Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: fracking

The Land, The People and The Economy

Originally published as a column on NewsKamloops on Friday March 4, 2016. 

On Tuesday night I was part of a group of people who gathered at TRU to watch the documentary ‘Fractured Land’ featuring Caleb Behn, an indigenous young man who is both a lawyer and an activist. His Goliath is the fracking industry in the BC Northeast and the possible development – unless something happens to halt the project – of the site C dam, which will add more insult to the injury already hurting the area.

It was hard not to shift in your seat as the show drew to an end and left everyone wondering what the best way to do things is after all. People have a love-hate relationship with fossil fuels, more so in the areas where the consequences of taking them out of the ground is seen in declining health, an increased rate of birth defects and also in the way their immediate natural world is affected.

Is leaving everything in the ground the solution? That’s naiveté at its best. Not because it is a bad idea but because we are still dependent on fossil fuels and the industry will not hang its hat any time soon. A smooth enough transition to renewable energy sounds commendable but… our leaders are still talking pipelines, fracking wells are still being drilled and an environmental black-eye like site C dam project is still to become reality.

The recent Paris meeting COP21 had many nations, especially island dwellers who are literally in harm’s way, trace the lines in the sand in regards to what temperature increase their now fragile worlds can tolerate before tipping point(s) becomes evident. That is, in less palatable terms, the point of no return.

But once the colourful sparkles of fireworks died off and the champagne glasses were put away, the New Year came with some uncomfortable surprises. It’s getting hot, scientists warn, and it’s getting shifty, weather pattern-wise, as is the case on the East coast. At the time of this writing on Thursday, March 3, the latest measurements showed that the average temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere have pushed through the 2 degrees Celsius above the usual (normal) values.

You know it’s getting hot when the Iditarod organizers have to haul in snow to make up for the missing white matter. That’s snow proofing and it cannot do more than be a Band-Aid solution.

That uncomfortable shifting in one’s seat again. But all is not lost. If it’s hot in one spot only many will carry on with their lives as if nothing is happening. If it’s hot in most places, people start to notice and action follows. There’s hope.

Luckily the dreary news coincides with the wrapping up of the Globe 2016 Leadership Summit in Vancouver. The conclusions included plans to phase out coal, reduce the methane emissions generated by the oil and gas industry and a province-specific carbon pricing scheme.

It sounds optimistic though the pipelines stay for now, which is not optimistic. Nor is the existent dialogue between the present government and oil companies regarding Arctic drilling, but if enough eyes are on it, perhaps public consultations will become a must and thus we will have a chance to speak up.

We are but a country among many contributing to the rise in greenhouse gases and though our contribution is low compared to other countries such as the US and China, the undeniable reality of intersecting economies should understandably push our present leadership towards finding solutions to reflect the present environmental challenges (yes, trade partnerships signed by the previous and present government can get in the way).

But there is a bright side too. Climate change has become a topic, a hot one and not just in environmental circles. Dialogue brings hope and it brings solutions.

Protecting the environment does not have to be the deadly enemy of economic growth, our PM Justin Trudeau said not long ago. The green energy sector can create jobs while honouring the commitment towards our beautiful blue dot, and it can assist, at a large scale, our transition to renewable energy sources that will see us on a more hopeful trajectory as a planet.

One thing is clear though. Economic growth can easily transition into being powered by greed rather than morals pertaining to the benefit of us all, and when it does, ill effects become ignored or concealed. Here’s to hoping that we have learned enough from the past and present in order to make the future a better one where greed need not apply, not if survival is intended.

As for doing something at an individual level, I have been told repeatedly, that will not help much. True, but it will save us from occasional despair and it will lead to a shift in how we think at community level, which counts.

To Frack Or Not To Frack

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on January 15, 2016. 

Amidst the welcome news of the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge pipelines being shut down by the BC government, the fact that fracking is still considered an acceptable process for extracting natural gas is somewhat baffling.

After all, the earthquake that rattled Fox Creek, Alta., and a large area surrounding it, was no small matter. At 4.8 magnitude, the earthquake was serious enough to make the Alberta Energy Regulator close the operation indefinitely. The decision is a wise one and the earthquake a cautionary tale that no one should be allowed to downplay.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, comes with many risks. High-pressure fluid – as much as half a million litters of water with additives – is injected into deep wells in order to crack rocks and force out the natural gas trapped in the shale.

Aside from an increased risk of earthquakes (231 triggered by the shale gas industry between August 2013 and October 2014) that seem to increase in magnitude as more wells are being dug, fracking comes with a high risk of water contamination.

While some can argue that the province needs its natural gas project to continue in order to secure revenue and provide jobs, the controversial operations are bound to put some areas of BC and the people who live there at considerable risk.

The recent Fox Creek earthquake, as well as the two that occurred in British Columbia last year, share some commonalities: they were all caused by fracking and registered over 4 on the seismic scale. Hence the temporary (short or long-term) closing of the operations, yet unfortunately not severe enough to cause a re-evaluation of the process.

That many people in the area where fracking operations occur, as well as environmentalists, are showing great concern is only natural.

After all, natural gas giant Petronas, the company behind the huge LNG developments in BC, was discovered to have a poor reputation when it comes to safety matters. Not exactly what the public wants to hear about an industry that has been mushrooming in northeastern British Columbia.

And mushrooming is the right term indeed, as more than 7,300 wells have been drilled since 2005 in British Columbia. The trouble is, the more wells they dig and the more additive-treated water is pumped into them to release the gas, the higher the risk of earthquakes and leakage of toxic and carcinogenic compounds (yes, they are) into fresh aquifers. We can figure out ways to exist without natural gas, but there is no way we can ever exist without water. Which means that we have to preserve what we have at all costs rather than have so much of it used by industries that do not honour a green-energy commitment, nor admit the putative health and environmental effects they inflict.


As if an increased risk of earthquakes and water contamination is not enough, adding the release of methane into the atmosphere as yet another fracking side-effect (a 2013 report pointed out that the actual release is 70 percent higher than initially thought), should make us all wonder why fracking is allowed to continue the way it does.

After all, as with an oil spill in a pristine area, the effects of fracking can greatly affect a community. In Hudson’s Hope, BC, the site of five fracking wells and also the place of a continuous landslide which people blame on the fracking operation, the reality is as dark as could be, water-wise.

The only source of water for the community is contaminated with heavy metals, not that anyone claims responsibility for it. A report by the B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission stated that the area has naturally occurring metals and is prone to land instability. How conveniently impaired one could say. Yet sarcasm aside, the reality is a sad one. The water advisory is still on and it’ll probably be for a while. People cannot use the creek the way they used to for generations.

Fracking is still happening near Hudson’s Hope and while the residents blame it for their water problems, truth is hard to come by when big money is at stake.

Call it cliché if you will, but human health and the health of the environment are priceless. And we just don’t have the luxury to spare any at this point. Nor should we be gullible enough to allow companies to convince us that fracking comes with low risks hence it should continue. The price in the long run (or not so long) could be a devastating one and the future generations, as well as the present one, deserve better.

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