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SFU scientists fuel fracking debate

In areas where shale-drilling/hydraulic fracturing is heavy, a dense web of roads, pipelines and well pads turn continuous forests and grasslands into fragmented islands, according to a study by an international team of scientists including two from SFU. - PHOTO CONTRIBUTED
In areas where shale-drilling/hydraulic fracturing is heavy, a dense web of roads, pipelines and well pads turn continuous forests and grasslands into fragmented islands, according to a study by an international team of scientists including two from SFU.
— image credit: PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

Research by two SFU scientists could give new ammunition to groups opposed to "fracking," the controversial process of extracting natural gas from shale by injecting high-pressure chemicals to release trapped gas.

Viorel Popescu and Maureen Ryan, David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellows in SFU's Biological Sciences department were part of an international group of eight scientists that studied the environmental impact of 150 gas wells in three American states.

They discovered that two out of every three wells were fractured with at least one undisclosed chemical and some wells were fractured with fluids containing more than 20 undisclosed chemicals, some of which could be radioactive or carcinogenic.

The scientists also looked at the impact of the dense development of natural gas wells on the surrounding habitat and wildlife. They found detrimental effects of air, water, noise and light pollution.

"If you look at a heavily developed landscape down the road, you see more holes and cuts than natural habitats," said Popescu, a Burnaby resident. "Forests or grasslands that were once continuous are now islands fragmented by a dense web of roads, pipelines and well pads."

Popescu and Ryan said their findings are particularly important in British Columbia, where 16 liquified natural gas plants are proposed for the northeastern part of the province, each requiring hundreds of kilometres of pipeline and road infrastructure to transport the gas to ports on the coast.

"We must not just consider the impact of these projects individually, but also try to evaluate the ecological impacts holistically," said Ryan.

 

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