Stung by ongoing concern about hydraulic fracturing, Canada's oil-field service industry is making plans to talk to a handful of western communities as it drafts a voluntary code of conduct.
The public-relations blitz – or "collaboration" tour, as the Petroleum Services Association of Canada calls it – will take place in the spring, as companies seek input on how to conduct business. They won't directly consult academics or environmental groups, but the town-hall meetings, in five western communities, are open to "anybody that wants to attend," said Mark Salkeld, chief executive officer of the services association.
Mr. Salkeld said he did not know if the code would specify particular technical measures to fortify wells and safeguard drinking water from the high pressures of pumping liquids underground. And while community views are being sought on the code, which should be complete by year end, he said companies are also eager to present their side.
The industry has decided it is "time for us to start talking about what we do, and we're very good at it," he said. He added: "We want to get a really good discussion going with a wide spectrum of folks."
Fracking, as the practice is typically called, has unlocked massive new reserves of oil and gas. But it remains a sensitive public topic, and allegations of fouled water supplies have gained substantial attention through films such as Gasland and Promised Land.
The industry has sought to deflect criticism by moving toward transparency, although those efforts have been imperfect. In late 2011, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers unveiled a set of guidelines that "obligate CAPP members" to a series of actions, including "fracturing fluid disclosure." Few companies made voluntary public disclosures.
Substantial public information on fracking chemicals began in B.C. only last year, following mandatory reporting rules, and in Alberta this year, after similar rules came into effect. But even that disclosure is incomplete. Companies are permitted to shield from view any non-hazardous material they determine is a trade secret. Hazardous materials can be similarly hidden by applying to the federal government for permission.