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Streicker strikes back on fracking

The benefits of fracking are not worth the risks, says John Streicker, the Whitehorse city councillor and climate change expert.

The benefits of fracking are not worth the risks, says John Streicker, the Whitehorse city councillor and climate change expert.

Streicker is a professional engineer and scientist who has been researching and lecturing on climate change for more than 20 years.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of natural gas extraction that requires pumping a pressurized slurry of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to release gas trapped in the rock.

Yukon’s legislative assembly currently has a committee tasked with assessing the risks and benefits of allowing fracking in the territory.

Streicker has come under fire from some in the anti-fracking camp for a submission he made to that committee earlier this month.

The brief submission suggested that the Yukon government must carefully monitor and regulate any natural gas development that is permitted to occur in the territory. Left unchecked, methane leaks from gas production could result in far worse consequences for climate change compared with other fossil fuels.

Given this as evidence, Peter Becker wrote a commentary in the Whitehorse Star alleging that Streicker is “continuing a multi-year lobby campaign in favour of gas fracking in the Yukon.”

But Streicker does not support fracking in the Yukon or anywhere, he told the News in an interview this week.

Based on the science he has seen, the risks of fracking are greater than the benefits, in the short, medium and long term, he said.

In the long term, the environmental risks are the greatest, said Streicker. In the medium term we need to focus on getting away from fossil fuel energy. In the short term, the environmental risks are too high and evidence suggests that natural gas may not be a better alternative to other fossil fuels in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, he said.

There are three main areas of risk with fracking, said Streicker.

The first is the amount of water used in the process. Hydraulic fracturing requires large volumes of water, which are ultimately removed completely from the water cycle.

“That’s a big concern. If we had a lot of wells, that’s probably too much water. But that’s what you have to figure out. How much is too much?”

The second risk is the potential for groundwater and surface water contamination.

“The chemicals that you tend to use in a frack job often have some toxic and even poisonous elements to them - biocides and other things that are there in small quantities, but it doesn’t much matter because they’re toxic.”

Industry proponents say that the risk of contamination is small, but Streicker says there are too many ways that things can go wrong.

Plugging wells after production has stopped is not a long-term solution, he said.

“Those plugs, they need to last forever. If the plugs go, if the wells deteriorate over 50 years, 100 years, they’re a liability.”

The third risk is that methane leaks through the production, distribution, storage and use of natural gas could result in far worse climate change consequences than other fossil fuel options.

Methane is a greenhouse gas 80 to 85 times more potent that carbon dioxide over a 20-year horizon, according to the International Panel on Climate Change.

If methane leaks, or fugitive emissions, are any higher than 0.4 per cent of production, natural gas is no better than other fossil fuel alternatives, according to Streicker’s submission to the committee.

He noted that while fugitive emissions are hard to track, academic studies in the U.S. have measured leakage rates between 1.5 and 11.7 per cent.

A study out of Stanford University published this month in Science magazine found that, due to higher than previously estimated methane leaks, natural gas is worse than diesel as a transportation fuel in terms of climate change.

No jurisdiction in North America, to Streicker’s knowledge, has any regulations about acceptable thresholds for methane leaks, he said.

His key message to the committee is that, before any natural gas activity is allowed to occur in the Yukon, baseline data must be collected and regulations must be in place setting limits for fugitive emissions.

If regulating and monitoring the industry and holding it to those standards is to cumbersome, then that’s further evidence that “we shouldn’t be doing it,” said Streicker.

Those regulations need to be in place whether or not fracking is allowed in the territory, because methane leaks from conventional natural gas production poses the exact same risk, he said.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at