The process of hydraulic fracturing, commonly refereed to as fracking, involves injecting large amounts of water and chemicals deep into ground deposits to fracture rock formations containing natural gas. Only after a well has been fracked can gas flow to the surface. Conventional natural gas sources can be accessed by simply drilling a well into deposits, in which gas then flows freely for collection.
Impacts and Colonization
Due the vast amounts of water, energy, and infrastructure required for hydrological fracturing, this process generates significant risk towards environmental degradation, social disruption, and habitat fragmentation. As expressed through various actors within the Idle No More movement, physical and spiritual connections to natural elements are still held sacred to many indigenous communities. As the land, water, and animals have supported their ancestors for thousands of years, these elements are considered to be part of indigenous peoples and their culture. Increased disruption of water systems and animal habitat may also erode the subsistence and independence of indigenous communities, infringing on both their cultural traditions as well as granted treaty rights.
Within the boreal forest of Northeastern British Columbia, there is increased potential for environmental disruption to wildlife populations. Forests over shale gas deposits must be cleared for additional roads, which will then be used for large amounts of industrial trafic. Concerning the development of unconventional natural gas wells, a study from The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that fracking requires 3,950 truck trips per well, a number two to three times greater than what is required for conventional wells . High volumes of vehicle traffic may increase erosion, generate noise and increase air pollution which may seriously affect regional ecosystems. A study from the Swarthmore College of Environmental Studies on Habitat Destruction and Fragmentation in the Marcellus Shale Formation, suggests that natural gas development can also have significant effects on forest wildlife and biodiversity, “…it is important to weigh the uncertainty and possibly cascading biological effects that habitat loss and fragmentation will have on forests.” In the rural regions of the Boreal Forest, similar threats to wildlife populations should be expected.
As they have been heavily affected by recent development, the Fort Nelson First Nation has expressed significant concern over the intensive water use of fracking process. After launching a petition titled ‘Don’t Give Away Our Fresh Water for Fracking’, the Fort Nelson band has asked for a moratorium on water licenses for industry, stating that their streams and wetlands are drying up (“Native Bands Oppose Natural Gas”). Depleted fresh water water reserves will not only affect fishing, but may also affect local wildlife populations in which the Fort Nelson people have relied on for centuries. Evidently, hydrological fracturing for domestic production is already impacting the viability of subsistence for indigenous populations. These impacts will surely be exacerbated as development is projected to expand to meet international demand. Caleb Behm, a Dene leader, has been recognized in analyzing fracking development in British Columbia, “First they came for the trees, they came for the gold, they came for the furs, they came for the children, they came for the oil, they came for the gas, and then they came for the water. They use the water to fracture mother earth”. As traditional territory and resources are being liquidated for industrial development, the erosion of indigenous sovereignty and culture may very be viewed as a process of continued colonization.