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Oil industry backs more rules for fracking

British Columbia will force oil companies to reveal the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, a move supported by the leading industry association as it looks to head off public opposition to shale gas production across the country.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced on Thursday that the government will establish a public registry which will detail where companies are engaged in hydraulic fracturing, and the chemicals they are using in the fluids that are shot into the rock to unlock natural gas.

Ms. Clark made her announcement at an industry conference in Fort Nelson, on the same day that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) released a set of "guiding principles" that endorses the mandatory disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

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Public concern over water contamination has slowed development of promising shale gas deposits in Quebec and New Brunswick, while some U.S. states and foreign governments have essentially banned the intensive drilling technique.

CAPP's principles are voluntary, but the association said it supports the enforcement of regulations that govern fracking operations and protect water sources, as well as the development of new rules in provinces like Quebec and New Brunswick where little oversight exists.

It is encouraging its members to voluntarily disclose the additives used in fracking fluid, and supports efforts by provincial governments to make disclosure mandatory.

"We have two objectives: To drive more consistency or alignment in industry performance, and to be more transparent and open about what we're doing and how we're doing it to address some of the concerns raised by stakeholders," CAPP president David Collyer said in an interview.

Mr. Collyer insisted, however, that the industry is now operating safely under a sound regulatory environment in the western provinces, where it has a long history. Companies are expanding their use of hydraulic fracturing beyond the shale gas plays and are using it to develop prolific "tight oil" reservoirs.

Matt Horne, a researcher with the Pembina Institute, applauded CAPP's support for mandatory disclosure rules and its effort to encourage best practices in the industry. But he said governments in British Columbia and Alberta need to better monitor and regulate the cumulative impacts on water resources from intensive oil-industry drilling and fracking

While lack of disclosure has been a major issue, opponents are more concerned about the actual impact of the drilling operations. Critics complain that the fracking fluid can migrate into ground water; that a poorly designed well casing can result in leakage of fluids and methane; and that chemically-laced waste water is often illegally dumped into streams and rivers.

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New York State has imposed a de facto moratorium on development of its share of the prolific Marcellus shale play while officials review the environmental impact of intensive drilling using hydraulic fracturing.

Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc. is one of the leading lease holders in the state, but has focused its production in Pennsylvania, where it expects to boost production to nearly 400 million cubic feet a day by the end of the year.

In a report released this week, the state's Department of Environmental Conservative concluded that there was little potential for fracking fluids to migrate from the shale gas deposit itself into drinking-water aquifers, due to the distance and density of rock between them.

However, the environmental regulator did suggest that the intensive shale development would pose risks for ground water contamination, and proposed a slew of regulations that would, among other things, limit drilling in sensitive areas, require mandatory disclosure of fluids and force companies to use reinforced well casing.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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