silver lining for those worried about the global storm of negative
environmental impacts from fossil fuel production and use has been the
idea that oil and gas reserves are running low. As reserves run out,
the thinking goes, we will turn to safer, renewable sources of energy
and all will be right with the world.
it is true cheap, conventional oil and gas is becoming scarce, the
energy industry is not going green. It's turning to unconventional
sources that may have even worse environmental impacts. And
Saskatchewan may well be in the think of this new fossil-fuel energy
To get the lowdown read Keith Schneider's article A
High-Risk Energy Boom Sweeps Across North America, available at Yale
University's environmental web site (e360.yale.edu). Schneider reports
that investment is flooding into the deep shale areas in Saskatchewan,
Alberta and the Western U.S., particularly North Dakota's Bakken Shale.
North Dakota, it seems, has suddenly become the fourth-largest
oil producing state in the U.S. and consequently has the country's
lowest unemployment rate, at under four per cent.
Schneider, company reports and state economic development offices
estimate the oil industry is spending nearly $100 billion annually in
the U.S. to perpetuate the fossil-fuel era. More billions are also
being thrown at the carbon-rich oilsands in Alberta (and potentially
The Bakken Shale, partially located under
southeastern Saskatchewan, is thought to contain four billion barrels
of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
geologists say there is much more than that in the Bakken, and in a
second oil-rich shale reserve, the Three Forks, that lies below it.
I guess that would be a good thing if the ecosphere were a limitless resource and sinkhole for pollution.
studies show that exploiting unconventional fossil-fuel reserves
generates more C02 emissions than drilling for conventional oil and gas
and uses three to five times more water.
Competition for water
could lead to big problems in dry areas like North Dakota and
Saskatchewan. Schneider says that extracting unconventional fossil fuel
reserves like the Bakken formation uses a lot of water because getting
to the oil and natural gas requires rupturing the deep shale to create
open spaces and crevices through which the oil and gas can flow.
pulverizing process, called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking,"
involves sinking drill bits deep into the shale and then turning them
to move horizontally. An armada of tank trucks hauls several million
gallons of water to each well site, where pumps shoot it down the well
at such super-high pressure that the rock splits.
trucking in of massive amounts of water also raises localized air
quality and traffic concerns. The transportation of a million gallons
of water to fracture a well is estimated to require 200 truck trips.
an oil well undergoing fracking near Kildeer, N.D., ruptured. The
blowout leaked 100,000 gallons of fracturing fluid and crude oil before
being plugged two days later. Less dramatically, but more frequently,
fracking has caused contamination of surface and groundwater and harmed
drinking water in various places around the U.S. and Canada, according
to a number of reports from local environmental organizations.
course the high-risk fossil-fuel approach to energy supply is not the
only way to go. Denmark, for example, has managed to reduce energy use
and cut its carbon emissions during the last 20 years.
their approach involves alternative energy sources like wind, but the
big reason they have succeeded is simply charging more for energy.
Danes pay three to five times the amount North Americans do for
electricity, for example. Also, people have turned to active
transportation and public transit en masse because of very high taxes
High energy prices and high taxes are an anathema in
North America, especially the U.S., so don't expect European-style
reform here anytime soon. Too bad, because the payoff is a cleaner
environment, a stable climate, more livable cities, lower health-care
costs and a happier, more egalitarian society.