Scholarly article on topic 'Is anyone out there? Exploring Saskatchewan’s civil society involvement in hydraulic fracturing'

Is anyone out there? Exploring Saskatchewan’s civil society involvement in hydraulic fracturing Academic research paper on "Social and economic geography"

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Energy Research & Social Science
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{Fracking / "Civil society" / Saskatchewan / "Bakken formation"}

Abstract of research paper on Social and economic geography, author of scientific article — Andrea Olive, Katie Valentine

Abstract No Canadian province has fewer regulations surrounding the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) than Saskatchewan. Other provinces – and some US jurisdictions and foreign countries – have banned fracking or chosen to heavily regulate it because of its environmental and public health risks. Saskatchewan has lax regulations and a political regime that favors the oil and gas industry. This paper asks where environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs) are in the landscape of public opposition to fracking. Previous research has shown the rural communities can be dependent on natural resource extraction for revenue and jobs thereby leaving citizens unwilling to speak out against the industry or the government policy that surrounds it. Through surveys and interviews with ENGOs in Saskatchewan we find these organizations are not engaged in fracking debates or policy at all. No ENGO in the province is lobbying for regulatory changes and no ENGO is presently working to disseminate information on fracking to the public or government. This suggests, in line with earlier work, that Saskatchewan will remain the wild west of Canadian fracking, while the public and the environment may pay a significant cost.

Academic research paper on topic "Is anyone out there? Exploring Saskatchewan’s civil society involvement in hydraulic fracturing"

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Is anyone out there? Exploring Saskatchewan's civil society involvement in hydraulic fracturing

Andrea Olivea,!\ Katie Valentineb

a Political Science and Geography, University of Toronto Mississauga, 3359 Mississauga Rd, Mississauga, ON L5L 1C6, Canada 1 b Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, Canada



Keywords: Fracking Civil society Saskatchewan Bakken formation

No Canadian province has fewer regulations surrounding the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) than Saskatchewan. Other provinces - and some US jurisdictions and foreign countries - have banned fracking or chosen to heavily regulate it because of its environmental and public health risks. Saskatchewan has lax regulations and a political regime that favors the oil and gas industry. This paper asks where environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs) are in the landscape of public opposition to fracking. Previous research has shown the rural communities can be dependent on natural resource extraction for revenue and jobs thereby leaving citizens unwilling to speak out against the industry or the government policy that surrounds it. Through surveys and interviews with ENGOs in Saskatchewan we find these organizations are not engaged in fracking debates or policy at all. No ENGO in the province is lobbying for regulatory changes and no ENGO is presently working to disseminate information on fracking to the public or government. This suggests, in line with earlier work, that Saskatchewan will remain the wild west of Canadian fracking, while the public and the environment may pay a significant cost.

1. Introduction

Recovering unconventional oil and gas for human use is often politically controversial. In the case of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which involves blasting a water and chemical mixture deep into the ground to shake oil and gas from shale rock, controversy has sometimes led to stringent government regulation and even moratoria and bans. In Canada there is regional bifurcation where the eastern provinces have heeded the precautionary principle and opted for heavy regulation or banned fracking, while the western provinces have embraced this unconventional technique.

No province is fracking more with fewer regulations than the prairie province of Saskatchewan, which is home to a large swatch of the Bakken Shale Formation shared with North Dakota, and to a much lesser extent Manitoba and Montana. Saskatchewan has taken a handsoff approach to regulating oil and gas development [1]. In fact, all oil and gas exploration activity is exempt from environmental assessment [2,1] and fracking wells are approved without impact statements. These exemptions are part of the government's "results-based regulatory regime" [3].

In a recent articled published in this journal, Eaton and Kinchy [4]

argue that fracking is less politically controversial in Saskatchewan because it is often a main source of employment and revenue for rural communities. Through landowner interviews they found that "rural dwellers often feel alone, unsupported, and vulnerable to economic and social exclusion" and lack the "civic capacity and political opportunity" to express their opposition to unconventional oil and gas production (2016, 29). This paper approaches the same research, but from a different angle: the involvement of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) in Saskatchewan. The main research question asks: are ENGOs involved with fracking in Saskatchewan? If so, how? And if not, why not?

2. Literature

The environmental impacts of fracking have been well explored in scientific literature (see, for example [5-11]). The main concerns, and those most studied, involve water pollution and scarcity, methane emissions and climate change, habitat destruction and species at risk, and air and noise pollution. Indeed, the risk of water contamination is often a common rallying cry for communities opposed to fracking in North America. Contamination is usually the result of one of the five

* Corresponding author.

E-mail addresses: (A. Olive), (K. Valentine). 1

Received 25 July 2017; Received in revised form 9 November 2017; Accepted 14 November 2017 Available online 27 November 2017

2214-6296/ © 2017 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/BY-NC-ND/4.0/).

methods: "transportation spills, well casing leaks, leaks through fractured rock, drilling site discharge, and wastewater disposal" [11]. As one example, North Dakota reported 42 wastewater spills a week on average in 2014 [5]. This is problematic because the wastewater produced by fracking operations is highly saline, and contains contaminants such as selenium, lead, and ammonium [9]. When these wastewater spills occur, they can contaminate surrounding soil and water and the chemicals can persist for up to four years in the surrounding environment [9].

Air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are other important areas of environmental concern. A single well pad, which houses the drilling rig and other equipment, "creates substantial increases in local air quality pollutants during peak activity" [7]. For example, landowners in Saskatchewan's Bakken region cited "persistent coughs and sore throats" and "itchy red eyes" [12]. This could be due to hydrogen sulfide leaking from wells. The gas has led to serious health impacts and death to oil workers and animals in Saskatchewan [12].

The venting of excess natural gas from fracking wells is related to climate change since methane, released in natural gas, is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions - i.e. the emissions released from the time the oil is developed to the time when it is refined and used in vehicles - associated with Bakken oil production is similar to that of oil produced elsewhere in the United States [19]. However, local emissions of methane volatile organic compounds from well pads in the Bakken can be particularly high, as one study found that 14% of wells in North Dakota's Bakken region were high-emitting, compared to 1% in Wyoming's Powder River oil field [20]. These emissions have environmental and health implications for the people and animals that live nearby the wells since they can lead to more ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog and a pollutant that can cause chest pain and lung harm [22].

This literature on environmental and public health risks is not surprisingly matched by a rapidly growing literature around ENGO involvement in the overall global fracking landscape, from Western Europe (i.e. [13]) to Eastern Europe (i.e. [14]) to Africa [15]. Closer to Saskatchewan, there have been multiple cases of ENGOs working with communities in North America to fight proposed hydraulic fracturing (see for example, [16]).

ENGOs traditionally serve as sources of pressure for governments to change their policies. In Canada, a "great deal" of policy is crafted with some degree of involvement with ENGOs [26]. Environmental NGOs, for instance, played a major role in the crafting of Canada's Species at Risk Act, and they did so in part by mobilizing the public in support of federal endangered species legislation [21]. The environmental movement in Canada has also "influenced land-use planning through advocacy, public participation and collaborative processes" [23]. In addition, Canadian ENGOs have directly challenged the country's fracking practices in court. The Sierra Club and the Wilderness Committee sued the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission and Encana Corporation over fracking practices that they say violate B.C.'s water act [24]. In fact, ENGOs, along with the government and industry, are one of the three major institutions involved in discussions over oil and gas production in Canada [25].

Given the variety of environmental concerns related to fracking we would expect active public opposition in Saskatchewan. Indeed, we would expect environmental organizations to champion this issue and give voice to people impacted and concerned about the myriad of environmental risks. Essentially, ENGOs in Saskatchewan should play a significant role in this issue - that of a watchdog, public educator, and government lobbyer. While Eaton and Kinchy [4] find that landowners feel isolated and unable to speak against the oil industry or government because of economic dependence and social ties, we would posit that local existing ENGOs should play a "mediating role" between the government and its citizens.

3. Oil development in the Bakken

Saskatchewan is Canada's second largest producer of oil and the sixth largest oil producing jurisdiction in Canada and the US. According to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Economy, the province produced 460,000 barrels of oil per day in 2016 and has estimated oil reserves of up to 1.2 billion barrels [17]. The oil and gas industry contributed an estimated $600 million in revenue to the provincial economy in 2016 and employed 32,000 people directly and indirectly in the industry [17]. The provincial government often touts Saskatchewan as an "energy giant." There are about 36,000 active oil wells across Saskatchewan, and there has been approximately 7200 oil well completions in the Bakken region of Saskatchewan to date [18]. Oil was discovered in the Bakken in the 1950s, but only over the past decade, as a result of fracking technology, has oil production occurred there. As the government points out, oil wells in the Bakken are "primarily horizontal with a multi-stage frack completion" [18]. In 2016, the Bakken produced 19.7 million barrels of oil, which is about 54,000 barrels a day. There is no denying the region is a significant economy staple for the province providing both jobs and government revenue.

There is "widespread agreement among elected officials in both governing and opposition parties that fracking is safe and should be continued" [1,411]. This vacuum of political opposition has created a "proindustry regulatory climate around oil and gas" [1,411] and resulted in little direct regulation of the fracking industry as well as little in the way of other environmental regulations that might infringe upon fracking and oil development. While non-government organizations in Saskatchewan have historically been successful in mobilizing political parties to act on issues of health care, nuclear energy, and uranium mining, for example, "NGO attention has not coalesced" around oil and "government regulations have not been changed by civil society" [1,412]. This paper is an attempt to understand why NGOs are not engaged on the issue of fracking and oil development in the Bakken, especially given both the significant environmental risks and the success of ENGOs in other fracking jurisdictions.

4. Methodology

To examine ENGO involvement in fracking in Saskatchewan we decided to contact all existing ENGOs in the province and survey them in regards to involvement and knowledge of fracking. To establish a list of existing and active environmental non-governmental organizations we consulted scholarly literature, grey literature, Google, Twitter, and Facebook. This research resulted in a list of 22 Saskatchewan based ENGOs.

A web-survey was emailed to the ENGOs three times over the course of three weeks. See Appendix A in Supplementary material for a list of questions from the survey. Of the 22 organizations that received surveys, 11 filled out the survey and 2 responded to the email to say they were not interested in filling it out because their organization was not engaged with fracking. Of the 11 that filled out the survey, 3 gave contact information for a follow-up interview. All 3 of these organizations were contacted via email; however only two agreed to interviews. These interviews were conducted one-on-one over the phone with a representative from each organization. Both organizations wished to remain anonymous. These interviews are used in this research to give depth to the survey information and provide useful qualitative data, while it is noted that they are in no way representative of all ENGOs in Saskatchewan and are not generalizable as such.

5. Results

Among the 11 NGOs that answered the survey, education was the most-cited objective of the organizations, with five NGOs listing education on forests, drinking water, the outdoor environment, and the prairie ecosystem as the main objective of their ENGO. Three listed

Table 1

The Most Important Environmental Issues in Saskatchewan According to ENGOs.

What do you think is the most important environmental issue in Saskatchewan? Number of ENGOs that provided response (n = 11)

Habitat loss 3

Climate change 2

Loss of native prairie grass 2

First nation access to clean water 2

The provincial government 1

Need for renewable energy 1

conservation and sustainability concerns, and one listed drinking water access in rural and indigenous communities. When asked what the most important environmental issue is in Saskatchewan, none of the ENGOs listed "fracking" or "oil and gas development." Instead, as Table 1 demonstrates, Saskatchewan environmental groups are more concerned about wildlife, climate change, and water. Thus, problems that are be exacerbated by fracking were cited by multiple organizations, but fracking itself was left out of all responses.

Related, six out of the 11 respondents said they were involved in campaigns connected to grassland ecosystems, and six also stated that they were involved in campaigns about species at risk or climate change. Water quality was also a relatively active area as five listed their involvement in campaigns related to water pollution. Only two, however, listed their involvement in campaigns related to oil and gas production. Thus, ENGOs are again citing issues related to fracking as main concerns and campaigns, but without claiming direct interest or action on fracking itself. For example, it should be difficult to engage in a strong campaign to protect species at risk or water pollution without also engaging the issue of fracking in the province.

When asked how important oil and gas production is to their organization, only 2 ENGOs said it was very important, while 5 said somewhat important, and 4 claimed oil and gas is not a focus of their organization. The responses were the same for the importance of hydraulic fracturing. One of the two respondents that checked "oil and gas extraction" as a campaign they were involved with noted that their involvement was not a campaign per se, but an issue "on which we're currently active." However, they also listed fracking as only "somewhat" important to their ENGO. The other group that stated involvement in oil and gas development campaigns claimed they had not done any work on fracking in the last two to three years, and was overall not doing any work currently due to lack of funding.

We asked ENGOs what about fracking is most concerning to their organization, and effects on water was listed by 6 of the 9 organizations that responded to the question, while 1 said the impact on native prairie habitat and the other 2 organizations simply said "everything about it." In terms of degree of concern, ENGOs were asked how concerned they are on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most concerned. The average answer was a 5, with only 1 organization scoring its concern as a 9 or higher. But six respondents listed their concern over fracking as higher than a 5, suggesting a concerned atmosphere among ENGOs. In addition, one respondent that listed fracking lower than a 5 on the concern scale clarified in the next response that this ranking was due to the fact that, thanks to "limited resources," their organization had not made fracking a priority.

Overall, few ENGOs are making efforts to educate the public on fracking or communicate to the government about the issue. Only three said the said that they did any educational work related to fracking and the public, while only two said they have done something to inform the provincial government about fracking. In terms of public outreach, comments to this question by these ENGOs surveyed included: "research papers written by some members" of the organization, and "a fact sheet on our website about hydraulic fracturing."

In addition, three ENGOs said that Saskatchewan residents sometimes contact them regarding fracking. As the ENGOs noted in the

survey, these residents usually contacted the ENGOs to "express their concerns and request info on the issue," "inquire about risks of the industry," or "mostly if they have a local concern about water quality and wonder if it's connected to fracking." Two respondents said that they had been in contact with the provincial government about fracking, either to serve "as panel member for the Government to assess risks of this industry," or to "ask them for information about fluids." Two the ENGOs admitted they have no contact with the government at all. Overall, the survey responses paint a picture of low ENGO involvement with the public and government around fracking.

5.1. Interviews

Neither of the ENGOs interviewed did any work directly with fracking, but both were focused largely on conservation. One, which will be referred to as a "prairie NGO," is an umbrella organization whose main concern is the conversion of Saskatchewan's native prairie for agricultural and industrial purposes. The other, which will be referred to as the "conservation organization," is focused mainly on maintaining healthy habitat for wildlife. The following section will discuss the major themes, which were chosen for their relevance to the main research question and for the frequency with which the representatives of the organization brought them up in the interview.

5.2. Theme one: lack of knowledge

One of the main themes that emerged in the interviews was the lack of knowledge surrounding fracking and its impacts in Saskatchewan. This lack of knowledge is prevalent among the public, the ENGOs claimed, and also in some cases extended to the ENGOs themselves. The representative from the prairie NGO, for instance, knew that southern Saskatchewan was home to stores of oil, but she was unsure whether that oil was developed by fracking. She said,

As far as I know, and I could be totally mistaken, [fracking] is something that we've never even talked about. Because our focus is native prairie, a lot of our programing and our partner activities are really focused in southern Saskatchewan. I don't know if fracking occurring in Southern Saskatchewan or if that's more of a northern thing. I don't know.

This lack of knowledge was cited by both organizations as something the public in Saskatchewan likely suffered from as well. Neither of the representatives knew exactly what information was available to the public on fracking or where the public got information about fracking. The participant from the conservation organization claimed:

I think part of the issue is, in Saskatchewan, although oil and gas has been around for a long time here - it's not a new industry - its growth in the last decade or so is quite new. So I think the average person in Saskatchewan doesn't really understand the oil and gas industry.

People who work in the oil industry will likely understand where fracking occurs and what its risks are. But those who do not - especially those who live in cities - can be far removed from the subject, which can contribute to this lack of knowledge about what its impacts are.

Given the lack of salience both organizations felt that it might take a disaster to throw the practice into the public spotlight in Saskatchewan. The conservation organization mentioned the Husky oil spill, a 2016 pipeline leak that affected the drinking water of Saskatchewan communities downstream, but said that other than that, Saskatchewan has had few major disasters related to the oil industry. The conservation NGO representative noted. "I think there has to be that catalyst or push, whether it's an environmental disaster or the oil and gas the fracking itself becomes a problem for people. And then I think things will change." The prairies NGO representative agreed: "Unless something happens that makes the news, I don't think the average person knows

how [oil is] being developed ... It might take something bad to happen for a lot of the public to start thinking about it, right?"

5.3. Theme 2: fracking isn't an environmental problem yet

Related to the idea that it may take some sort of disaster to bring fracking into the eye of the public, the ENGOs interviewed noted that, for them, fracking was off their radar largely because it has not become a problem yet. The conservation organization, for instance, described a lot of its policy development as "reactionary:"

I think a lot of our policies have developed out of situations where there's been a problem, where there's been a new type of development that hasn't really been developed before. I don't think we have policies written on things like renewable power generation, wind mills, solar, because it's never really been a big concern for us.

Similarly, the prairies ENGO representative spoke in terms of fracking being something that, if it became an issue in the future, could be something that the ENGO would begin to look into. But thus far, it has not been brought up by partner organizations that work closely with the ENGO, and thus has not been a priority. The group has written fact sheets with best practices for the oil industry in the past, though none of these addressed fracking specifically. However, the representative noted that could change in the future: "I think that if fracking is a big thing or becomes an issue in southern Saskatchewan there's no reason why that process couldn't be included in some sort of fact sheet sort of thing or some sort of an educational resource for sure," she said.

5.4. Theme 3: environment must be balanced with economy

Both ENGOs spoke of the need to balance their desire for environmental health with the desire for responsible development of Saskatchewan's land and resources. This need for balance, they said, came from outside sources. For the prairies NGO, this balance came from the partner organizations it works with on a regular basis, which includes organizations and agencies devoted solely to economic development in the province. The prairies NGO representative repeated throughout the interview that her organization's stance was not antidevelopment, but pro-environmentally responsible development:

It's kind of a more well-rounded view on native prairie conservation. So it's not that we are against or opposed any type of industrial development, as long as it's sustainable and anything that is disturbed is reclaimed or restored either onsite or in an offset way in a different area. So we're not anti-development, but we want it to be done in a sustainable way on native prairies."

For the conservation organization, many of its thousands of members province-wide had some connection to the oil industry, and the group depended on these members for support in getting fishing, hunting, and conservation initiatives passed. As the ENGO's representative explained:

I shouldn't say we have to be 'cautious' because of this, but we are. A lot of our members particularly in the southeast and northwest are involved in the oil and gas sector. They work there, they're branch members, they support us. And they raise funds in communities, and a lot of those funds come from sponsorship of oil and gas companies or people that work for those companies. So they're very connected to that industry across the province.

These statements were not lamentations on the part of the representatives, however; there was no sense that they wished to be more outspoken or aggressive about development in Saskatchewan. The conservation ENGO representative noted that, in his experience, he found working with the government on environmental issues was more effective than lobbying against it. That relationship extends to oil

companies too: If the NGO is ever dealing with oil companies, which sometimes ask to perform seismic testing on lands that the NGO has control over, it grants them access. It's more beneficial, he said, "to have a constructive working relationship with these companies than to try to throw dirt in their face and send them away."

6. Discussion

The main finding of this research is that none of the ENGOs who participated in the survey are focusing on fracking within their organizations, nor do they know of any ENGOs in the province that are working on the issue. Instead, ENGOs seem to be a niche community with narrow focuses and few campaigns. The 11 survey respondents are all working on environmental issues directly impacted by fracking, but no group is making the connection. For example, groups claim to lead campaigns on climate change and the grasslands ecosystem without reference to fracking and the impacts from oil and gas development. Moreover, no group is engaged in public outreach on fracking and no group is lobbying the provincial government to improve regulations surrounding fracking.

Overall, the surveys and interviews reveal extremely low salience on the issue of fracking. Surprising, one ENGO representative from a well established prairie grasslands organization was not even sure if fracking was occurring in Southern Saskatchewan. The Bakken Formation is a significant shale play and the province is the second largest producer of oil in the country. The fact a professional environmental activist could be unaware of fracking is alarming. Of course, the lack of knowledge and awareness about fracking did not translate to a direct lack of concern across the ENGOs. Six survey respondents listed their concern over fracking as higher than a 5 on a scale of 1-10, and six also said the issue of fracking was "somewhat" or "very" important to their organizations. The survey and interview responses suggest that the reasons for this dichotomy of caring about the issue but choosing not to focus on it could stem from a lack of knowledge or from the fact that other environmental concerns are taking precedence for the ENGOs.

For example, the native prairies NGO listed fracking as an 8 on the scale of 1-10, but confessed to a lack of knowledge about the practice and noted that the organization has focused on other threats to native prairie, such as agricultural and industrial development. Fracking, as a form of industrial development, could ostensibly fit into this priority of protecting native prairies from being over-developed, but the ENGO did not know enough about fracking in Saskatchewan to know what sort of threat it posed. Similarly, an organization that focused solely on soil health noted on the survey that fracking was not a focus of their organization, and that they instead focused more heavily on making agricultural practices more soil-friendly. These responses suggest that the ENGO may not be aware of the threats that wastewater spills can pose to soil - or, if they are aware, that they think these threats are not as pressing as those related to agriculture.

Eaton and Kinchy [4] found that Saskatchewan residents are cautious of speaking out against fracking because of economic ties to the industry - either directly or indirectly. We found this might also be a shared concerned among existing ENGOs in the province who appear cautious about taking on fracking as a major campaign issue. The interviews suggest that ENGOs do not want to upset either the government or their financial base. The conservation ENGO representative felt that taking on fracking policy might upset some members of the organization since those members work in the industry or otherwise tied to fracking for their families' livelihoods. Thus, other environmental priorities - those less politically controversial - are taking precedence for ENGOs in Saskatchewan. And, as the interviewees noted, a fracking-related environmental event or disaster may be one of the few catalysts for action. Essentially, ENGOs in Saskatchewan are only willing to oppose fracking once it is already too late.

Lack of ENGO engagement on fracking in Saskatchewan, such as that revealed in this survey, has numerous important policy

implications for the province, Canada, and the global fracking community. First, it means that the Saskatchewan public is not receiving a high level of messaging on fracking from an environmental standpoint. This lack of public outreach is crucial. According to the surveys, residents are contacting at least three of the ENGOs in regards to fracking, with concerns mainly about water quality. Unfortunately, ENGOs seem disengaged on this issue and lacking in relevant data to share with concerned citizens.

Second, landowners who are wondering whether to sell their mineral rights to oil companies have limited access to information about the environmental impacts of fracking. If landowners get their information from the government or oil companies, they are not likely to hear a pitch that includes the dangers that could arise from allowing a well on their land. Or it the information comes from other landowners who have experience with oil and gas development, it is harder to know what information they are exposed to. And if they get their data from landowners' rights groups, they may be getting a message more in line with securing the best possible deal in their lease. The overall implication may be that landowners are selling their mineral rights and fracking is increasing throughout the Bakken region without any thought given to the possible environmental impacts.

Third, ENGOs are not providing government with consistent and high level messaging on fracking. Nor are they engaged in any kind of government lobbying. This is important because Saskatchewan has a "conspicuous" lack of regulations specifically related to fracking [1]. The practice - as well as all oil and gas development as a whole - is largely regulated by the Minister of the Economy, whose mandate is not environmentally-focused. Instead, the primary role of the Ministry, as well as the mindset espoused by the conservative government to "create the best environment for business—and then get out of the way," means that without outside influence, it is unlikely that meaningful change will be made to environmental regulations on fracking in the province [1]. Indeed, the province's elected officials "seem happy to conserve this 'favourable' regulatory environment by supporting fracking and downplaying its risks" [1]. This is an area where environmental ENGOs could succeed in garnering public support for new regulations and lobbying the government for change.

In the void of civil society organizations, Eaton and Kinchy [4] argue that individuals act out against the government in a variety of subtle ways, such as calling the police about access to roads or small spills on agricultural lands (see pages 28-29). In the end, Eaton and Kinchy remain somewhat optimistic about the potential for collective action in Saskatchewan and other rural areas of North America. They propose that, "building experience working together and learning about successful struggles for social change could increase the changes for these communities to challenge the oil and gas industry" (29). Our research suggests this might be very difficult given that already well established ENGOs - those will experience working together - are not even willing to oppose oil and gas industry.

6.1. Limitations of the research

The most significant limitation of this study is its lack of survey respondents and subsequent relative lack of interviews. The fact that only three NGOs responded to the survey with their contact information for follow-up questions meant that the pool of insight to draw from was limited to survey responses and two interviews. Ideally, it would have been beneficial to talk to all of the ENGOs in Saskatchewan, to get a sense of their work and why fracking is not being made a priority, both in their organizations and across the province. However, it is also somewhat of an important finding that there is low salience and low engagement on the issue. Of the existing 22 ENGOs identified in the province, 13 did respond and not a single one is actively working on fracking. The other 9 non-respondents have no information about fracking on their organization's website. It appears to be the case that there is a genuine lack of engagement by ENGOs on the issue of fracking

in Saskatchewan.

A second limitation is that this study focused only on environmental groups. It would be useful to reach out to other NGOs, including landowner groups and perhaps agricultural groups (which might be large and powerful), to get their take on the fracking landscape in Saskatchewan. What these sorts of groups say about fracking will help paint a better picture of who is working on the issue in Saskatchewan, and where information on fracking is coming from in the province. Future research should look at what other NGOs and trade organizations are working on this issue, what sort of messaging is coming from the oil company representatives that interact with the public, and what sort of messaging is coming from the provincial government itself. With this information, we can better understand why mobilization around fracking is not occurring in Saskatchewan, and whether there are steps that could be taken to increase residents' knowledge about the practice and empower them to push for regulations that better protects the environment.

7. Conclusions

Saskatchewan has seen little collective action against fracking, while in other parts of the world the health and environmental risks of the practice have mobilized towns, cities and states to enact bans and moratoria [4]. While there are multiple barriers to mobilization in Saskatchewan, including community pressure and lack of social capital, Eaton and Kinchy [4] argue "because most landowners in Saskatchewan do not own the subsurface rights to oil, yet nevertheless bear the environmental burdens, we might expect to see more motivation to protest" [4]. A lack of support and public information from environmental NGOs may be contributing to this lack of mobilization. Having an ENGO - especially a particularly visible one - place attention and resources into a certain issue can mean that issue is elevated to the realm of public and governmental discourse. This research confirms Eaton and Kinchy's earlier study and suggests that this type of mobilization and government pressure is not occurring in Saskatchewan. More research is needed on fracking regulation in North America and across the world. While peer reviewed science continues to uncover the environmental and health risks, policy makers continue to interpret those studies in different and sometimes contradictory ways. Saskatchewan will continue its "minimalist policy approach to regulation the practice, implementing no significant regulation, shielding oil and as wells from environmental assessment" [1,415] so long as everyone remains quiet. The environment, including water and wildlife, may pay a large price for this silence.


This work was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of Christina Gagliano-Veiga, who helped identify and survey the environmental non-governmental organizations of Saskatchewan.

Appendix A. Supplementary data

Supplementary data associated with this article can be found, in the online version, at


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