No social license, lack of trust for fracking in NL

WS frontIf you picked up a copy of the Western Star today, the cover here is what you saw. The main headline: “The fracking question” and the sub “There are a lot of unknowns but expert believes it is possible to do it right”

The article quotes Michael Quinn, a researcher from University of Alberta, who was in Corner Brook on Tuesday for a Harris Centre sponsored presentation on fracking. The Western Star quotes Quinn: “We need to answer a lot of questions. And you need to understand the details of the particular location … It isn’t just a yes or no kind of thing, but it is getting better and I think it is possible to do in a responsible way.”

Reading the headline and sub, and reading through the article, you would be forgiven for imagining that Quinn’s presentation gave a tentative thumbs up to fracking in NL, or at least indicated it is something presently worth considering. But if you actually saw his presentation and listened to the numerous serious issues he raised with regard to fracking, the Western Star article sounds like balderdash. (Moreover, the article didn’t even bother to quote the other panelist, Dr. Stephen Tomblin, whose presentation highlighted the lack of social license for the fracking industry and the inadequacy of institutional decision-making and public policy on the issue.)

Below, I am going to provide a series of quotations from Quinn, along with screen-captures of some of the slides he used in the presentation. The picture that will be painted is quite different from the one in the Western Star. However, I am quite sure that you, dear reader, are capable of making up your own mind, and so I encourage you to not take my word for it, but instead to watch a video of the presentation, embedded below, and then to read the article in the Western Star.

Before continuing, it should be noted that nowhere in the video will you hear Quinn say anything like “I think it is possible to do in a responsible way.” Quinn made this statement in an interview with a reporter after the event. One wonders if Quinn assumed the stark critiques raised in his presentation were an obvious caveat to that statement.

Finally, I should also like to point out what I feel is the most significant thing Quinn said, in relation to climate change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which I have recently written about  with respect to fossil fuels generally):

“If IPCC predictions are right, then all of those projections I showed about 125 years of gas are moot. If we’re hitting that 2.5 degrees Celsius threshold in 10 or 15 or 20 years from now, we’re having a completely different discussion.”

Personally, I do believe in climate science and do believe that any moves to expand the oil and gas industry in Newfoundland and Labrador are reckless — stated as plainly as possible, just so my position is abundantly clear.



Quotations, paraphrases, and slides — Quinn

“More than 75% of the peer-reviewed literature [on fracking] has been written in the last 18 months”

“This is part of larger issues about our energy future”

“If some of the estimates of methane leakage are true, we may be producing more green house gasses with methane [from fracking] than with coal”

“It’s clear that we’ve exceeded some pretty important planetary boundary systems [i.e. water, land use, climate change]”


quinn slide 2

“The landscape footprint [of fracking] can be extremely significant … Even though improvements to drilling technology can reduce the number of wellpads, fracking still has a significant impact on the surface landscape”

quinn slide 3

“The industry [oil and gas] in general isn’t a big water user, but when you look at an individual well and the potential impact at a particular point on the earth, it can be significant … especially in areas of high water stress”

quinn slide 4

“The biggest concern from a human standpoint and a health standpoint are biocides … that’s the stuff that has people concerned”

quinn slide 5

“The actual frack is probably the lowest probability for accident in the whole equation … The bigger risks are when this stuff gets back up to the surface”

“BTEX are chemicals that are detrimental to the human nervous system”

“We just don’t know how dangerous some of these chemicals are”

“When the fracking fluids come back to the surface, you’re picking up saline water, radioactivity, potentially heavy metals”

quinn slide 6

“If we’re talking about earthquakes associated with some of these, you get potential for wellbore integrity failure”

“You’re sitting on some really complex geology [in Western Newfoundland] and some of it hasn’t been mapped”

quinn slide 7

“Industry has started reporting the chemicals used in fracking, though still withholds some such information as trade secrets”

“There are emerging ‘green’ fracking fluids”

“Landowners are seeing health effects in herd animals”

“New York Health authority issued a report that was a major factor in the New York government decision to institute a fracking ban … basically what they said is there isn’t enough clear information to make them comfortable going forward from a human health standpoint”

“One of the things that’s really challenging [as a researcher] is that often individual landowners sign non-disclosure agreements saying that if anything happens they can’t talk about it … That part of it just doesn’t seem right, if we’re talking about full disclosure on one hand, and then talking about these non-disclosure agreements”

quinn slide 9

“The technology [for trapping emissions] has improved greatly, but the potential still exists to put harmful chemicals into the environment”

quinn slide 10

“For the most part, oil and gas development in Canada doesn’t happen as part of a land use planning process”

quinn slide 11

“One of the things we have to do is vote with our own carbon usage. If we’re really interested in carbon transition, we have to think about it individually as well”

“There is an uneven playing field, and there are disincentives to switching to [alternative energies]”

“Some of the projections are that [fracking] wells are leaking up to 15% [i.e. 85% gas recovered, 15% lost] … At those rates, it is a dirtier fuel than coal”

“There is some rhetoric around this being a transitional fuel, but that’s not really what’s driving [fracking] — economics and politics is driving [fracking]”

quinn slide 8

“There’s mistrust from a variety of different angles. Researchers don’t trust each others data, industry doesn’t trust academics to come onto their sites … the public mistrusting some of those big-picture decisions, and the only place to engage is at a flash point … I think it’s a symptom of a greater sense of lack of trust with where the whole ship is heading. If there’s one thing that comes out of our research … it is this whole issue of lack of trust from multiple directions.”

“If it is the case that we need this oil and gas, there is room for industry to improve, and particularly this industry [fracking], which has exploded onto the North American landscape in a little over a decade … there are ways to do a much better job than what we’re doing if we decide that’s a road we want to go down”

“If the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predictions are right, then all of those projections I showed about 125 years of gas are moot. If we’re hitting that 2.5 degree Celsius threshold, in 10 or 15 or 20 years from now, we’re having a completely different discussion”


  1. Graham Oliver
    February 13, 2015

    Thank you Jon for setting the record straight. While we have no idea what Dr. Quinn said to the Western Star reporter behind closed doors, Quinn certainly did not state in his presentation “with good regulations fracking is good to go” . I attended the Tuesday evening presentation at the Civic Centre and the Wednesday all-day Harris Centre round table discussions at the Blomidon Golf Club. Both Dr. Quinn and Dr. Tomblin participated in those discussions on Wednesday. It was clear in the presentations by Dr. Quinn and Dr. Tomblin on Tuesday evening (and also on Wednesday) that there are many problems with fracking that require much further study. The general feeling among those who listened to Dr. Quinn, was that his presentation was fair, balanced and genuinely represented the issues surrounding hydraulic fracking. On Wednesday morning, the general reaction to the Western Star article was one of shock … that the reporter totally missed the essence of Quinn’s presentation … and that there was no coverage of Dr. Tomblin at all. Diane Crocker’s article was shoddy journalism at best. Her distorted representation of the actual presentation will only add to polarizing the discussion on this controversial topic. Thanks again Jon for your excellent coverage of this event. Once again, the Independent tells the “Real Story”.

  2. Gerry
    April 20, 2016

    Fracking is causing so many earth quakes and sink holes like never before. Sick.

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