COLUMN: Resource extraction good, but there are concerns

Did up you know that in Alberta alone there are more than 450,000 oil and gas wells?

COLUMN: Resource extraction good, but there are concerns

Did up you know that in Alberta alone there are more than 450,000 oil and gas wells? That’s more holes than in a block of Swiss cheese the size of my house.

Virtually the entire province of Alberta is underlain with shale gas, as is half of Saskatchewan and a fairly good chunk of northeastern B.C. When you look at a map of the reserves throughout North America, Canada appears to be the major player – if we were selling the gas. But we’re not, at least not in a big way.

Maybe we need to have a drawl to be large in the oil and gas business. Gas reserves in Texas pale in comparison to those in Canada, but right now they dominate because they are quickly tapping into international markets while we can’t seem to get a pipe into the ground, at least one that ships product for sale overseas.

In Texas the oil market is king. In British Columbia (and it seems in the rest of Canada), everything but the financial bottom line is vastly more important.

Until, of course, the money flow ceases, along with health care benefits, welfare, transit, parks, hospitals, education and anything else you want to credit with the lifestyle we live.

Everyone decries the social network in the U.S., and I agree that for the poor it is appallingly inadequate, and health care incredibly expensive. Yet in Canada, we have done a reasonably good job of trying to take care of everyone. Yes, there’s poverty, and to a lesser degree discrimination.

But on the whole we do things differently here: we care about people, we try not to offend and we go to great lengths to accommodate.

It matters not what life is like for the average Texan, or the average Saudi, though I am led to believe it is good.

What matters to me is the average Canadian. And to maintain what we have here, we need to be able to compete, deliver and reap the bounty of what we have.

I do, however, have concerns about the environmental legacy we may be leaving behind if we don’t exploit our resources properly.

For example, we must be cautious with how we seal and secure abandoned wells and the potential lasting effects of those actions if done wrong.

According to a recent study by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, some 41 billion litres of waste water was pumped into a single well near Fort Nelson in northeast B.C.

That much water, and I hate these quantifying comparisons, is enough to fill 16,700 Olympic swimming pools!

This was not clean water, but fluid contaminated with all sorts of compounds, possibly including lead, arsenic and radio-active materials.

Additionally, since oil and gas production began in the western Canadian Sedimentary Basin underlying the prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, enough waste water and industrial fluids have been pumped into it to fill a lake 21 kilometres long, one km deep and one km wide.

We have been pumping massive amounts of dangerous stuff into the ground, without really knowing where it will eventually end up – like in the aquifer.

That’s a possibility, since “fracking’” – short for fracturing the rock in search of gas – is also creating small earthquakes, something like 38 of them in northeastern B.C. between 2009 and 2012.

* Much of the statistical information provided above was gleaned from stories by Margaret Munro, published in the Vancouver Sun, Dec. 11.

Merry Christmas!

markrushton@abbynews.com