“Thought Leaders” Gather To Discuss The Future Of Shale Gas Development

September 27, 2012

Communica recently attended the Shale Gas Thought Leaders Forum in Vancouver, an event in which industry leaders, government officials, First Nations’ representatives, academics, and legal councillors, among others, gathered to discuss the future outlook for shale gas development primarily in British Columbia, and New Brunswick, Alberta and Quebec.

Hosted by the Pembina Institute, the forum considered the economic opportunities, and various social, economic and environmental influences and concerns in regards to shale gas development, as well as opportunities for improved communication with stakeholders. Keynote speakers included First Nations representatives, government officials and industry leaders. Some of the presentations covered environmental and social impacts of shale gas development, legal trends, regulatory framework in other parts of North America and the overall economics of shale gas development – to name a few.

The overall goal of the two-day conference was to provide a basis on which industry can collaborate and facilitate sustainable progress in shale gas development in B.C. and across North America.

Over the past five years, the shale gas industry has boomed in the northeast region of B.C., where more than 50 per cent of the shale gas in Canada is technically recoverable. Shale gas rests several kilometres beneath the earth’s surface, and requires complex technologies to recover the hydrocarbon, such as hydraulic fracturing, or, ‘fracing,’ and directional drilling.

The shale gas industry has recently come under fire due to the hefty volumes of water required to frac a well, and the potential for ground and surface water contamination due to well integrity issues and water disposal. Concerns regarding deforestation, land-use, threats to wildlife, release of greenhouse gas emissions, effects on air quality, and local pollution have also been raised.

The reverberating question brought forward throughout the conference was, if steadily increasing production is taking place in the backyard of First Nations communities who depend on their land for the health and livelihood of their communities, what can industry do to maintain its social licence to operate sustainably?

Some stakeholders acknowledged that although there is plenty of local economic opportunity in relation to shale gas development, the rapidly expanding industry must also acknowledge the needs of local communities. This means that stakeholder consultation must be delivered in a way that is meaningful to each community, and in a timely manner.

Improvements in sustainable technologies used for extraction, as well as careful environmental monitoring procedures, will also strengthen social licence. Taking initiative to better understand the cumulative impacts of shale gas development will help improve and develop relationships of trust with stakeholders.

In short, industry experts agreed that positive change is possible. While there is room for progress in regards to stakeholder engagement, it is also evident that industry is already committed to communication that is transparent, inclusive and proactive.

Our neighbors in the United States have already implemented studies to better understand the social, economic and environmental impacts of the shale gas industry, and are sharing these findings with Canada. Guidelines, such as those set up by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, are also some of the first steps towards implementing tighter regulations related to shale gas. For example, In B.C., companies that frac are now required to post the chemicals they use in fracing fluids on www.fracfocus.ca.

Shale gas development in Canada is still in its infancy, and while one province, Quebec, has implemented a moratorium to ensure development is done responsibly, it is clear that the benefits of the production of natural gas from unconventional reserves are far reaching.

The known facts of shale gas development (and natural gas in general) include:

  • The combustion of natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than any other hydrocarbon;
  • 175,000 wells have been fraced in Canada in the past 60 years, and none have ever been directly linked to water contamination;
  • There is extensive opportunity for local landowners and First Nations community members to take part in economic opportunity as companies continue to explore northeast B.C.;
  • Reserves will be a significant source of domestic natural gas (according to the Canadian Gas Association, more than 6 million Canadians rely on natural gas to heat their homes and run their vehicles – in fact, it is the number one energy source in the country).

Canada has made major progress in developing sustainable ways to extract oil from Alberta’s oil sands region, and now the world is looking at Canada once again to make similar progress in shale gas development. We have proven that we have the resources and technological know-how to do this, and based on the conversations that took place at the Shale Gas Thought Leaders Forum we also have the enthusiasm and national support to do it.

–Bridget Honch, Communica Advisor