The fracking question: a lot of unknowns, but expert believes it is possible to do it right

Diane Crocker
Published on February 11, 2015
Michael Quinn, Talisman energy chair and director of the institute for environmental sustainability at Mount Royal University in Calgary, spoke at a Memorial Presents: Environmental Risks and Policy Implications of Fracking at the civic centre in Corner Brook on Tuesday. — Star photo by Geraldine Brophy

When asked should we or shouldn’t we frack, Michael Quinn said his answer would be, “It depends.”

Quinn, the Talisman Energy chair and director of Institute for Environmental Sustainability at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said he thinks it is possible to do it right.

“We need to answer a lot of questions. And you need to understand the details of the particular location,” he said following a presentation at a Memorial Presents: Environmental Risks and Policy Implications of Fracking at the civic centre in Corner Brook Tuesday night.

“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.”

Quinn’s presentation focused on the study he is leading for the Canadian Water Network on hydraulic fracturing and its effects on surface water.

He was one of two speakers for the event, which was hosted by the Harris Centre in partnership with Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Environmental Policy Institute and Memorial University.

The other speaker, Stephen Tomblin, a professor in the department of political science and medicine (community health) at Memorial University, spoke on the political aspect of the issue in terms of policy and policy development.

About 50 people attended the event, which also featured a question-and-answer session following the presentations.

Quinn said fracking is exploding across North America.

“It’s one of the most important environmental issues emerging on the landscape.”

That’s part of the reason he was interested in putting a team together when the Canadian Water Network put out the call for proposals on the study.

Being from Calgary, where he’s surrounded by fracking wells, Quinn said it was also an issue he was personally interested in.

He said Alberta can have upwards of 10,000 wells drilled every year, not counting the oil sands. Being such a new technology, Quinn said there is still a lot of unknowns when it comes to fracking.

Because of that he feels there needs to be a better job done on monitoring — knowing the air and water conditions from the start, tracking them throughout and adjusting accordingly.

He said it’s about the cumulative effects and not looking at things as if they were isolated from each other.

Quinn said the study has found that land owners in Alberta are seeing an impact on their animals, in terms of reproduction and weight gain, but can’t tell if its primarily due to the fracking.

“The fact that the fracking showed up is kind of like the straw that broke the camel’s back. It did something to tip the scales.”

Quinn also said there is not a lot of information about the impact on humans, and noted the best information is coming out of New York State.

“All of this is so new,” he said, “but it’s hard to find a direct connection.”