NOFRAC implores government to see bigger picture

Ashley Thompson
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Group wants province to ‘wait for the science’

A report a fracking awareness advocacy group completed to study the impacts hydraulic fracking has had on the province says Nova Scotia is far from ready for shale gas production.

Barb Harris, the author of the in-depth report commissioned by the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition (NOFRAC), says Nova Scotians have only experienced a fraction of the issues that may arise if the temporary fracking ban is lifted and Nova Scotia is opened up to shale gas production once the provincial review of the controversial drilling procedure is completed in 2014.

“The big picture is not just fracking; the big picture is shale gas development of which fracking is one part, but not the only part,” said Harris, while sharing her report, "Out of Control: Nova Scotia's Experience with Fracking for Shale Gas," with the public at a meeting hosted in the Kennetcook Fire Hall April 22.

About 80 people attended the meeting to hear the results of the report, which largely relied on documents obtained through freedom of information requests.

Harris said the problems created when Triangle Petroleum drilled five exploration wells in Hants County between 2007 and 2009, and fracked three of the wells, will only be magnified if the company is permitted to move forward with full scale shale gas production operations in its Windsor Block stretching from Maitland to Wolfville.  

“It is a big area that could have been impacted and might still be if this goes ahead,” she said, later noting that Triangle Petroleum’s long-term development plan shows that up to 680 wells could be drilled in the land Triangle is leasing in the Kennetcook, Stanley, Avon and Wolfville areas.

Harris stressed that exploratory activities are minor compared to shale gas production operations requiring pipelines, compressor stations and several trucks on the roads, but a lot can be learned from examining the impact Triangle Petroleum’s exploration in Nova Scotia has already had on the province.

“Although very little happened, a lot went wrong,” Harris said.

The report states that 14 million litres of fresh water was used to frack two wells in Kennetcook, and NSE gave Triangle permission to draw the water from the Kennetcook and Noel Rivers.

Millions of litres of fracking wastewater, containing a mixture of sand, fresh water, chemicals and radioactive elements released when shale rock is cracked, still sits in two holding ponds in Kennetcook.

Harris said Nova Scotia Environment’s decision to grant the Town of Windsor permission to treat seven million litres of the wastewater in its municipal sewage treatment plant, only to later learn the fracking fluid contained naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) that couldn’t be treated at the facility after the wastewater was flushed into the Minas Basin, is but one example of “regulators legging behind the industry.”

“No disposal method has been proven safe,” she said.

Harris, who noted that one of the holding ponds in Kennetcook has already leaked, said some of the chemicals identified in the fracking fluid have the potential to negatively impact human health and the environment if exposed to water sources, air and soil.

She says NSE must gain a better understanding of the potential risks of shale gas production, and the difficulties in regulating the industry, before giving companies the green light to frack in Nova Scotia.

“If you can’t show that what you’re going to do is not harmful, then don’t do it.” Billy Lewis

“We should wait for the science.”

NOFRAC is asking the provincial government to implement a 10-year legislated moratorium or an outright ban on shale gas and fracking.

“We either move ahead with new regulations and we hope for the best, or we hit the pause button and we wait and we learn and, really, that’s going to determine what kind of Nova Scotia we’re going to live in,” Harris said.

 

Citizens chime in

Barbara Gallagher, president of the Summerville-based Citizens Action to Protect the Environment advocacy group, said taxpayers could end up paying more for health and education if chemicals in the fracking fluids cause human harm by contaminating the air, water and soil.

Gallagher also expressed concern that the value of properties in communities close to shale gas activities would depreciate, and more frequent fracking would potentially lead to the depletion of local fresh water sources.

“This report certainly demonstrates that the local communities shoulder most of the risk.”

Mark Tipperman, a lawyer residing in the Gaspereau Valley, shed some light on the difficulties of enforcing regulations in a fast-growing industry.

“I can tell you that there is no way that any federal, state, local regulator scheme or agency is ever going to have the ability to oversee such a pervasive industry — too many wells, too many trucks, too many employees, too many spills, too many contaminants. There is no way there is enough money to fund the oversight.”

Tipperman believes the regulators monitoring fracking activities within the province have essentially failed the public to this point.

“They’ve neglected their obligations to the public. They’ve done relatively little to ensure that the public was not adversely affected from the fracking.”

He said it is imperative regulators ensure the long-term implications of using large quantities of fresh water for fracking are fully understood before more approvals are issued.

“They’re here supposedly to protect the public, they shouldn’t be here to accommodate the industry,” he said, to applause.

Triangle Petroleum chairperson Peter Hill stood up from his seat amidst the audience and urged citizens to come to him directly with questions.

“We as an industry have done a terrible job thus far in explaining ourselves and explaining what we do and how we do it,” he said.

Hill said he feels open debate is necessary as Nova Scotians decide where they would like to get their energy from as the use of coal becomes less of an option.

“Anything you need from us, come and ask us and we’ll tell you.”

Billy Lewis, a former Maitland resident, drew an enthusiastic round of applause when he shared his thoughts on what he expects regulators to require of oil and gas companies looking to tap into Nova Scotia’s resources.

“If you can’t show that what you’re going to do is not harmful, then don’t do it.”

 

Organizations: NOFRAC, Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition, Citizens Action to Protect the Environment CAPE Triangle Petroleum

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Kennetcook, Maitland Wolfville Hants County Gaspereau Valley Windsor Minas Basin Avon River Debert Province of Nova Scotia Canada United States

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