Nikiforuk has been one of the sharpest critics of the oil and gas industry in Canada over the last couple of decades, having written several books and countless articles about the risks posed by the industry. Tomorrow evening at the George Dawson Inn, he will be discussing a broad range of issues associated with the local industry.
“I’ll be talking in general about the industry and its economic and political importance in the province, and then it’s impact on water and watersheds, potential methane contamination of groundwater, the earthquake issue, the issues of land fragmentation – there are just so many issues here that this resource affects,” said Nikiforuk in an interview this afternoon with Mile 0 City. It’s an extreme resource that has extreme implications.”
In an article published today for the online news magazine, The Tyee, Nikiforuk explores the link between oil and gas activity – specifically, the practices of high-pressure injection of waste fluids deep into the earth’s crust – and earthquakes. He cites several studies done in northern England, the United States, Alberta and British Columbia that have suggested an inextricable link between both hydraulic fracturing and deep well injection and an increase in seismic activity.
For example, he cites a cluster of earthquakes in the 1980s that shook an area around Fort St. John, an area that had no history of seismic activity. He states that all of the earthquaks occurred “after the industry flooded reservoirs with water to recover hard-to-get oil.” He cites a study by the Canadian Journal of Exploration Geophysics in 1994 that states, "there do appear to be spatial and temporal correlations between the earthquakes and oil production in the Eagle West and Eagle fields. Fluid injection in particular must be considered as a possible cause."
He also notes that the BC Oil and Gas Commission is investigating 31 tremors with magnitudes as great as 4.3 that have shaken the Horn River Basin northeast of Fort Nelson since 2009, though he quotes a spokesperson for the Commission as saying the investigation is a proactive move and not one as a result of a proven link with hydraulic fracturing in that area.
Nikiforuk said regulators in British Columbia and elsewhere have been slow in responding to the serious risks posed by shale gas devlopment.
“It’s because the shale gas revolution caught regulators off guard,” he said. “They didn’t do their jobs in terms of baseline groundwater monitoring and in terms of baseline seismic monitoring in terms of where are the faults and fractures, and what’s going to happen if we start injecting millions of gallons of high-pressure waste water into certain formations.”
His full article in The Tyee can be viewed at http://thetyee.ca/News/2011/11/18/Fracking-And-Quaking/.
Nikiforuk said he fully supports a health inquiry into the impacts of the industry in the Northeast, but he said it needs to be thorough and include the risks of exposure to hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and other potentially-lethal toxins, and study the impacts to air and water quality and to livestock health, for example.
“If the B.C. government is just going to do a basic literature review, then why bother? It’s probably more important that they set up an H2S registry, that doctors in the region be educate on how to deal with H2S incidents, and that there be a proper emergency response system.”
Nikiforuk said he’s not advocating for the elimination of the industry, but for development to be controlled and at a pace that will maximize the benefits for local communities while minimizing the risk to human health as much as possible.
“If this is not done properly and on a proper scale, the community stands to lose its groundwater, air quality, vital agricultural areas and a whole lot of other things, for short-term monetary gain,” he said. “This thing is not going to last all that long – maybe 10 to 15 years – because who really knows what the depletion rates are on shale gas? We know that they are pretty damn rapid from the U.S. experience.”
His presentation tomorrow is part of an event hosted by the Peace Environment and Safety Trustees Society (PESTS), a local group of rural landowners who have banded together to call for stricter regulation of the industry in northeast British Columbia.
“Andrew has a really deep and broad background as far as unconventional gas goes. He has been researching it for years and is an excellent speaker, so we were really happy that he could find a slot where he could come up here,” said Lois Hill, a member of PESTS.
“The title we’ve given the evening is ‘Fracturing the Peace,’ which has a double meaning,” she continued. “It has to do of course with fracking, but also it has to do with how our peace of mind and peace and quiet in this area known as the Peace has been fractured by the sudden influx of industry into the quiet rural areas.”
She said the evening will begin at 7 p.m. with a short film by Karl Mattson of Rolla, who has had his own criticisms of the industry, specifically what he believes is a lack of emergency planning for rural homes next to natural gas facilities in case of leaks and breaks. Hill said she’s not sure what the film is about, but she said it will no doubt provide an interesting and local take on the issues. Nikiforuk’s presentation will follow, then an intermission with refreshments served, and then a question and answer period. There will also be a silent auction featuring items created by local artisans, with proceeds going to help cover the costs of hosting the event.