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Federal government criticized for leaving fracking chemicals off pollutant list

OTTAWA - Environmentalists and legal experts are criticizing the federal government's decision to leave toxic fracking chemicals off a list of pollutants going into Canada's air, land and water.

"The government doesn't know exactly which chemicals are being used for fracking and as a result doesn't know the risk that may be posed by those chemicals," Joseph Castrilli of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, an Ontario-based legal-aid clinic for environmental issues, said Wednesday.

"They're dangerous and they're extensively used across the country."

Earlier this month, Environment Canada posted an updated list of chemicals that come under the National Pollutant Release Inventory. That inventory lists the sources and amounts released of 363 harmful chemicals.

Three environmental groups had asked the department to include fracking chemicals on that list.

A recent U.S. report found 750 different chemicals are used in fracking, at least 29 of which are considered toxic or carcinogenic. And a study by the Canadian Council of Academies concluded that the silence around such additives is a major roadblock in understanding the environmental impact of fracking, which extracts otherwise inaccessible oil and gas by fracturing rocks with high-pressure injections of water and other compounds.

"To assess any potential impacts and to design monitoring strategies, the exact chemical composition of the hydraulic fracturing additives, as well as toxicity assessments and persistence and mobility tests, are needed," the study said.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, in public materials and in meetings with government, has supported disclosure of fracking chemicals. Alberta and British Columbia already require it — although they exempt substances considered trade secrets.

Environment Canada ruled such chemicals aren't used regularly enough or in large enough quantities to be inventoried.

"The quantities of (inventoried) substances used at individual wells are unlikely to meet the existing reporting thresholds for individual substances," say documents on Environment Canada's website.

The documents add that the inventory was never intended to be an exhaustive list of pollutants.

"The (inventory) is a key tool for identifying and monitoring sources of pollution in Canada, but it does not provide information on all pollutants or every source of pollution."

Critics say Environment Canada's response ignores possible cumulative effects. Nor does it consider that while fracking isn't continuous at any one wellsite, that doesn't mean releases aren't continuous.

"In all years, somebody's fracking somewhere in the country," Castrilli said.

"We know many of (the chemicals) are toxic," said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace.

"There are grave concerns right across the continent about this getting into drinking water. This is a basic issue of public right to know."

Environment Canada says it continues to study the issue as well as the Canadian Council of Academies report, which was released in April.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton

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