The public debate on shale gas extraction is heating up as environmental experts and community groups face off against governments and the fuel industry. Already established in the US and Western Canada, exploratory shale wells are now being drilled across northeastern North America to gauge the quantities of this energy resource, touted by gas producers as a cleaner-burning fossil fuel. In Quebec, the provincial government has thrown its weight behind shale, claiming high energy estimates from existing wells and positive economic spin-offs; it says there is enough gas to supply Quebecers’ energy needs for the next 200 years and spur the creation of thousands of jobs. Yet in many locations environmental and safety impacts have yet to be studied, and leaks have been reported in more than half of the wells in Quebec. Recently, the province’s public health authority joined a growing number of experts and environmental activists in urging a halt to exploration until such impacts are fully assessed.
In Pennsylvania, reports by conservation groups show that shale gas companies have amassed more than 1,500 environmental violations in the course of drilling. Elsewhere, local residents are winning out against industry. Nova Scotian activists met with a cabinet minister after a petition against shale gas exploration was tabled in the provincial legislature. In New York State, lawmakers recently buckled under public pressure and imposed a six-month moratorium on shale gas exploration.