Here in Canada, outgoing Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan delivered his final report to Parliament this week. In it, he expressed concerns that the pace of resource development is outstripping environmental protections. This is to say, the federal government isn't doing a good job of overseeing offshore drilling, mining and hydraulic fracturing (more commonly called fracking). As a result, Canadians are being exposed to a number of potential risks.
Technology is advancing rapidly in resource development, just as it is in all fields. In 2005, new technologies like multi-stage fracturing and horizontal drilling made previously non-viable gas deposits affordable to extract. The fracking methods used to extract these resources require much higher volumes of both water and chemicals. According to the CBC, the government just doesn't understand exactly what chemicals are being used, and what the implications are.
Since 2005, 7300 wells have been fractured in my home province of British Columbia alone, and between 500 and 1000 new permits are being issued each year. This isn't surprising, when you consider the way politicians speak about domestic energy in general, and natural gas in particular. When we can tap into resources in our own backyard it has economic benefits, and provides us with energy security.
I wouldn't argue that a strong economy and reliable access to energy are bad things. I doubt that anyone would. However, as Mr. Vaughan points out in his report, things are out of whack. It isn't safe to pump hundreds of different kinds of chemicals into the ground in large volume, if we don't understand what those chemicals are and how they impact the ecosystem and human health. We need to balance growth and development with reasonable oversight.
As well, we need to consider what it means for our future to keep pulling oil and gas out of the ground and burning it. The more we do this, the more carbon is emitted into the atmosphere, and the more that we're exposing ourselves to the risks of climate change. We're already seeing severe storms, droughts and rising ocean levels. We need to be thinking ahead to carbon neutral forms of energy, instead of continuing to drill, drill and drill some more.
If you're concerned about the way that our governments currently approach energy and resource development, tell them. Join forces with groups who are advocating for change. Speak out, and share your concerns. The more of us who use our voices, the louder our message will be, and the sooner we'll be able to create a more reasonable equilibrium between development and the environment.