In a brilliant initiative that I wish was implemented sooner, New Brunswick is going to investigate water quality in locations where hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations to extract oil and natural gas from shale are likely to happen – before they happen.  The study, to be conducted by the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI), will examine surface water quality in locations with high potential for shale gas development.  David Besner, Chair of the CRI explains in a press release,

THE GOAL OF THIS PROJECT IS TO UNDERSTAND THE CHEMICAL, PHYSICAL AND BIOLOGICAL CONDITIONS IN SURFACE WATERS BEFORE OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT.  THIS BASELINE INFORMATION WILL IMPROVE OUR ABILITY TO ASSESS POTENTIAL CHANGES TO SURFACE WATER DURING OR AFTER DEVELOPMENT AND IT WILL ADDRESS SOME IMPORTANT QUESTIONS NEW BRUNSWICKERS HAVE ABOUT SHALE GAS EXPLORATION.

The study will cost about $350,000, which is fairly cheap compared to a lot of energy sector spending.  For example, $3.9 million was reportedly spent in June of 2014 when company Statoil Canada along with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, contributed to oil and gas development research.   Results of New Brunswick’s report are expected to be published in 2016.

New Brunswick, Canada is located just north of Maine. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

With baseline information collected before any fracking begins, New Brunswick will be a step ahead of the environmental controversy that always accompanies fracking operations.  Once fracking commences at these selected locations, water quality assessments can continue and scientists will be able to more accurately identify any harmful effects shale gas development has on water supplies.

This research effort is encouraging.  In April of 2014, CBC News reported a study that concluded the effect of fracking on water supplies is not properly monitored in Canada (and I’m highly pessimistic that the United States even monitors it at all).

In response to these findings, University of Alberta Professor and co-author of the report Rick Chalaturnyk said, “For large-scale shale gas development now, I don’t think you want to be in a position anymore of just saying, ‘trust me, we know what we’re doing.’ We’re past that.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Professor Chalaturnyk’s excellent summation of the situation.  We are way past the point where we can trust that our drinking water is safe at the mercy of the oil and gas industry.

Government officials responsible for fracking zones need to hop on board and conduct similar studies.  We need this information at our disposal, and it’s downright negligent of our government to ignore such a vital issue as potential contamination of our drinking water supplies.  We’ve seen what happens when contaminated drinking supplies plague communities.  That should not happen in the 21st century.  Not in Canada, and not in the United States.

A man fishes in a freshwater stream in New Brunswick, Canada.  Assessing water quality prior to fracking activity will give the government vital information about fracking risks, and hopefully protect these freshwater resources.

A man fishes in a freshwater stream in New Brunswick, Canada. Assessing water quality prior to fracking activity will give the government vital information about fracking risks, and hopefully protect these freshwater resources.

I can’t wait to see these study results, and I hope we make a habit of conducting more research that ensures the safety of all citizens in conjunction with development in the energy or industrial sectors.  Our governments work for us, so we need to insist they ensure safe and responsible development.

If these scientists find that water contamination occurs at unsafe levels, then fracking is just not worth the risk to our people and environment.