Jobs, Jobs, Jobs…

Every night, during the evening news, we are treated to heartfelt government advertisements about separated families.  Let’s bring those boys home so they can work here.  We’re all for that…however…the facts do not support the promises.

First, let’s look at worker safety:  In the States, oil and gas industry has 7 times more fatalities than any other industry.  Are things different here?

In Alberta, between  2000 and 2010 – 1,285  workers were killed on the job.  In three subsequent years, between 123 and 154 died each year.

What about job numbers?  The Business Council study promoted by govt and industry promised us 21.5 jobs per well, or three times the number actually produced in Pennsylvania. The researchers did not even look at existing well fields in Penobsquis (6 employees) or Stoney Creek (2 employees).

Let’s take a look at Pennsylvania, where they claim the industry created 30,000 and 50,000 jobs. To accomplish this they drilled 7,200 wells. Do the math:  This means that the industry created a maximum of 7 jobs per well.

jobs2013slideCompare this to the state of Massachusetts, which produced 80,000 clean energy jobs in 5,500 different companies in less time than it took oil and gas to destroy the Pennsylvania countryside. These jobs were distributed throughout the entire state – unlike shale jobs, which are concentrated where the gas is being drilled.  It also found that the jobs crossed all sectors of the economy – construction labor, skilled tradesmen, business managers, and professionals such as architects and engineers. These permanent jobs are in contrast to truck driving and retail that disappear when the shale gas workers are gone elsewhere.

So, we ask…considering the imminent danger climate change, why isn’t our government looking at clean energy options?

Let’s drill instead. Our government assures us that will be only drilling between 50 and 100 wells per year, while in PA they drill between 1200 and 1500 per year.  So how exactly will we supply all our energy needs with cheap gas, supply cheap gas to our industries including big users like potash and fertilizer plants, supply cheap gas to the Irving refinery to refine tar sands oil and export expensive gas over seas on 50-100 wells per year?

Other benefits Pennsylvania has received from the oil and gas craze: 

Community Division:  Because landowners get royalties, local populations have been severely divided against each other, as neighbors without wells undergo all the risks of shale gas with none of its benefits.  The opposition in PA is growing and the Democratic Party now calls for a moratorium on future drilling in their official party platform.

Water Contamination:  Northeast PA is the site of 2 different peer-reviewed studies by Duke University that verified methane contamination of water wells in proximity to shale gas drilling.

Radioactive Wastewater:  Another recent Duke study found dangerously elevated levels of radioactivity and toxic chemicals downstream from a water treatment plant processing fracking wastewater. The streams feed public drinking water sources.

Violations and Fines:  PA keeps its shale gas enforcement actions online – even with its questionable enforcement agency, the database shows thousands of violations. It has levied millions of dollars in fines, but with no decrease in the number of violations.

Fracking Health Secrets: PA law forbids physicians from telling a patient what fracking chemical is making them sick if that chemical has a trade secret designation. Court cases of health problems and contamination have been settled by agreements that include gag orders on the plaintiffs, including last year’s infamous attempt to put lifetime gag orders on two children involved in a case.

(with notes from Jim Emberger)

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“Safe” is more than a feeling…

(written by Charles Doucet)

Imagine this scene, if you will:

A hospital ICU; the patient is on life support. Standing beside the bed, we have the hospital administrator – let’s call him David. At his side is a rep from a big pharmaceutical company, and relegated to the corner of the room, is the doctor.

The administrator is explaining to the patient that the only thing that will cure their ailment is a new medication that’s just entered the market – let’s call it… Frackacin.

“It’s safe” Dave says, “…and it’s been used in different places for years without any problems” he adds. “Not only that, but the company that makes it follows really tight rules, the toughest around, so you can be sure it’s ok to take the medication”. The pharmaceutical rep is nodding at everything administrator Dave is saying, while, it must be noted, the doctor behind the scenes is clutching her clipboard in a white-knuckled grip and is working hard to bite her tongue.

“Are there any other options?” the sick patient asks. The doctor then chimes in quietly: “well, with some minor lifestyle changes, and a little exercise…”

“No, no”, Dave interrupts, “Frackacin is the only thing that’ll work”.

“But, I’d like to try those things the doctor mentioned…” the patient responds.

With furrowed brow, David explains: “I’m afraid you’re misunderstanding me. We not asking for your permission, we’re simply ‘consulting’ with you on what’s going to happen. Hospital policy stipulates that because you chose to come here, you are giving up your right to have a say in how you’re cared for.”

“But, but, what about side effects – are there any?” asks the patient, who’s becoming increasingly concerned.

The pharma rep, not willing to look the patient in the eye, replies sheepishly “well, there have been a few cases of… (mumble, mumble)”.

“What was that? What did you say?” the patient asks shrilly.

“Extra limbs, ok? A few people have grown extra limbs!” Mr. Pharma replies defensively.

“How many had that happen? Are there any other side effects?” the patient demands, now clearly agitated.

“Well, the thing is, we don’t really have an answer to either of those questions” Mr. Pharma admits, embarrassed. Dave speaks up: “None of this matters, as I’ve said… Frackacin is the only cure, I’ll stake my career on it. Now take your medicine!”

“The Hell I will”, the patient exclaims angrily, tearing off leads, throwing off the sheets of the bed and storming from the room.

~~~

The moral of this cheeky little story is this: “Safe” is more than a feeling. It’s also more than the opinion of a clearly biased person or organization with a vested interest. It is an objective threshold, below which a process or product is “unsafe” and above which the opposite holds true.That threshold is determined by a combination of empirical research and public consultation.

The research is conducted to:

  1. Identify the risks associated with the activity
  2. Quantify those risks.

If we are to avoid a situation like the one outlined in the ‘hospital’ described above, the risk and their determined frequencies must then be brought to all the stakeholders potentially affected in order to discuss what is acceptable to a majority of those people (say an incident frequency of 1 in 500, or 1 in 1,000 for example), then get their yea or nay. In medicine, this concept is known as seeking “informed consent”. In the oil and gas industry, it is called “securing a social license to operate”. Without it, the doctor cannot administer the medicine. The same standard should apply to shale gas if we are to respect people’s rights in democracies.

Dr. Louis Lapierre, in his report “The Path Forward” concluded that the risks associated with the industry must be both identified and quantified. Where he makes a mistake is that he believes it’s both acceptable and necessary to ‘test’ shale gas in New Brunswick, in essence using us as lab rats – without our consent. He is completely mistaken. With a new drug, a sufficiently large sample size of subjects who voluntarily accept to take the medicine should account for any differences arising from gender, age, ethnicity, geography, etc. It can be secured from elsewhere and allow us to draw the necessary conclusions about its safety.

The same can be said for shale gas. So get to work.

The Quick Facts on Fracking

New Brunswick author, Carla Gunn, has compiled an informative list of her own fracking research:

To summarize, she says, concerns with fracking are multiple and include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. air pollution from multiple sources
  2. water contamination
  3. noise pollution and the impact on psychological and physical health
  4. the vast amount of water used in fracking and permanently removed from the planet’s water cycle
  5. the question of whether waste water can be safely treated in the quantities required
  6. not all the chemicals/ waste water is recovered (flowback) after the fracking process – where do contaminants eventually end up?
  7. the safe transport of this waste to facilities (i.e, potential for spills)
  8. the industrialization of our rural areas and impact on agriculture
  9. the fact that this quest for shale gas is yet another focus on fossil fuels at a time when we should be desperately trying to develop cleaner sources of energy
  10. the carbon impact of shale gas extraction (bigger carbon footprint than coal)
  11. serious questions about whether the NB government has the resources, personnel, and expertise to monitor all of these activities
  12. the integrity of the well sites; i.e., how secure are they 20, 50,100 years from now?