Greenhouse gas, not fracking, is the larger concern in natural resource development

Thursday, June 26, 2014

 Report "Towards a Road MapLeakage from oil and natural gas wells and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions present is of greater environmental concern than fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, say environmental scientists and engineers at the University of Waterloo and Geofirma Engineering, Ltd.

Hydraulic fracturing is not the main risk,” said Maurice Dusseault, a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “The main risk is poor well completion that can cause methane leakage.”

The risks presented by poor well completion can be mitigated with political will from governments and attention from the major natural resource companies. Professor Dusseault is urging that such measures be taken.

Professor Dusseault and his colleagues from Waterloo, Daniel Macdonald and Professor Richard E. Jackson – who works at Geofirma Engineering Ltd.recently produced a report detailing the risk and exploring solutions.

Methane, a strong greenhouse gas, is not a large public health risk nor is it considered to be a toxic agent by toxicologists. Professor Dusseault emphasizes that methane’s major impact is on climate change.

“I don’t want to raise unreasonable fears,” said Professor Dusseault. “This is not a huge public health issue, but I do not agree with widespread view in the oil and gas industry that the problem can be completely ignored – and (U.S.) President Obama agrees that methane escaping into the atmosphere is not desirable.”

Methane from leaking wells can also enter shallow aquifers and cause unpalatable, sour drinking water, something that isn’t toxic, but can be a nuisance and can make the groundwater useless. In rare cases, when seepage accumulates in a closed space, it can also be an explosion hazard, although few cases are known in Canada of this happening.

Professor Dusseault believes that in Alberta and British Columbia, the oil and gas industries are well regulated and do an excellent job compared to almost any other location worldwide. However, he and his colleagues suggest that they could do even better by being proactive in lessening methane gas emissions by ensuring that wells are more leakproof.

The natural resources industry and government regulatory bodies are developing resources that belong to each province --that is, to you and me,” said Dusseault. “They have a responsibility to act and address these concerns, not just dismiss them. That is not good corporate governance or good government.”