Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Fracking ‘almost completely unregulated’ in Alberta, NDP charges

A pump jack draws oil from the ground near a hydraulic fracturing operation near Bowden, Alta., on Feb. 14, 2012. Fracking blasts pressurized water and chemicals into underlying rocks to release trapped natural gas and oil.

JEFF McINTOSH/The Globe and Mail

Alberta New Democrats say newly released documents show fracking has become an unregulated free-for-all in the province with no regard for the impact on groundwater or on people's health.

NDP Leader Brian Mason presented information Tuesday provided under freedom-of-information laws that shows the number of hydraulic fracturing licences granted by the province soared 647 per cent last year to 1,516.

Mason said the amount of water allocated and used for fracking has increased even faster.

Story continues below advertisement

"Most Albertans don't realize that fracking in Alberta is almost completely unregulated," he told a legislature news conference.

"And it is increasing on a dramatic scale without any understanding of what the potential consequences will be."

He said the water loss alone is sobering, with more than 17 million cubic metres used in 2013.

"This is an enormous amount of groundwater. It's pumped into the ground, it's polluted by chemicals and it's never seen again."

Fracking blasts pressurized water and chemicals into underlying rocks to release trapped natural gas and oil.

It has changed the game on North American resource extraction in the last decade – fuelling an oil and gas boom in North Dakota and delivering a 15 per cent overall production increase south of the border, according to Alberta government data.

It has also resulted in a backlash from environmentalists and from homeowners who live near fracking sites. Their main concern is polluted groundwater and aquifers.

Story continues below advertisement

In Lethbridge, homeowners and city council are fighting an application by Calgary-based Goldenkey Oil to drill three wells using vertical hydraulic fracturing within city limits and within one kilometre of where people live.

The legislature members for Lethbridge – Progressive Conservatives Bridget Pastoor and Greg Weadick – have told residents they are making sure concerns are heard. Mason said they two need to go farther and actively fight the development.

Fracking has brought with it controversy in other provinces. Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Quebec are re-evaluating its benefits versus the consequences of environmental damage.

Mason said it's too late for a moratorium on fracking in Alberta.

"The horse is kind of out of the barn. It's a mainstream activity now."

He suggested Premier Alison Redford's government should undertake an independent scientific review of hydraulic fracturing and use independent groundwater monitoring before further projects get approved.

Story continues below advertisement

Environment Minister Robin Campbell disagreed with Mason. He said in a news release that "Alberta has strict regulations that apply to all oil and gas development regardless of the technology being used."

Campbell also said concerns of environmental damage have not been borne out.

"To date, there has not been a documented case of hydraulic fracturing fluids contaminating a domestic water well in Alberta. For anybody to claim that the water supply is at risk is completely false," said Campbell.

"All water licence applications are carefully reviewed to ensure no significant impacts to our environment or other water users."

Report an error Licensing Options
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Globe Newsletters

Get a summary of news of the day

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.