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Fracking near the Arctic

Hydraulic fracturing is the technique of injecting sand, water and chemicals at considerable pressure into underground shale formations, crushing the rock and enabling small quantities of natural gas to be isolated from the shale. The amount of water used to frack a distinct well depends on the local geological conditions.

Hydraulic fracturing is entering the Canadian Arctic with Oil & Gas firms exploring the shale oil deposits. The Natla and Keele rivers are historically very important to the indigenous Dene people in the Canadian North. They have travelled for thousands of years upstream to salt licks that attract caribou, moose, and mountain sheep. It gives the Dene an opportunity to accumulate meat and berries before the harsh winter.

However, their life style is about to change in the near future with energy firms being giving the approval to start horizontal fracking. Conoco-Phillips has fracked two wells. According to the government of the Northwest Territories, “the Canol Shale underground deposit, which extends from the mountains along the Yukon border several hundred miles east towards Colville and Great Bear lakes, contains 2 to 3 billion barrels of recoverable oil, as much or more than in the highly productive Bakken formation in North Dakota”.

The potential reserve has attracted the attention of Oil & Gas exploration firms. It is for the first time that hydraulic fracturing to secure Oil & Gas has come so near to the Arctic Circle in Canada. However, environmentalists have criticized the move; fearing fracking would result in long term environmental damage - groundwater pollution, increase in gas releases and seismic activities. Fragile eco systems of Northern Canada - tundra, peat, bogs, fens among others are susceptible to massive disturbances occurring in locations of high fracking activity.

Experts fear the “boomtown effect” due to fast growth in isolated/less populated locations as a result of “unconventional” drilling for Oil & Gas. The local population fears these isolated/less populated regions do not have the governmental capabilities or the basic infrastructure to assess fracking feasibilities or any eventualities.

An existing oil pipeline parallel to the Mackenzie River could transport energy south in the future. The firm Trans Canada has been given the approval to construct a $ 16 billion natural gas pipeline from the Arctic to Alberta in future.

According to a report published in the journal Science “the environmental risks associated with fracking can be managed, but only if understanding of the fate and transport of contaminants is improved and if long-term monitoring and data dissemination is increased”. The government of the North West is committed to fracking in the long run and is confident of safeguarding the environment while increasing the economic benefits.

- Jess Potts
Published on:
May 14, 2015
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