A report released last week by the University of Toronto suggested the rush to harvest shale gas in North America could threaten Canada’s water supplies unless stringent new environmental protection laws were implemented.

The report, published by the university’s Munk School of Global Affairs, states that provincial and federal regulations regarding hydraulic fracturing – the method used to release shale gas – have not kept up with the pace of development of the natural resource, and now drilling poses a significant threat to groundwater supplies.

The Toronto report notes that while political bodies are heavily involved in the monitoring and regulating of shale gas developments in the US, official bodies are yet to take action in Canada.

“Canada has also witnessed its own ‘shale gale’ as the boom noisily expanded from its dramatic epicentre in northern British Columbia into rich shale formations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick,” the report states.

“Unlike the United States where the US Congress and state regulators are fully engaged in public policy debates, neither the National Energy Board nor Environment Canada have yet raised any substantive questions about ‘the shale gale’ or its impact on water resources.”

Developers of the gas, which naturally occurs under heavy sedimentary rock , have hit back, however, saying their practices are safe and that in fact, the shale gas industry uses very little water.

In response to the Toronto report Questerre Energy Corporation released a factsheet which it hoped would ‘demystify some of the issues’ around the industry’s water usage.

Chief executive of the company, which specialises in developing North American shale gas reserves, Michael Binnion, said: “There seems to be a misconception about the amount of water used to drill and hydraulically fracture a shale gas well.

“The shale gas industry is actually a light industrial user of water. In full development, the industry is estimated to use less water a year than car washes in [Quebec], and about one half of one percent of the water used by the pulp and paper industry in Quebec.”

Mr Binnion added that his company was working on plans to recycle and reuse 100 per cent of the water recovered from its hydraulic fracturing operations, which could be up to half of the total water used.

“The amount of water used to create energy with natural gas is actually very effective. If we were to put this usage into context, it would take less than one litre of water per day to heat a home with natural gas from the Utica shale. By comparison the average Quebecer uses almost 400 litres of water a day.”

The Canadian government too has spoken out against concerns. Speaking in Calgary, Quebec, energy minister Ron Liepert said the province was capable of managing the demand the energy industry placed on natural resources.

“We’re seen as being a leader in regulating the oil and gas industry,” he said. “This province is so used to developing gas I don’t think the public sees the development of shale gas any different than conventional gas.”

Sam Plester

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