Today, Ecojustice has requested that the Ministry of the Environment review Ontario’s existing laws and adopt new laws to protect Ontarians’ drinking water and the environment from the adverse effects of fracking (Read our submission here). We believe that Ontario should adopt a moratorium on fracking until a complete regulatory approach can be put in place organized around the “cradle to grave” principle of waste management which currently informs Ontario’s hazardous waste regime.

It’s hard to believe, but amid all the talk about the vast North American reserves of natural gas waiting to be drilled by means of hydraulic fracturing, Ontario does not have proper regulations to address the unique environmental and health risks posed by these activities. The Ontario government has promoted Ontario’s shale gas deposits for exploitation without ensuring that adequate regulatory protections exist to prevent harm to human health and the environment.

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a technique to release natural gas through the creation of fractures in subterranean rock layers. The process entails the pumping of large volumes of water, sand, and various chemicals under extreme pressure into shale formations. The specific mixture of chemicals varies from well to well and is often protected as confidential and not made known to the public. In many cases, these chemicals are toxic.

When a fracked well is de-pressurized, the fracking fluids flow back to the surface. Under law, this wastewater mixture must be collected and disposed of by the well operator. But there are significant risks that some or all of these mixtures may escape into the environment and possibly into public drinking water sources.

Ontario’s Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Act and Regulations 341 and 347 under the Environmental Protection Act address deep well drilling and waste management matters, but each of these laws and instruments was created before modern fracking practices were a legislative concern and none of them have since been amended to account for the unique environmental and health risks of fracking.

Fracking raises many concerns regarding the potential for adverse effects that have not been encountered before in oil and gas operations in Ontario. The existing regulatory regime is ill equipped to manage the potential effects from fracking.