Whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, causes earthquakes or pollutes groundwater is still being studied. There are prominent and outspoken pro-frackers like T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire chairman and CEO of hedge fund BP Capital, who says that fracking is 100 per cent safe, period. In his view, there has never been a single piece of evidence that fracking creates any problems of any kind. He claims to have been fracking since 1952, and to have fracked over 2,000 wells since, with no environmental issues of any kind.
Others take a less one-sided view of the question. Scientists in the US, for instance, have been studying increased seismic activity in Oklahoma after a report by the National Academies of Science in 2012 found that natural gas production and the high-pressure injection of wastewater deep into the earth were increasing the risk of earthquakes.
Aside from the seismological impacts of fracking, more environmentalists are concerned about the potential for pollution of groundwater. Of great concern is the fact that in Canada companies engaged in fracking are not required to disclose the chemical composition of the fluids they use. It is known that these include hydrochloric acid and ethylene glycol, or antifreeze, among many others. The chemicals are mixed with water and sand and are used to break apart the shale rock deep underground, thus releasing the gas. Industry people insist that the chemicals and the water that they contaminate are not in contact with groundwater. The British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission says there are no documented cases of groundwater contamination by fracking materials.
Now the government, which says it needs more information about the process, wants these companies to disclose, on a voluntary basis, the chemicals they use.
This comes as evidence continues to mount that there has been contamination of groundwater at depths of up to two kilometres in the United States. The link between fracking and gases showing up in drinking water is said to be “unquestionable” in certain areas of the US, including Colorado and Wyoming, according to a spokesman for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The US Environmental Protection Agency is currently investigating this link and is due to report on its findings this year.
What the Canadian government intends to do with the voluntary information about chemicals used, to be provided by fracking companies, is not clear at this time.