Canada and fracking

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Fracking has been in common use by the petroleum industry in Canada since at least the mid-1960s.[1] Massive hydraulic fracturing has been widely used in Alberta since the late 1970s to recover gas from low-permeability sandstones of the Spirit River Formation.[2] The method is currently used in development of the Cardium Formation, Duvernay Formation, Montney Formation and Viking Formation in Alberta, Bakken formation in Saskatchewan, Montney Formation and Horn River Formation in British Columbia.


Concerns about fracking began in late July 2011, when the Government of British Columbia gave Talisman Energy a long-term water licence to draw water from the BC Hydro-owned Williston Lake reservoir, for a twenty-year term. Fracking has also received criticism in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and the Nova Scotia government is currently reviewing the practice, with recommendations expected in March 2012. The practice has been temporarily suspended in parts of Quebec, pending an environmental review. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has also expressed concern.[3]

During October 2013 public conflict began between the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick and the hydraulic fracturing company SWN. Fuelling the conflict were SWN's plans to use the land of the Elsipogtog Nation for fracking. The First Nations people of the area had previously raised concerns about the environmental impacts of fracking as well as the government's failure to consult with them.[4] Public protests began when the First Nations people realized their voice was not being heard. Much of the media coverage on the protests has portrayed the First Nations people as violent and destructive. However, what most people do not know is that the land in question is legally First Nation land. The Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760-1761 did not cede land or resources,[5] the government of Canada does not own the land and therefore cannot legally permit SWN to use the land for fracking purposes. On December 6, SWN announced it was stopping fracking for the year, leaving the job incomplete.[5]

According to the investigative journalism organization, Reveal, from 2006 to 2015 there have been at least 74 workplace deaths in the Bakken formation.[6]


Fracking industry estimates for shale gas reserves in northern British Columbia are 200 trillion cubic feet of gas. EnCana began fracking in BC in the late 1990s. It moved to Alberta in the early 2000s and began using nitrogen, instead of water, to frack shallow coal seams, or what are commonly called coalbed methane.[7]

Offshore Drilling

November 2015 Shell Canada began drilling two wells an off coast of Maine and Nova Scotia in Canadian waters. Statoil and Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum planning oil drilling off the coast of Maine, near Shell's lease also in Canadian waters.[8]

Earthquakes and Seismic Activity

CBC News reported that hydraulic fracturing wastewater injection caused a 4.4-magnitude earthquake in northeastern B.C. last year. This makes it one of the largest earthquakes ever triggered by fracking.

Several drillers were fracking and disposing waste in the area, but B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission thinks it Progress Energy triggered the earthquake.

The Oil and Gas Commission ordered Progress Energy to reduce the volume of fracking fluid being used. CBC News reported that the company complied.

In August 2015, Progress Energy temporarily shut down another hydraulic fracturing site after a 4.6-magnitude earthquake occurred nearby. The Alberta Energy Regulator automatically shuts down a fracking site when an earthquake hits a magnitude of 4.0 or higher[9]

Researchers published in 2015 found that Alberta earthquakes tied to fracking, not just wastewater injection. One earthquake occurred in Fox Creek, population 3,000, in western Alberta. Fox Creek had more than 50 quakes in a four-month period in 2013. A 4.4 magnitude earthquake in Fox Creek January 22, 2015 may have set the record for the largest earthquake likely tied to hydraulic fracturing with a magnitude 4.4 event on Jan. 22. Inside Climate News reported that hydraulic fracturing induced earthquakes as well as wastewater injection induced, have occurred not only in western Alberta, but also British Columbia, Oklahoma, and Ohio. According to geophysicist, Dr. Jeffrey Gu, from the University of Alberta, hydraulic fracturing earthquakes likely occur days to weeks after the frack job. Wastewater injection caused earthquakes can happen months to years after the injection.[10]

January 12, 2016 a 4.8 quake hit the hydraulic fracturing operation at Fox Creek. Fox Creek was shut down immediately.[11]

Dr. Gu estimates in the last six months before the January 12 earthquake, there have been hundreds of quakes in the area ranging in magnitude from 2.0 to 3.0.[12]

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) said that in 2015, there were 363 tremors in and around Fox Creek.[13]

According to a Canadian province's energy regulatory agency report, one earthquake is recorded on average each day in a western Canadian region where there is hydraulic fracturing.[14]



Regional regulators in both BC and Alberta have passed rules which allow more intensive drilling: Alberta allows frackers to pack wells close together and release more gas by pumping more water from shallow coal seams. Although British Columbia distributed detailed regulations in 2010 limiting where and when frack companies can drill, and also set environmental standards, it gave the Oil and Gas Commission authority for exempting gas drillers from virtually all of the regulations.

In December 2010, British Columbia’s auditor general issued a report focused on the province’s groundwater and concluded that "the provincial government is not effectively ensuring the sustainability of British Columbia’s groundwater resources."

In 2010, the governments of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding - calling themselves the New West Partnership - for a plan of sharing information and creating standards for fracking and water use. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers also took part. The memo, later leaked, said the three provinces and the fracking industry would work together in creating “key messages” on hydraulic fracturing in order to convince the public fracking was safe, stating "the project will help to demonstrate that shale gas extraction is viable, safe, and environmentally sustainable."[15]


According to the Canada National Energy Board, industry in Saskatchewan drill the first 38,000 barrels of tight oil royalty-free. The board also notes that "Alberta imposes a five per cent royalty on the first 50,000, 60,000, or 70,000 barrels, depending on well specifics" - much lower than most states in the U.S. A 2013 analysis by Barry Rodgers Oil and Gas Consulting found the average U.S. state government takes home a 61.1 per cent share of revenue from tight oil fracking, compared to 44.8 per cent for Canadian provinces.[16]

Holds and Moratoriums


Shale natural gas are produced from the Duvernay Formation in central Alberta using horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing.[17] According to Alberta Energy, "approximately 174,000 wells have been hydraulically fractured in Alberta since the technology was introduced more than 50 years ago."[18]


In April 2012, the Canadian province of Quebec moved from a de facto ban on shale gas development to a total moratorium after a report issued by the Quebec Environment Minister Pierre Arcand recommended the minister not authorize fracking even for research purposes due to environmental concerns with the process. Quebec issued a temporary ban on hydraulic fracturing pending further study in March 2011, putting a halt to exploration in the province, though companies had expected limited drilling for research purposes. The ban came after environmental groups, farmers, and others in Quebec had spoken out against shale gas development in the province. Questerre has land prospective for shale gas in Quebec, including about 324,000 hectares where Talisman Energy has the majority interest and another 81,000 hectares with other partners.[19]

Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet has said she vows to impose a complete moratorium on fracking until a new and more complete environmental assessment by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) is completed, expected for November 2013. It is believed the review will also look at alternatives to shale gas exploitation.[20]

In May 2013, the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, Wildlife and Parks, Mr. Yves-François Blanchet, introduced Bill 37 in the Québec National Assembly in order to establish a moratorium on various activities related to shale natural gas exploration and production in the St. Lawrence lowlands in Quebec. It was reported that "The proposed moratorium would remain in effect until new rules for hydrocarbon exploration and production are adopted or for a maximum period of five years. It would apply to all drilling, fracturing and injectivity testing activities related to exploration for or production of shale gas. These activities would thus be prohibited on the territory covered by Bill 37, subject to a maximum fine of $6,000,000 or a maximum term of imprisonment of three years."[21]

Nova Scotia

In April 2012, the Nova Scotia government issued a two-year hold on hydraulic fracturing, saying it needs more time to study the practice. The government had planned to release a review of the industry in spring 2012, but announced the report has been put off until mid-2014, prompting critics to suggest the ruling NDP is trying to avoid the issue until after the next election. Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition was encouraged by Nova Scotia's move, but said they would prefer a full-fledged moratorium backed by provincial legislation.[22]


In November 2013 Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley declared a moratorium on fracking in the province of Newfoundland, saying the government will not approve fracking onshore or offshore pending further review.[23]


Untested Science: Fracking natural gas controversy


Alberta landowner Jessica Ernst filed a lawsuit against EnCana, Alberta Environment and Energy Resources Conservation Board of negligence and unlawful activities. Over ten years ago, EnCana began hydraulic fracturing throughout central Alberta. It was reported that on "April 27, 2011 lawyers representing Jessica Ernst, a 54-year-old oil patch consultant, released a 73-page statement of claim that alleges that EnCana broke multiple provincial laws and regulations and contaminated a shallow aquifer used by a rural community with natural gas and toxic industry-related chemicals. The claim methodically reports how Alberta’s two key groundwater regulators, Alberta Environment and the ERCB, 'failed to follow the investigation and enforcement processes that they had established and publicized.'"[24] In other words, Ernst alleges that Encana contaminated her groundwater by fracking shallow coal seams near her property.[25]

However, in September 2011 the Court of Appeal argued in an 11-page decision that Energy Resources Conservation Board (now the Alberta Energy Regulator) owed "no duty of care to individual landowners harmed by industrial activity." Ernst is now seeking to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.</ref name=can>

Citizen opposition

New Brunswick

Protests have taken place since spring 2013 in New Brunswick, when SWN Resources of Canada (owned by Houston-based Southwestern Energy) began exploring for natural gas deposits in the region. On September 30, members of the Elsipogtog First Nation Sock began blockading Route 134 near Rexton, and on Oct. 1 they issued an eviction notice to SWN. The tribal council planned to pass a resolution preventing the government and shale gas companies from continuing their work by reclaiming all unoccupied reserve land and giving it back to First Nations.[26]

SWN Resources went to the Court of Queen's Bench and successfully sought an injunction to end the protest. On October 17, 2013, the police moved in to forcibly remove the blockade. Protesters say that police arrived with guns drawn, and used pepper spray and fire hoses on elders, and began arresting people. Police say some protesters also held firearms and used Molotov cocktails. At the end of the conflict, 40 people were arrested and 5 police cars were burned. After the arrests, a number of "sympathy protests" sprang up in other parts of New Brunswick, as well as in southern Ontario and Winnipeg. Elsipogtog First Nation Councillor Robert Levi, who was among those arrested, said protesters will try to stay at the site despite the injunction, and they want a peaceful resolution to the dispute.[26]


According to lobbyist registry data, as of September 2012 there are 57 lobbyists representing the natural gas industry to the 85 elected officials and government agencies in the province of British Columbia.[27]




  1. J.E.S. Milne and R.D. Howie, "Developments in eastern Canada in 1965," Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Jun. 1966, v.50 n.6 p.1298.
  2. Douglas J. Cant and Valerie G. Ethier, "Lithology-dependent diagenetic control of reservoir properties of conglomerates, Falher member, Elmworth Field, Alberta," Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Aug. 1984, v.68 n.8 p.1044.
  3. "Northern B.C. fracking licence concerns critics", (July 29, 2011). Retrieved on 2011-07-30. 
  5. 5.0 5.1
  6. "OSHA to take hard look at ‘big oil’ in the Bakken" Jennifer Gollan, Reveal, July 3, 2015.
  7. [ "Canada fracking creates ‘test tube’ residents in B.C., Alberta">r Lynn Herrmann,Digital Journal, January 5, 2012.
  8. "Nova Scotia approves oil exploration lease next to Georges Bank, entrance to Gulf of Maine" By Colin Woodard, Portland Press Herald, December 1, 2015.
  9. [ "Fracking triggered 2014 earthquake in northeastern B.C. Quake one of world's largest ever triggered by hydraulic fracturing"> Betsy Trumpener, CBC News, Aug 26, 2015.
  10. [ "Alberta Earthquakes Tied to Fracking, Not Just Wastewater Injection"> Zahra Hirja, Inside Climate News, Aug 6, 2015.
  11. [ "Fox Creek fracking operation closed indefinitely after earthquake"> CBC News, January 12, 2016.
  12. [ "Fox Creek fracking operation closed indefinitely after earthquake"> CBC News, January 12, 2016.
  13. [ "Fracking in Alberta: daily quakes and thirsty residents"> Duc Tué Dang, Yahoo News, January 15, 2016.
  14. [ "Fracking in Alberta: daily quakes and thirsty residents"> Duc Tué Dang, Yahoo News, January 15, 2016.
  15. Lynn Herrmann, [ "Canada fracking creates ‘test tube’ residents in B.C., Alberta," Digital Journal, January 5, 2012.
  16. Andrew Nikiforuk, "How Much Does Western Canada Subsidize Fracking? Compared to US gov'ts, which take home a greater percentage of revenue, quite a bit,", Feb 19, 2014.
  17. The Duvernay Shale. Retrieved on 2012-03-04.
  18. "Shale Gas" Alberta Energy, accessed September 16, 2014.
  19. "Canada's Quebec Bans Shale Gas Hydrofracking Pending Studies," Sofia News Agency, April 4, 2012.
  20. Michelle Lalonde, "‘A beautiful day' for environmentalists: Shale gas, Gentilly both get the chop," The Gazette, September 20, 2012.
  21. ""Québec Bill to Prohibit Certain Shale Natural Gas Exploration and Production Activities"", McCarthy Tetrault, May 15, 2013.
  22. Michael MacDonald, "Nova Scotia government puts hydraulic fracturing on hold for two more years," Canadian Press, April 16, 2012.
  23. "Moratorium on fracking announced by Newfoundland government," The Telegram, Nov 4, 2013.
  24. "Multi-Million Dollar Landmark North American Lawsuit on Hydraulic Fracturing and Its Impact on Groundwater" Ernst v. EnCana Corporation, accessed September 16, 2014.
  25. "Last Stop for High Profile Fracking Suit: Supreme Court" Andrew Nikiforuk,, September 16, 3014.
  26. 26.0 26.1 "RCMP, protesters withdraw after shale gas clash in Rexton," CBC News, Oct 17, 2013.
  27. Kevin Grandia, "The Natural Gas Lobbyist Rush is on in British Columbia," Desmogblog, Sep. 28, 2012.

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