Shale Daily, Sept. 12; June 24). Meanwhile Quebec is allowing fracking to continue for exploration purposes only while it conducts its own two-year environmental assessment of shale gas (see Shale Daily, March 10).

"As we have said before, this is mainly a provincial and territorial responsibility," Lau said.

Travis Davies, spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), told NGI's Shale Daily that the organization welcomes the CCA's participation and believes its findings and recommendations will be based on "good science."

"CAPP believes in the value of science-based discussion of energy issues, including shale gas and hydraulic fracturing," Davies said Thursday. "We respect the Council of Canadian Academies as an organization that is devoted to rigorous scientific study. We welcome the fact that the government is seeking input from industry on this issue, and that the government has pledged to work with us." But Davies indicated there were some lingering questions about the study to be performed by EC.

"We would like to know more about the scope of the proposed examinations, and how specifically industry will be asked to contribute," Davies said. "Canadian natural gas producers understand that the public has questions about shale gas, and they want to know more about how we develop this resource. We strongly believe that all stakeholders should have access to credible, objective information."

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