If recent crises in Ukraine and Gaza are any indication of how our global thirst for energy is destabilizing the world order, then Ezra Levant – author of Groundswell: The Case for Fracking – has got it right. Levant astutely allocates an entire chapter to Russia’s Gazprom in “How the Shale Gas Revolution Weakens Russia’s Energy Monopoly.” The West’s economic sanctions against Russia for its aggression against Ukraine have not only jeopardized the European Union’s energy security, but also cemented the resolve of neighbouring Poland to develop its own shale gas reserves. The next chapter, “Shale Gas Around the World,” sums up the environmental policies of regions with significant shale gas deposits – Quebec, China, Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, France – including Israel, where “after the Arab Spring toppled Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, [the] natural gas pipeline … [that supplies Israel with Egyptian natural gas] … was bombed fourteen times.”
While Levant makes a compelling geopolitical argument for economics and energy self-sufficiency trumping the environment, he stumbles when referring to peak-oil theorists as “doomsayers.” Levant’s position that energy conservation and the development of alternative renewable sources of energy (such as wind and solar) are ill-conceived because of our planet’s plentiful shale oil and gas reserves is seriously flawed. It is because of diminishing conventional reserves that industry has had to resort to the messy business of fracking.
While Levant makes a compelling geopolitical argument for economics and energy self-sufficiency trumping the environment, he stumbles when referring to peak-oil theorists as ‘doomsayers.’
Levant emphasizes that by endorsing shale oil and gas as a transitional energy source, the US under Obama has not only achieved greater energy security, but has also become a gas exporter. However, half a decade later, Obama has introduced legislation to sharply curb GHG emissions sourced from coal-generated power plants. Given that the US has had to contend with numerous climate-related disasters, it’s not surprising that Obama has refused to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and has prioritized tackling GHG emissions. And now China, the world’s second-largest emitter, with its hundreds of smoggy cities, has committed to weaning itself off dirty coal as its primary energy source. But despite Levant’s assurances that fracking neither contaminates water nor triggers earthquakes, the jury is still out on the environmental impacts of fracking.
In order for shale gas to live up to its reputation as a clean, transitional energy source, scores of petroleum engineers, geologists and geophysicists are urging industry to invest in air quality monitoring equipment and to develop technology to reduce the risk of methane leakage. Methane is a highly flammable gas with mysterious migratory properties and the potential, during the fracking process, to pollute not only the atmosphere but also to contaminate subsurface water reserves. To safeguard their groundwater, France, Bulgaria and three Canadian provinces have banned fracking. Where fracking persists, it is incumbent upon government to effectively regulate operations and to enforce regulations.
Levant also overlooks the environmental footprint of the thousands of kilometres of pipelines that connect gas wells to compressor stations and processing plants. To the dismay of landowners, the same lending institutions that finance the oil and gas industry are reluctant to accept land subjected to fracking as security for a mortgage. In North Dakota and Texas, where a fracking boom has boosted local economies, the benefits are likely to be outweighed by irreversible environmental degradation.
Despite Levant’s accolades for the Chinese regime refusing to pander to environmentalists, widespread political unrest over fracking has been reported. China’s shale gas deposits are believed to be the largest in the world, and yet it recently negotiated a multibillion-dollar framework agreement with Russia for the supply of conventional oil and gas. As the global economy comes to grips with a “carbon bubble” and plummeting oil prices, ratification of the agreement has stalled.
In many ways, Groundswell is a sequel to Levant’s Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands, which defends against the “dirty oil” label attributed to Alberta’s tar sands. In both books, Levant urges his readers to endorse fracking and the tar sands as substitutes for the conventional oil and gas supplied by non-democratic regimes like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. The sudden downturn in oil prices – ostensibly caused by OPEC refusing to cut supply – reveals how Levant has oversimplified the inherent complexities of our global economy’s dependence upon fossil fuels, not only as its primary energy source but also as a benchmark commodity. Alarming parallels can be drawn between the mortgage crisis of 2008 and the overvaluation of the oil and gas industry’s assets and net worth.
Notwithstanding Groundswell’s biased analysis of the potential for shale gas fracking to transition our increasingly volatile, conflict-ridden globalized economy to a more sustainable, energy-secure world order, Levant has published a well-researched, witty and thought-provoking book.
Groundswell: The Case for Fracking, Ezra Levant, Toronto: McLelland & Stewart, 2014, 272 pages.
Barbara D. Janusz is a lawyer, educator and author of the novel Mirrored in the Caves. She has published environmentally themed book reviews, opinion and analysis columns, creative non-fiction stories, essays and poetry in journals, magazines, newspapers and anthologies across Canada.