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How Canada's Become a Home for Some of the Biggest Fracking Projects

As furious debate over fracking continues in the United States, it is instructive to look at how a similar gas boom is unfolding for our neighbor to the north.

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Environmentalists say they welcome the effort, but caution that these projects are tiny compared to the industry's overall water use.

Governments, Industry Get Cozy

Public backlash to fracking has become such a concern for drillers and provincial governments in western Canada that last year they launched a joint effort to counter it.

In December 2010, the governments of  British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan signed a memorandum of understanding laying out a plan to share information and develop standards for hydraulic fracturing and water use. The provinces invited only one non-governmental entity to participate in the project: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

The memo, which was leaked in August and published by the Alberta Federation of Labour, a union group, said the provinces and petroleum producers would work together to develop "key messages" on shale drilling to persuade the public not to fear fracking.

"The project will help to demonstrate that shale gas extraction is viable, safe and environmentally sustainable," the memo said.

The memo blamed environmental groups for spreading misleading information and stirring opposition to drilling.

"Environmental Non-Government organizations (ENGOs) are supporting a ill-informed [sic] campaign on hydraulic fracturing and water related issues in British Columbia and in other jurisdictions," it said. "This is expected to grow as shale gas development expands into Alberta and Saskatchewan."

In a separate memo, Alberta Environment and Water reported that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers had approached the province to work on a joint public relations campaign.

Ultimately, no campaign materialized.

Janet Annesley, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the group hadn't wanted to join forces on PR but was just informing the province of plans to publish voluntary standards for shale gas drilling.

Still, critics saw the memo as proof of an overly cozy relationship between the government and the industry.

Bart Johnson, a spokesman for Alberta's Energy Minister, said the petroleum producers had suggested a joint PR initiative but dropped the request. Such a collaboration, however, would not have been inappropriate, he said. The government works with industry groups all the time, he said, citing a campaign with education groups against bullying in schools.

"Oil and gas is huge in Alberta. It fuels our economy. Indeed it fuels the economy of Canada," Johnson said. "Any suggestion that we shouldn't meet with that industry is ridiculous."

Nicholas Kusnetz has written for The Nation, Miller-McCune, The New York Times and other publications. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

 
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