Halifax Media Co-op

News from Nova Scotia's Grassroots

More independent news:
Do you want free independent news delivered weekly? sign up now
Can you support independent journalists with $5? donate today!

“The one red line we must not cross”

PEI ban on fracking is overdue

by Zack Metcalfe

Alan Goodwin, vice-president of operations with Adrok, in the PEI National Park. His equipment has the ability to detect minerals, oil and natural gas 4 km underground.  His appearance in the park raised concerns with some environmental groups. Was he searching for natural gas in advance of fracking operations?  Turns out he was only testing equipment. Judy Profitt photo
Alan Goodwin, vice-president of operations with Adrok, in the PEI National Park. His equipment has the ability to detect minerals, oil and natural gas 4 km underground. His appearance in the park raised concerns with some environmental groups. Was he searching for natural gas in advance of fracking operations? Turns out he was only testing equipment. Judy Profitt photo

In late February, Judy Profitt was driving through the Brackley Beach portion of the Prince Edward Island National Park, located on the north shore of this petite province, when she encountered Alan Goodwin.

Goodwin had a tent pitched on the roadside and equipment set up in the snow, very near where the beach gives way to frozen ocean. Profitt thought perhaps Goodwin was winter camping or indulging in some nature photography, judging by the tripods set up around his tent. This wasn’t the case.

“He told me his equipment can ‘see’ down 4 km under the surface of earth or water,” said Profitt. “I asked if they were checking the water table, as PEI is dependent on the ground water supply for drinking water and I know some wells have been going dry the past few years. He said, no, his equipment can pick up mineral deposits, oil and natural gas.”

It was an exceedingly cold day, causing Profitt to retreat to her van and then travel home. Once there she searched online for information about Adrok, the company Goodwin said he represented.

Adrok is a Scottish based company which, among other things, uses electromagnetic pulses to identify underground materials of interest to extractive industries, namely oil, gas and mining. In February of last year, they opened Adrok Canada on Prince Edward Island with financial support from the provincial government, amounting up to $212,000 in labour rebates and, to a lesser extent, rental incentives.

“That's when I started getting concerned that perhaps this company was looking for natural gas and the alarming thought of fracking entered my mind,” said Profitt.

Though a key part of Adrok’s business, Goodwin was not searching for oil and gas in the PEI National Park. He was testing the performance of his equipment in extremely cold weather. What’s more, he was pointing his equipment at the sky, not the ground, in an effort to properly calibrate the gear. The park was chosen for its clear skies and the lack of tall obstructions nearby, such as buildings and towering trees.

“One of the misnomers I got from environmental groups was that we were covertly looking for oil and gas on Prince Edward Island, which wasn’t the case,” said Goodwin, who is vice-president of operations with Adrok. “At this time we have no plans for oil and gas work in Atlantic Canada.”

At least in the case of natural gas, this perhaps isn’t surprising. With fracking moratoriums in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and southern Quebec, Atlantic Canada has fast become an unwelcoming region for the hydraulic fracturing industry. PEI, however, has fallen behind its neighbouring Maritime Provinces in prohibiting hydraulic fracturing, in spite of a growing movement to instill a ban.

Andrew Lush is a member of Don’t Frack PEI, a group formed in January of 2012.

“We do use the word moratorium because it’s more acceptable for some people, but really what we’re looking for is a ban,” said Lush. “Fracking is the one red line we must not cross on PEI.”

Lush said PEI is particularly vulnerable to the dangers of this industry, even more so than surrounding provinces, because all of PEI draws its groundwater from a single aquifer. Lush said PEI is very soft geologically and there are places where the shale bed (the rock layer fractured during the fracking process) actually intersects their single aquifer, increasing the possibility of groundwater contamination.

For these reasons and others, Lush and his organization says a ban on fracking is overdue. Lush points at the recently renewed moratorium in Nova Scotia, a precautionary measure put in place following a provincial review of hydraulic fracturing and its potential consequences.

“We’ve got worse shale than Nova Scotia,” said Lush. “We have worse bedrock than them. We should at least take the same precautions.”

PEI has a brief and unfortunate history with fracking. Six vertical wells were drilled across the province little under a decade ago, one of which is in Green Gables, Cavendish. It became known as the Green Gables Well, drilled by Halifax’s own Corridor Resources. On Dec 10, 2007, a broken pipe resulted in a spill of fracking fluid, a substance Lush described as both radioactive and toxic. The spill was reportedly cleaned to the satisfaction of the provincial government.

Before expiring in 2012, Lush said there were leases for 440,000 acres of land on PEI, available at $0.40 an acre. For context, the entire province totals just under 1.4 million acres, meaning these leases represented 31 per cent of the province. There are no active leases at this time.

Following Nova Scotia’s decision to renew its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in September of last year, PEI’s minister of environment, Janice Sherry, said there was no need for PEI to follow suit and declare whether it would ban or support fracking. This was because, then as now, there were no applications from industry to frack on PEI.

In an email to Lush on September 16 of last year, Sherry said, “the government's position on fracking has not changed. Future applications for hydraulic fracturing would not be considered without a complete Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to ensure groundwater resources and the environment would not be harmed.”

This brings Lush little comfort as other environmentally questionable projects, like the Plan B Highway Realignment in 2012, were approved after EIAs. He said the provincial government’s present attitude toward hydraulic fracturing isn’t very forward thinking.

“We’re trying to pre-empt any problems, or at least be able to be involved with the decision making [process], rather than the government doing it on their own,” said Lush. “Right now we don’t have any protection from fracking at all. Right now a company could come along and offer a bag of gold to the premier and they could be doing exploration tomorrow.”

Even from an economic perspective, Lush said fracking would be a detriment to PEI, a province which depends heavily on its tourism industry. Fracking platforms themselves look ugly to locals and tourists alike.

While job creation is often cited by supporters of fracking as a benefit of the industry, Lush points to a study conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts which ranks energy industries by how many jobs they create for every $1 million spent. The natural gas industry, of which fracking is a part, ranked dead last with only five jobs. Wind power produced over twice that, with 13 jobs for every $1 million investment. Solar ranked higher still with 14 jobs.

Wind, water, sun – energy for the long run is the official slogan of Don’t Frack PEI, arguing not only that fracking is a danger to PEI, but that it shouldn’t be taken seriously as a job creator or energy source when compared with the renewable alternatives available on PEI.

But their opposition to fracking on PEI is only one battle of many, said Lush. A growing coalition of groups on PEI intend to “win the war.”

In January of 2014, concerns over water quality became the unifying factor among environmental organizations the Island over, whether their focus was opposition to pesticide use, addressing the pandemic levels of runoff into local streams or preserving fish stocks. Groups like the Citizens Alliance of PEI, The PEI Watershed Alliance, Pesticide PEI, the Environmental Coalition of PEI, Save Our Seas and Shore and others joined to form the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water.

This coalition was inspired by the province wide debate over whether or not to lift a 12 year moratorium on high capacity deep water wells, a means of water extraction promoted by Cavendish Farms and the PEI Potato Board for irrigating crops. These wells are opposed by the coalition for fear of over-exploiting the Island’s sole aquifer. The moratorium was originally instilled in 2002 because of major drought conditions that year.

This debate still rages on, but the coalition’s efforts to protect PEI’s sensitive groundwater culminated in the call for a PEI water act, a single piece of legislation which would govern the sustainable use of water resources. Plans to create this water act were announced June 18, 2014 by the provincial government.

Another movement recently formed on Canada’s smallest province is Blue Dot PEI, a local branch of the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot movement, which aims to legislate the right of Canadians to a healthy environment. A key part of this movement is the right to clean water.

It’s the hope of Don’t Frack PEI these blossoming movements will act as the ban on hydraulic fracturing they’ve been calling for, since fracking makes extensive use of groundwater and brings with it the potential for groundwater contamination.

“The Blue Dot organization’s work to get environmental rights is at least providing some framework,” said Lush, “some overarching rules which would be broken by fracking and offshore oil development and water extraction and pesticides and nitrates and everything, so it’s the right way to go, I think. Other than fighting battles, we’re fighting the war with this one.”

Want more grassroots coverage?
Join the Media Co-op today.
Topics: Environment
1485 words

The site for the Halifax local of The Media Co-op has been archived and will no longer be updated. Please visit the main Media Co-op website to learn more about the organization.