What’s the difference with deep-water wells, or aquifier fracking?

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Province should let science decide on answer for thirty potato sector

A farmer irrigates his field in western Queens County in this Guardian file photo from the summer of 2013.

It’s surprising that someone hasn’t tried to make a connection between digging deep-water wells and fracking. Is there much difference between the two? It’s widely believed that fracking would pose a serious threat to the Island’s aquifier and drinking water system. Drilling through aquifers to reach delusive oil and gas reserves and forcing some kind of chemical cocktail into the drill hole to fracture the mantle seems a foolhardy practice, considering our fragile, sandstone base. The province would be wise to support a recommendation from a legislative committee and place an immediate moratorium on fracking, or even better, put in place a full ban, following the example of granite bedrock provinces like N.S. and NL.

The lobby coming from the potato sector to lift the moratorium on deep-water wells to placate the thirsty industry must be thoroughly examined and decided with all factors considered.

A number of years ago, Cavendish Farms wanted to expand its operations in New Annan but also sought to drill more deep wells to get the extra water it needed. The province would love to have the extra jobs and more markets for P.E.I. spuds, but there was a threat to the water table in Kensington, Summerside and surrounding areas. It said no.

The cost to dig such wells and then put an irrigation system in place to water thousands of acres of potatoes is exorbitant. Is it really worth the expense when one year out of every five might be unseasonably dry and affect production?

Let science decide the answer. Can our water table sustain such a heavy demand? Let’s find out. Conservation and environmental issues for all Islanders should trump the economic wishes of the potato industry, despite its vital importance to the Island economy.

Weekend thoughts

. . . While on a jaunt to B.C. this month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper chatted about the big national party coming up in 2017 for Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations. He made a reference to P.E.I.’s own celebrations underway this year, one of his few public utterances on the subject. It would be proper protocol for the PM to visit the province this year, probably several times, so maybe Premier Robert Ghiz should invite him to come when Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall arrive here in May. The PM shouldn’t miss the Sept. 1 re-enactment of the Founding Fathers rowing shore either.

. . . There have been many reports in the press the past year or so about drunk drivers being nabbed on P.E.I. roads. They give the impression that the number of drinking and driving cases are increasing. Actually, they have dropped. DUI convictions in 2013 were 297, compared to 327 in 2012, 373 in 2011 and an alarming 424 in 2010. Police, especially the RCMP, have been very proactive in reporting DUI cases. Their constant plea to the public to report suspected drunk drivers are providing beneficial results. More Islanders are not driving after drinking because they never know who might get on their iPhones and call police.

. . . How many more surprises are going to come out of the mental health issue? The revelation that Health P.E.I. hired the consulting firm Corpus Sanchez to conduct two new reviews of mental health services in P.E.I. comes on top of astonishing revelations about Hillsborough Hospital, in and out patient care, low budgets and lack of communication. It adds credence to the argument the topic is being studied to death while Islanders is desperate need of help are not getting it. It appears the province’s director of mental health and addictions was not even unaware of this new Corpus Sanchez study. In 2008, the same firm had already reported about a “systematic fragmentation” of mental health and addiction services in P.E.I.

Organizations: RCMP, Hillsborough Hospital

Geographic location: P.E.I., Iceland, New Annan Kensington Summerside B.C. Canada

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  • Sharon Sawyer
    January 21, 2014 - 08:58

    As I read the cover story in the January 18 edition of the Guardian, I was quite taken aback by the clear pro-oil and gas industry bias of what was purportedly a news story and not an editorial commentary. It was clear from the first sentence that the author is strongly biased in favour of fracking. Yes, it is true that "when it comes to using natural resources no one would confuse P.E.I. for Alberta." This is why tourists spend time and money to visit our beautiful island and don't tend to play on the beaches of settling ponds in the shale pits near Ft. McMurray. The author further quotes one Sheri Somerville as saying, "Many of the chemicals that are used are found in common household items." What she does not say is that many of these chemicals are proven carcinogens. If island residents were to discharge these proven cancer-causing poisons, like the ethylbenzene and methanol mix mentioned, into the water supply they would likely be charged under the criminal code. The oil and gas lobby, however, seems to think poisoning our water supply is just a harmless activity and nothing to be concerned about! In fact, safe handling guidelines for ethyl benzene in methanol require eye protection, protective clothing, gloves and use of a respirator. If this chemical escapes into the air or is absorbed into the skin, the handler risks cancer and infertility or birth defects in unborn children. (Reference: "Spectrum Laboratory Products" https://www.spectrumchemical.com/MSDS/TCI-S0646.pdf) Given the island's current high cancer rates, is this something we should encourage? Cement casing around the steel structures will not prevent the escape of these chemicals over the years. Common sense tells us that cement under high pressure, and even under normal wear, cracks and breaks over time. Sheri Somerville is identified as the natural gas adviser for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers who claimed that hydraulic fracturing has been done "safely" for "more than 60 years." Though her title sounds quite impressive and authoritative, we must keep in mind that she is a spokesperson for the oil exploration companies who are likely paying her well to advance their financial interests. She does not necessarily have the health interests of islanders foremost in her mind. Finally, this controversy is emerging even as potato farmers are lobbying for permission to drill deeply for irrigation water and the fresh water supplies for Charlottetown are drying up. We have a very limited supply of fresh water on PEI. Fracking requires massive amounts of fresh water to fracture shale. Where will this water come from and what will island residents have to drink? Our water supply is already in crisis. Fracking would prove disastrous to life on PEI.