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Has fracking contaminated anybody’s well water?

On September 23, we started the annual pub-night speaker series for the Southern Ontario Laurentian SETAC group with an exciting talk by Richard Jackson. His talk, titled Has fracking contaminated anybody’s well water?, covered the controversial issue of hydraulic fracture stimulation or “fracking” as a non-conventional method of gas extraction, and how this process is related (or not related!) to ground water contamination. Richard has had an exciting and varied career path, and is now working with Geofirma Engineering. He started his talk by addressing the widespread negative perceptions surrounding fracking in the media. Many of these strong opinions have crossed the border from the USA, and consequently there has been a lot of backlash towards fracking in Canada. However, he explained Canada has much stronger regulations surrounding the process of gas extraction, and certain provinces could benefit from the revenue that fracking would provide. For us to understand the risks around fracking, Richard walked us through the technical process of extracting gas using this method. He underscored that, when fracking is performed correctly, there is negligible risk to contaminating drinking water sources. Richard illustrated this point using several Canadian case studies where fracking was blamed for drinking water contamination by natural gas in the area near a fracking operation. He showed us that it is almost always operator error that has lead to any cases of contaminated ground water. Most incidences were in fact caused by oversights in operation and mistakes made during the extraction process. Richard stated that these incidents of ground water contamination are largely preventable, and we need to create a good safety culture around fracking and its procedures. Moreover, he said that regulators and policy makers need to consider the issue of old and abandoned fracking wells. These wells need to be monitored to address any concern of old gas leaking to the surface, and to prevent new wells from being drilled too close to these old wells. What we can take away from Richard’s talk is that fracking—when performed safely and correctly—is a safe way to extract gas resources and could lead to increased natural resource profit for certain Canadian provinces. –Submitted by Erin McCallum

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