Professor’s position on fracking met with criticism

Diane
Diane Crocker
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CORNER BROOK  Maurice Dusseault fully expected his presentation on fracking would be met with criticism.

“There’s many people who are taking a position that fracturing is inherently bad and what I’m saying is that the process of hydraulic fracturing is not much riskier than other industrial practices.”

Dusseault, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Waterloo, was one of two speakers at Memorial Presents: The Facts about Fracking, An Engineering Perspective, hosted by the Harris Centre at the Greenwood Inn and Suites in Corner Brook Thursday night.

The other speaker was Lesley James, an assistant professor in the faculty of engineering and applied science at Memorial University.

While James’ presentation focused on rock formations and the need to fracture in order to get at the oil and gas deposits, Dusseault looked more at the actual practice.

He said it’s a practice that, if done properly, can be done safely. He also disputed information to the contrary.

When it came time to open the floor to questions from the more than 150 people in attendance, it soon became clear that those opposed to the practice took exception with not only Dusseault’s presentation, but with the Harris Centre for not having someone to present the opposing side.

Many in attendance said they thought the forum was supposed to be a debate.

Dusseault answered their criticism and stood his ground on the facts he presented. Afterwards, he said part of the problem lies in the newness of the practice.

“It’s ill-understood and my job, as much as I can, is to try to overcome that.”

He said if people went to Alberta and looked at the hundreds of thousands of wells drilled and the fracturing that has gone on, they would see that it hasn’t destroyed the environment and it hasn’t destroyed the ground water.

He agreed with the people that there will be some incidents, but said it’s the same as for hydro power or refineries.

“You can’t stop it from happening.”

In terms of risks, he suggested that there are others, like the transport of chemicals, that pose greater threats than the actual fracking process.

But he also agreed that people have a right to be concerned and said they should speak out about those concerns.

Jody Caines is an environmental science student at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University. He approached Dusseault following the presentation to thank him for providing the information that he did.

He said he attended the presentation to find out what the consequences of fracking are, and felt Dusseault explained it clearly.

“I think the people jumped on him for things he didn’t really try to cover, but I think he did a good job of explaining what’s involved with fracking,” said Caines. “He told them what they didn’t want to hear. He told them the facts, but the facts didn’t jive with what they wanted to hear.”

Meanwhile, the event wasn’t the most controversial the Harris Centre has ever hosted.

Rob Greenwood, executive director of the centre, said there’s been tough ones on the fishery, oil revenues and teacher stress.

“On tough, emotional issues, all we can do is our best,” said Greenwood. “What we find is if you try to address everything at once it’s too messy. No one can get clarity on anything.”

Greenwood said he would love to come back and do it again with a different focus.

Organizations: Harris Centre, University of Waterloo, Greenwood Inn

Geographic location: CORNER BROOK, Alberta

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Recent comments

  • Cindy
    January 31, 2014 - 18:41

    I cannot understand why people would want to risk our environment and health for any reason. The type of fracking proposed for Western Newfoundland, has never been tried before, so how can this be considered safe , it is a gamble at best. If marketed correctly, our clean, beautiful island could be the source of immense wealth from tourism. Considering the state of our planet, it is a rare find to have such a resource and it should be our top priority. I am all for job creation and economic growth, and I think protecting our environment is the best way to achieve this now and in our future.

  • Ira Gould, 6th generation Newfoundlander
    January 31, 2014 - 15:08

    This "fracking process" which is used to extract petroleum products is not a wise approach to extract petroleum products. 1. Negative effect on the local water table. 2. These chemicals get into the wild animal food chain. Who knows what effect this will eventually have on the human food chain. 3. This process should be stopped in it tracks and developed well into the future when technology will allow a less intrusive and less environmental impact process. 4. The fall out is an unusual smell in the ground water and a very greasy texture and feel to the water in the most extreme cases. We have many sources of fossil fuels which are more economical and have less intrusive environmental impact. Move on to development of "OFFSHORE" oil & gas development. Safe, economical tanker transport of product and exceptional LNG technology which has also proven to be very economical and very safe development. There is no cheaper and more effective movement of product than by "SEAWAY". Regards, Ira Gould, 6th generation Newfoundlander

  • Carla
    January 31, 2014 - 12:43

    To refer to Alberta as a benchmark for safety for hydraulic fracturing is disingenuous at best. Alberta has been mined for conventional gas - not unconventional gas. The Government of Alberta’s website clearly states that high-volume, multi-stage slickwater hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for unconventional shale gas, like that found in hard shale formations, had not occurred up to July 2011. Since then, there have been some exploratory and experimental wells drilled. However, “Alberta, though Canada’s largest oil and gas producer, has been behind many other jurisdictions in identifying and tapping many of its shale prospects, so development is still in early stages.

    • Graham Oliver
      January 31, 2014 - 23:03

      Cindy ... what you say may be true for unconventional gas wells, but according to the the Financial Post (October 24, 2013), "over 174,000 wells have been fracked in Alberta alone". Alberta has quite a lengthy history of fracking. I encourage anyone who feels that fracking is going swimmingly in Alberta , to check out "Alberta Voices" and listen to the testimony of real Albertans who are disgusted with fracking. I suggest that you also listen to the "The Campbell's Story" and imagine that you are in their cowboy boots. But don't stop with the Campbell's ... if you can absorb the pain of watching people who are enduring hardship that has been thrust upon them by the Oil and Gas Industry, just listen a little longer. You may change your mind about the side-effects of fracking. Slick water fracking is indeed a clever technology for extracting tight oil and gas, but it is extremely violent and causes irrevocable damage to the environment. Fracking is not a very good neighbour. And how about the job creation? Shoal Point Energy brought in a rig to drill at Shoal Point in 2012 ... the rig arrived from out of province with a crew of 26+/- ... they hired 6+/- locals for the rig ... and hired 3 more to work the security gate at minimum wage ... in 3 months they were gone. Not exactly a sustainable industry. One thing that I find perplexing about the Dusseault presentation: Why don't the pro-frackers raise their hand and make comments and expound on the benefits of fracking. Your views will be listened to and respected. You will not be heckled. Make your case for fracking. Healthy debate is good. But instead, the pro-side often remain silent and then chip in with comments onlie without giving their full name ... like the infamous "David" who seems to have gone to pasture of late. Usually he comes in and sideswipes everyone that is not profracking with a a caustic comment and then gone ,like a ghost. But he never reveals his name and therefore is comments are irrelevant. Graham Oliver 643-5426

  • Sandra
    January 31, 2014 - 11:34

    I fail to understand why anyone would have thought this was supposed to be a debate. The marketing materials clearly stated the title was Facts About Fracking: An Engineering Perspective. Facts: Not conjecture and propaganda, but scientific evidence. Perspective: From a specific point of view - in this case, Engineering Nowhere in the marketing materials for this event did I ever see a hint of a suggestion that the format would be a 'debate'. And, by the way, who do these anti-fracking people think they're fooling? I don't think I've seen one single event organized by them that DID include a speaker from the opposing position. They can have a speaker come in and whip people into a terrified frenzy by spreading lies and half-truths that are based on, well, nothing really, except the fear of progress, and that's OK, but as soon as a level-headed scientist with actual facts about fracking attempts to offer a fact-based perspective, it's unfair? Give me a break.

    • Geoffrey May
      January 31, 2014 - 14:16

      "It is impossible to build a well that does not leak ' Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Ph.D. Rock Fracture Mechanics

  • Lives here
    January 31, 2014 - 11:05

    Great job, finally someone who knows what they are talking about and passing on correct information. Whether you like the sound of it or not, it's the truthful facts and not uneducated negativity.

  • Lives here
    January 31, 2014 - 11:03

    Great job, finally someone who knows what they are talking about and passing on correct information. Whether you like the sound of it or not, it's the truthful facts and not uneducated negativity.

  • Joe Wiseman
    January 31, 2014 - 10:25

    Maurice Dusseault did not fare well with the questioners at this forum. It was clear he did not have all the facts and that the facys he did have were biased in favour of Hydraulic Fracturing. Is it possible he is not aware that 700 hydraulically fracked wells in Saskatchewan are leaking?

  • Barrelman
    January 31, 2014 - 09:22

    Hey people!! Get educated on this topic! Both sides are readily available on YouTube. For the "No" side, the best-known anti-fracking piece is "Frack Nation". On the "Yes", is "Gasland". There are also other well-reasoned arguments for and against. The more you know, the better you'll understand what this is all about.

  • max
    January 31, 2014 - 08:05

    I have heard that 'criticism' is probably not the the most accurate word to describe the re-action of some people at this forum. One commentator has used the word 'attacked' when referencing the re-action to Prof. Dusseault's remarks. This does not surprise me as it seems to be a common refrain from those so vehemently opposed to fracking despite the fact that this process has been used since the early 1940s. and has as much evidence of environmental damage as the next development in other areas of industry. Get more informed people and stop listening to charlatans such as David Suzuki and Al Gore who are making MILLIONS off the suckers of this world.

  • max
    January 31, 2014 - 08:05

    I have heard that 'criticism' is probably not the the most accurate word to describe the re-action of some people at this forum. One commentator has used the word 'attacked' when referencing the re-action to Prof. Dusseault's remarks. This does not surprise me as it seems to be a common refrain from those so vehemently opposed to fracking despite the fact that this process has been used since the early 1940s. and has as much evidence of environmental damage as the next development in other areas of industry. Get more informed people and stop listening to charlatans such as David Suzuki and Al Gore who are making MILLIONS off the suckers of this world.

  • Dennis Noble
    January 31, 2014 - 07:29

    Thank goodness for Professor Dussseault for his presentation on fracking. Fracking is one of the safest methods in extracting oil & gas from the ground. Frack sand itself can pose some health risks for those handling it, but with proper clothing and respirators wore by the workers handling it to prevent the dust from getting into the lungs it is safe to use. Fracking is far less harmful to the environment than the method used in extracting of the oil from the tar sands of Alberta. I'm not opposed to that project either but I'd like to see both the government and the oil companies working together to finds safer methods from that project as well.