Fracking never got environmental review, consultant says

An environmental consultant is worried the fracking already happening in the Northwest Territories hasn't been properly scrutinized.

Paramount Resources has been doing hydrochloric fracking near Kakisa, N.W.T.

An environmental consultant is worried the fracking already happening in the Northwest Territories hasn't been properly scrutinized.

Paramount Resources has confirmed it is using a kind of fracking on its wells in the Cameron Hills just south of Kakisa, N.W.T.

But the company says it's different from the hydraulic fracturing that has raised concerns in the United States and Canada.

Paramount Resources uses hydrochloric acid to extract gas from the rock, but not large amounts of fresh water.

The acid dissolves the rocks to get at the gas, which is more than 1,000 metres deep.

Lloyd Doyle, with Paramount Resources, says the company properly handles the waste fluids which result from the fracking.

"All of the completion fluid is trucked out of the Northwest Territories down into places like Rainbow Lake in Zama, and is disposed of at approved facilities through deep-well injection. So this fluid is being disposed of, you know, 1,500 to 2,000 metres below ground level into aquifers that can absorb those types of material," said Doyle.

Acid fracking not assessed

But consultant Joe Acorn says when the Cameron Hills project was going through the environmental assessment, acid fracking wasn't mentioned.

Acorn is an independent environmental consultant who works on various mining and gas projects.

He says that since there was no environmental assessment of the project’s fracking component, the kinds of effects it could have on the environment are not known.

"All Paramount ever provided was a statement that, ok, we’re doing acid fracking. We don’t really have the full detail; it’s never really been assessed. So we don’t know if we should really be concerned," said Acorn.

"It could turn out that acid fracking isn't harmful.  Maybe it should be allowed.  But we don't know that and the only way to find that out is to have it go through an EA process," he said.

Acorn says the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board should have sent Paramount’s applications back to the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board for an environmental assessment.

NEB initially denied any fracking happening in N.W.T.

Unlike the South, where provincial environmental regulatory boards approve or deny drilling projects, the National Energy Board (NEB) regulates oil and gas exploration and production work in the North.

When it comes to fracking, or anything under the ground, it’s the NEB that gives that green light.

The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water board issues water and land-use permits. It’s responsible for the above-ground component. It also issued the land use permits for the Cameron Hills project.

When the CBC initially contacted the NEB, it denied there was even any fracking occurring in the territory.

When Paramount Resources confirmed it had indeed used fracking in four different wells in the territory, the NEB said it wouldn’t comment on a particular company’s activities, and that it is bound by a confidentiality agreement.

The land and water board is not commenting on this particular case except to say that it’s the NEB which is ultimately responsible for the subsurface.

Companies looking to do fracking in Sahtu region

The federal government has put out a call for expressions of interest for exploration in and around Norman Wells, N.W.T., in the Sahtu region. The region is expected to be the first slated for a major shale gas exploration program which is expected to start next year.

Several companies so far have shown interest.

One company, MGM, is proposing a project known as the Canol Shale. The company estimates it can extract more than 1 billion barrels of oil over the next 30 years, but says it will have to use hydraulic fracturing to get at that natural gas.

Susan Measor with the NEB explains how they will handle the Sahtu applications.

"We’ll want to ensure that an environmental assessment process is conducted for those applications, and those would fall under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, so the prelim screening would likely be conducted by the water boards and we’d participate in that process. And then from the regulatory approach, our same regulatory approach would apply, that we would want to ensure that there is a thorough safety emergency response and environmental protection plan in place before we would issue any approvals," said Measor.