Thursday, December 18, 2014

Studies in New York and Quebec Reject Fracking

Two studies cast aspersions on the value of fracking suggesting that the risks outweigh the benefits. In the last few days both New York State and the Canadian province of Quebec have released reports that say the deleterious impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) for natural gas overshadow the economic benefits. The findings of a five year New York state study and a four year Quebec report show that fracking offers more risk than reward.

The New York study assessing environmental, economic and public health effects of fracking was presented on Wednesday February 17th and it pointed to a litany of deleterious impacts including water contamination. It also indicated that the financial returns were far less than initially forecast.

A moratorium on fracking has been in effect in New York since 2008 to allow scientists to thoroughly investigate the issue. A total of 170 towns and cities in New York have already passed fracking bans or moratoria and a recent court decision recognizes their legal right to do so.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it clear that his government's policy on fracking will be informed by the science. The New York study prompted state Department of the Environmental Conservation commissioner Joseph Martin to announce that he would issue a legally binding statement prohibiting fracking. Acting state health commissioner Howard Zucker put it even more bluntly when he said, "after looking at the plethora of reports, my answer is no,”

In addition to New York state, Fracking has also been banned in many other places around the world including Germany and France.

The Quebec study identified concerns about the potential impact of fracking on aquifers. It also identified a number of other concerns. According to a Quebec environmental assessment agency (Bureau des audiences publique sur l’environnement or BAPE) report released on Monday December 15th, the benefits of shale gas (fracking) development in Quebec are not worth the risks.

The report found that fracking could have “major impacts” on nearby communities, from polluting the air to increasing traffic and noise.

"The activities of the industry could engender consequences for the quality of the environment, particularly on the quality of surface and underground water," the document said.

Based on a cost-benefit analysis, using projections for the price of natural gas for the next 25 years, the BAPE observed, "the exploitation of shale gas in the St. Lawrence Lowlands would not be profitable for the industry...it hasn’t been shown that the financial advantages for Quebec would be sufficiently important to compensate for the costs and externalities for society and the environment," the report said.

The BAPE found that shale gas development could increase Quebec’s greenhouse gas emissions by three to 23.2 per cent. In addition the increased truck traffic would accelerate the deterioration of Quebec's roads.

Quebec imposed a ban on fracking in 2011 pending the results of environmental studies, including the BAPE assessment. The ruling government of Quebec has said they need more time to study the 570 page report before making a final decision.

Fracking has been growing at a tremendous pace particularly in the US and this is increasing climate change causing emissions while reducing investments in renewable energy. These two studies contribute to the growing body of evidence that is tempering enthusiasm for fracking. 

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