If you've been following the protests against shale-gas development in Canada you might be confused about what the frack is going on (apologies to Battlestar Galactica geeks).
Your position on the issue probably wasn't influenced much by this week's publicity stunt in Montreal, where a couple dozen oil and gas executives took sips from glasses of fracking chemicals.
According to the Financial Post, Halliburton Canada vice-president John Gorman served up the stuff in champagne bottles at the Quebec Oil and Gas Association's annual luncheon to demonstrate that the international petroleum-services giant's trademarked CleanStim fracking fluid is not environmentally dangerous.
“We were trying to show that whenever the oil and gas industry is shown a challenge, we view it as an opportunity to find solutions," he said. "And in this case, we only had to replace very few chemicals with some food additives.”
Gorman conceded no company in Canada and just a few in the United States have used this drinkable fracking fluid so far, partly because it's new and costs more, the Post reported. Yes, he and other fracking proponents hope it demonstrates that the industry is serious about allaying fears about the environmental impact of fracking.
[ Related: Fracking in Canada: time to embrace the procedure? ]
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is the technique of injecting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale rock formations at high pressure to crack it and release oil or natural gas that's present.
It's been used for decades to extract residual reserves from conventional oil fields, but lately has become affordable to get at untapped shale-gas reserves.
As the map in this B.C. Women's Institute article shows, large swaths of Canada and the United States are thought to contain huge shale-gas reserves. It's drastically revised the U.S. outlook for domestic energy production and the need for petroleum imports over the next century.
But opposition has grown with stories of contaminated groundwater and now familiar YouTube videos of people turning their kitchen faucets into Bunsen burners.
Not surprisingly, opponents think Halliburton's stunt – staged in a province where fracking is banned for now – didn't prove a thing, nor do industry claims that fracking has proven safe elsewhere in Canada and the U.S.
“I don’t believe when industry and government say that everything is okay in other jurisdictions — because that’s just not true," said Stephanie Merrill, director of freshwater protection program at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, which was hit by angry protests in Rexton last month. "That’s not what we are hearing."
There seems to be no middle ground for fracking's opposing sides.
Even if the fracking chemicals are safe as mother's milk, opponents worry about increased levels of radioactivity from waste products and reports that fracking operations have triggered earthquakes.
Protests have cropped up in New Brunswick, where First Nations people clashed with police trying to break up a blockade targeting a shale-gas exploration program, and in Nova Scotia, where CTV News reports people are trying to prevent renewal of a fracking operation that ended six years ago.
Anti-fracking protesters also showed up at the Yukon legislature this week as the territorial government initiated a public review of fracking ahead of issuing permits, CBC News reported.
The widespread potential for shale-gas extraction seems to ensure that anti-fracking campaigns will rival those against oil sands development, which is largely limited to regions of Alberta and Saskatchewan.