Still waiting for conclusions about fracking in Newfoundland and Labrador

Memorial University associate vice-president Ray Gosine chaired the recent Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel, which recently released its final report. Image: Memorial University

Another Newfoundland and Labrador government-sanctioned report, another lack of consensus.

In May, a provincially appointed independent body called the Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel produced its findings, or lack thereof, concerning the impact on Western Newfoundland of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas production.

There is currently no fracking development in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Industry players, environmentalists, tourism stakeholders and others, with or without skin in the game, had been waiting with bated breath for the 200-page report.

They expected the document to determine whether fracking is environmentally safe and economically sound.

Some hoped for affirmation, others for condemnation. None got either.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador continues preventing petroleum companies from exploring for shale oil and gas in the province.

Right now, Shoal Point Energy is the only firm prepared to hydraulically fracture for hydrocarbons there.

Citing that his company merely wants to drill exploration wells on the Rock’s west coast, Shoal Point’s CEO, Mark Jarvis, seems frustrated about the fracking freeze.

“This whole review process, we’re talking about something that we don’t even know if there needs to be a controversy, because if we go in there and it’s not commercially viable, the story’s over,” says Jarvis.

The review offers a number of reasons for its indecisiveness, the most important being a lack of information about the Green Point geological structure, which may contain as many as 23 billion barrels of shale oil.

From the Port au Port Peninsula the formation stretches for hundreds of kilometres up into much of the Great Northern Peninsula.

According to the study, “The panel does not believe that a simple yes or no answer would be appropriate or responsible, especially given the unknown and unresolved issues.”

It further states, “There is a limited understanding of the geology and its implications for unconventional oil and gas development,” adding there is a “lack of clarity” about the process of developing a reservoir if it were unearthed.

St. John’s-based Memorial University associate vice-president Ray Gosine chaired in the study, a process that accepted submissions from numerous groups and more than 500 people.

Panel members also held public consultations and visited western Newfoundland as well as areas of Pennsylvania undergoing hydraulic fracturing.

Gosine says the province, unlike New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, never declared an official fracking moratorium.

Instead, it placed a pause on development, which in the panel’s view if ended would spur no substantial economic gains for Newfoundland and Labrador, but could create much needed revenue for its western region.

The report revealed that if the Port au Port Peninsula had 480 wells daily producing 400 barrels of oil hydraulic fracturing would contribute between $84 million and $136 million annually.

This, in the panel’s view, “cannot be considered a game changer with respect to the fiscal position of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

It did point out, though, that commercial exploitation of Green Point “may offer an opportunity that helps the Stephenville-Port au Port region bridge to a more economically diverse and sustainable future.”