George Murphy debates fracking

MR. MURPHY: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I take pleasure in rising in the House today to talk about fracking. We all know that this is a good argument over industrial development and the development of a resource. Again, when I stand up in the House and present a petition it is because the people have concerns that need to be addressed, and that is one of the reasons why we have to talk about fracking.

It is new. We know that it has been done, for example, since the 1860s. The Minister of Natural Resources talked about it earlier that yes, in that respect, fracking has been around for a while but back in the 1860s not only was it used for oil, it was used for such things as the development and the extension of water supply systems, for example, for water wells and that process was used, but not necessarily using those particular chemicals that we are talking about today. The whole process that we are talking about today is the advent of something that is called slickwater fracking.

Slickwater fracking has been going ahead with reckless abandon since 1997-1998. Particularly I think the first well that was fracked using that was actually done in the Eagle Ford basin Texas back then. Ever since then, it has advanced to the point now where even places like North Dakota have seen astronomical growth in oil production. I think last month it was recorded at something in the order of 756,000 barrels a day of production compared to what it was probably back in 2008 I think was the first figure I saw on that – I think it was somewhere around 38,000 barrels a day. That is how fast the fracking phenomenon and how much of an impact it is having on shale oil resources or basically on oil resources, and no doubt we are going to hear much more about that in the future when it comes to discussions of oil prices.

We have to ask ourselves why we need protection, and it is exactly for that reason. It is because it is only a new process, Mr. Speaker, that we have to put up the alarm bells. That the people of the Port au Port Peninsula are putting up alarm bells as regards to the process. That the people living up in the Gros Morne area and Parsons Pond even are putting up alarm bells. The flags are waving. They want protection from government for government to step in and develop these regulations concerning a new process that pretty much leaves everybody to question exactly what fracking is.

One of the concerns that I have heard over all of this, as regards to needing that protection, is of course they want their water resources protected. They want that 100 per cent assurance that there is not going to be any damage to their water resources because so much can happen to water resources if these things, these chemicals, for example, that are used in the slickwater process, if it leaches back, for example, into water aquifers or water wells, if they poison the water, if they ruin water. Certain things that happen during the fracking process – maybe the chemicals do not get back but it causes a release of methane gas, particularly, that also has a tendency to ruin water supplies.

We have to remember that people have the right to clean water. Again, last week we talked about it in the water motion that it was even covered by the United Nation's Charter. I am surprised that we would be thinking about the possibility that water supplies could be ruined, but they can.

We can turn to places like Rosebud, Alberta; we can talk about a case that I was just reading about last week from National Public Radio, a lady and her family had to move out of their premise in Pennsylvania and they ended up with a $750,000 settlement because it ruined all of the water on their land. It caused disruption for that particular family.

Again, there are a number of reasons why we need that protection. One of the things that I was thinking about, in conversation with somebody in the Gros Morne area – and let's talk about the tourism protection because while the hon. Member for Humber West was talking about $175 million that is being invested by oil companies on the West Coast since 1989. The last number that I saw as regards to the tourism industry investments that happen on a yearly basis, not since 1989, but on a yearly basis, brings in approximately $200 million in revenues to the tourism industry. We have pretty much around the year employment from the tourism industry, be it if it is from skiing or adventure tourism. Think about how much of a draw to the Province that Gros Morne National Park has been and how much of an economic impact that it has had, even since 1989.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MURPHY: It is in the billions of dollars if it is $200 million a year. We cannot ignore that fact. We cannot ignore the fact that if fracking happens within the Gros Morne area we are talking about the possibility of the United Nations lifting World Heritage status. That is a direct concern of tourism operators on the West Coast of the Province. Would it be a concern of the provincial government? I would say yes. If it did not, it would bother me. It certainly would.

I think that we have to have these protections in place for things like that, for protection of the tourism industry, along with the protection of water. The protection of an existing industry that is there now should come first and foremost, paramount. The right to clean water, we all believe in that. We passed that motion last week, sponsored by us.

Mr. Speaker, the list of chemicals used in slickwater fracking – there are a lot of carcinogenic chemicals. Even though the industry might like to put a positive light on it by saying it uses 90 per cent water, 9 per cent sand, and 1 per cent of these chemicals, it is that 1 per cent that we often wonder about and that the people of the West Coast of the Province are wondering about. Indeed, it is not just the West Coast, Mr. Speaker; I have also presented petitions that had people from St. John's on it, who signed the petition. It is a Province-wide concern; indeed, this is a worldwide concern as well.

We have methanol and hydrochloric acid. We have formaldehydes in there. We have God only knows, boric acids, and everything that is being used in there, Mr. Speaker. We need disclosure of the chemicals that are being used in drilling.

I note that the Minister of Natural Resources can order a disclosure of chemicals; I think he stood up and said that. Mr. Speaker, under Bill 29, when we talked about it, Bill 29 told us about proprietary information belonging to companies, that they do not have to disclose.

Then he talked about listing their chemicals on Web sites in a voluntary role. Mr. Speaker, that is not acceptable to anybody, to have to do it voluntarily. I think that he was probably referring to sites – for example, like FracFocus – that are out there, that are being talked about now that would have a voluntary disclosure of chemicals.

Like I said, unless the government is prepared to repeal part of Bill 29, we are not going to get disclosure of the chemicals that are there. Tell that to the people over on the West Coast right now in Jeffrey's. There was one person over there who sent me a note talking about where some fluids, where some drilling mud and everything was dumped. They were dumped in the Jeffrey's landfill. We do not know what else was dumped there. Let us talk about disclosure then, if we have to. That is another reason why we have to talk about putting in some solid regulations when it comes to fracking.

Mr. Speaker, we are also talking about the cautious need for full environmental assessments of the project. We are talking about the disposal of chemicals that are used or potentially recycled. In some processes they are talking about dumping them into the ground, deep in the earth, with the possibility that they are not going to leach up. Ask the people of Parsons Pond whether anything leaches up out of the ground.

The Minister of Natural Resources was just there on his feet and he was telling us about the early drilling projects in Newfoundland and Labrador. Folks, we had oil leaching up through the ground from time to time. Why wouldn't wastewater do the same thing and leach up through the earth? It is only natural that if you fracture the earth no longer is it going to be any kind of a protective shell, for example –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MURPHY: – an old salt cavern or something, such as some places would (inaudible).

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MURPHY: We have the possibility here of the leaching of some of these chemicals into aquifers and everything. We need the guaranteed protection that these chemicals not only are not going to be going into the ground and in some cases, like in Ohio, causing seismic activity and earthquakes, but we also need the seismic monitoring to go along with them. We need those guaranteed protections. It is not much, I do not think, the people of this Province are going to be asking for when it comes to that.

Let us talk about the evaporation techniques, Mr. Speaker, they are talking about. They are talking about making massive holding ponds for some of these waste chemicals, setting up these little spray nozzles, if you will, industrial-sized spray nozzles. If this makes any sense to the average person, I do not know why they would think it was a good thing. They take the wastewater chemicals, put it into a holding pond, set up this evaporation nozzle, and hopefully this is not going to add to the greenhouse gases by the process of evaporation. That is what they are talking about, for the possibility of one form of disposing of these chemicals next to the other form of burying them deep in the ground, deep in the earth, through a high-pressure activation that might cause earthquakes.

It makes no sense to take that much water and use it in a process that is a ruination, possibly, of other people's water supplies, not to mention that possible scar and environmental eyesore that government has no regulations around when it comes to holding ponds. We need not look to any other place but South Brook, who is just outside the Gullbridge holding ponds, the tailings pond from an old mine that let go and we almost lost a water supply down there. You cannot tell me that we are not going to see the possibility of an environmental disaster ending up in somebody's hand, Mr. Speaker. That has to be a consideration when it comes to all of this.

We do not have any way of recouping money from a company once it has pulled out and left us with a holding pond. If that holding pond causes environmental damage, how are we going to recoup the cost if the company has already hauled the oil up out of the ground and they are gone? They have probably gone years before. We do not even have a fund that government can create so we can remediate. Who does the remediation?

Let us talk about natural gas burn off from the drilling process. Everybody thinks that because you are recouping shale oil there is not going to be any kind of an amount of natural gas there that is either A, going to have to be re-injected into the well, which might be a bit more difficult than what the other option is going to do. They are probably going to take it and they are going to flare it off; in other words, they are going to burn it.

Now, I can see the people of Sally's Cove being absolutely pleased by looking over the horizon and seeing natural gas being flared off from the latest fracked well. Mr. Speaker, I do not know if that is going to endear anybody to go to Gros Morne Park just to see the second sunset. It does not work with me and I do not think it is going to work with a tourist – not to mention the smell that would come from something like that. We have an awful lot to think about when it comes to that.

Again, I talked about the dangers to water resources, particularly when it comes to the human health component, but I am talking about the possibility of this stuff leaching up, getting into the environment. If it gets in, what does it do to a fisheries resource? What does it do to natural fauna? What does it do to farming, for example, over there on the Port au Port Peninsula? I think there is a lot of sheep farming that goes on over there.

I know particularly on my last visit over there, I think somebody was over there raising Lamas. What does it do to these other industries without the protection that is there? The type of action needed by people, what they wrote to me about, what they wanted in the petition is a moratorium on any further drilling until comprehensive regulations are developed. That is not too much to ask for.

The federal government is trying to get out there now – they are due to come out with a report in March, 2014 that talks about the chemicals used in fracking. They are going to be coming out with their own report. Surely to God we can wait until 2014 for the federal government to come out with a report on that. Mr. Speaker, there are an awful lot of protections here that are needed, and the people are not asking for much.

At this time, Mr. Speaker, I would like to present an amendment to the member's bill.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MURPHY:The proposed amendment would be as such.

"(1) In the third recital clause by replacing the comma with a semicolon; (2) by adding a fourth whereas clause which reads: ‘Whereas it is incumbent upon the provincial government to ensure that our natural environment is protected from harmful industrial processes;'; (3) by adding a fifth whereas clause which reads: ‘whereas citizens of the province are calling for a moratorium on slickwater fracking until government develops comprehensive regulation while also ensuring that each proposed project undergoes a conclusive environmental assessment to determine whether it is safe for the environment, the integrity of water supplies and human health,' (4) in the resolution clause by replacing the words ‘safely while protecting' with ‘if conclusive environmental assessments ensure the protection of'".

Mr. Speaker, I have several copies of this amendment, and it is seconded by the Member for Signal Hill – Quidi Vidi.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Order, please!

We have an amendment put forward by the Member for St. John's East. The House will now take a brief recess to consider whether the amendment is in order.

Recess

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

We have considered the amendment as put forward by the Member for St. John's East and have determined that the amendment is not in order.

The hon. the Member for St. John's East.

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We would have hoped to make the amendment stronger, making good note that the people of the West Coast, with their concerns, would have been noted on that. It is unfortunate, Mr. Speaker. I will relay the floor to somebody else so they carry on the debate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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