Opinion: Mulcair's latest stand against oil industry shows how little he knows6/14/2012
By taking on the oil sands and fracking, two of the biggest areas of controversy in the oil and gas industry, Thomas Mulcair is positioning himself as a headline-chasing anti-oil crusader.
Mr. Mulcair’s strategy is politically astute. By providing a counterpoint to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pro-oil policies, the federal NDP leader is getting lots of attention.
The problem is that he’s using big words while knowing little.
Not only is he alienating many potential voters who know better, including the vast numbers working in and for the oil and gas industry across the country, but his sinister view of energy development threatens to make him a political lightweight.
After trashing the oil sands for supposedly boosting the value of the Canadian dollar to the detriment of the manufacturing sector — a theory that had a short shelf life with the recent pullback in oil prices — Mr. Mulcair took on the sector’s main lobby group.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, he said Monday, is “pulling a con job” when claiming there are regulations to ensure that shale gas fracking is safe, and he challenged the sector to reveal what is contained in fracking fluid. The technique uses a specially blended liquid that is pumped into a well under extreme pressure causing cracks in rock formations underground. These cracks in the rock then allow oil and natural gas to flow, increasing resource production.
“Here’s one tough question: If you think that your method of getting to that gas is safe, why won’t you reveal the contents of the fracking fluid?” he said in New Brunswick, where he was boosting the campaign of provincial NDP Leader Dominic Cardy.
“Because that fracking fluid contains known carcinogens and other very dangerous substances.”
Mark Salkeld, president and CEO of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, which represents Canadian companies that do the actual fracking, said Mr. Mulcair is, at best, not giving industry credit for what it’s doing, and at worst plain wrong.
He pointed to FracFocus, an online chemical disclosure registry used by his members that has been running in the U.S. for years, that has been introduced in British Columbia, and that is being considered by other provinces. In B.C., where disclosure of the types of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing was made mandatory Jan. 1, residents can find out what chemicals are being used on a well-by-well basis.
In Alberta, companies are required to disclose fluids to the provincial regulator and public disclosure is expected to be mandatory later this year. The New Brunswick government recently announced plans to require disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids.
“In Canada, we are disclosing our fluids in this aspect of industry,” Mr. Salkeld said on the sidelines of the group’s annual investment conference Tuesday. “PSAC is a strong proponent of wanting to get a single system across all of Canada. We are working with other jurisdictions that will introduce hydraulic fracturing and we will implement the same system. Bottom line is: we are there.”
As for Mr. Mulcair’s contention that the sector isn’t properly regulated, Mr. Salkeld offered to get the politician up to speed so that he’s more “current.”
“We are well regulated and it’s something that we should be very proud of,” he said. “We are world leaders with respect to what we are doing, and I stand on that and tell it to anybody, especially with respect to our regulatory piece.”
Joe Peskunowicz, executive vice-president at Canyon Services Group Inc., a top fracking company, said Mr. Mulcair’s views mirror a general lack of understanding about how fracking works. In Canada, regulations have been developing for decades, but the public has focused on environmental problems in areas of the U.S. where the technology was newly introduced and regulations weren’t in place.
“Unfortunately, it would be self-serving to stand here and say, ‘We do this right. The proof is that industry is doing this right’,” he said.
Safety has been “a non-issue” in Western Canada, where operators case wells so that fluids don’t contaminate underground water and aren’t allowed to dump fluid on the ground.
“It has to be caught, recycled, reused and contained, and when the project is finished, injected into a deep disposal well that is certified at very deep depths to do it,” he said.
CAPP announced in January new Canada-wide hydraulic fracturing operating practices that include disclosing chemicals, monitoring ground water, mitigating risks, and ensuring there is a spill response plan in place.
In a speech to an industry group at the time, CAPP president David Collyer said industry believes it can produce shale gas safely, but also acknowledged the public is concerned and those concerns need to be addressed through improved performance and greater transparency. Mr. Collyer also said the adoption of best practices would help raise the bar on regulation, which is inconsistent from province to province.
To Mr. Mulcair, it may all feel like a “con job.” Another way of looking at it is that industry’s efforts to appease critics are over and above.