The Alberta NDP has renewed its call for a scientific review of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology. NDP environment critic Rachel Notley says an independent, science-based review is necessary because uncertainty about the risks associated with fracking are exaggerated in Alberta due to the number of abandoned well sites across the province.
“We just think it’s irresponsible to do [fracking] without first having a better sense of what the consequences are,” says Notley. She says that without a comprehensive review, which would ideally result in legislation specifically geared toward fracking, the provincial government does “not have the capacity to tell us if there’s a problem or not, because they’re not looking for it, first of all. Secondly, the nature of fracking has changed dramatically... we’re engaging in a much more risky form of fracking.”
Notley is particularly concerned with the possible effects horizontal fracking techniques could have on groundwater.
The NDP is not the only organization pressuring the Alberta government to initiate a study of fracking. The Council of Canadians is also campaigning for a review.
Notley says she is skeptical of the government’s claims that fracking is safe and closely monitored, especially after documents obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour revealed in November 2011 that the government entered into discussions with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to create a joint communications campaign to convince the public fracking is safe. That collaboration never materialized.
The quasi-independent Energy Resources Conservation Board, which reports directly to cabinet, is charged with regulating fracking activities in Alberta. It is currently reviewing its fracking rules, though the government has not expressed any intention to open a fully independent review.
Notley says she doesn’t believe the government understands the need for investigations apart from ERCB work.
“There’s a broad range of ways in which the government can act to protect the public and balance the need for sustainable and healthy economic development,” she says. “It’s a 40-year-old government that’s completely captured by the oil and gas industry, the end.”