It’s unlikely residents of the Kennetcook area will be wooed enough by promises of economic growth to start backing fracking in the near future.
Members of the public made that point crystal clear again and again — and again —during a meeting the Department of Environment hosted at the Kennetcook Fire Hall March 5.
Environment Minister Randy Delorey joined Nova Scotia Environment (NSE) staff in fielding questions from the public at the meeting, which was originally called to discuss the latest developments in plans to eventually dispose of the millions of litres of fracking wastewater stored in holding ponds in Kennetcook.
“It's an issue that's been ongoing for far too long. It's an issue that predates my time in office, but it's an issue that I took very seriously,” said Delorey, addressing a crowd of about 70 onlookers.
Work is underway to test the validity of two separate filtration procedures, carbon filtration and reverse osmosis, that are meant to reduce the levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) and chlorides in the fracking wastewater to allowable limits for disposal.
The goal is to develop a treatment plan that would ensure the water met federal guidelines for freshwater discharge.
Delorey stressed that NSE must first receive, and approve of, a disposal method before the wastewater can be discharged from the Debert-based Atlantic Industrial Services (AIS) treatment facility.
Kathleen Johnson, an environmental engineer with NSE, noted that the department does not know where the treated wastewater will end up, but they want it treated to meet the stringent “freshwater aquatics standards for release.”
Delorey acknowledged that the fracking-related issues the community has endured date back to the Denver-based Triangle Petroleum Corporation’s exploration activities in 2007 and 2008.
The most recent cause for concern was raised by community members who discovered that water was spilling out of a holding pond containing roughly 10 million litres of fracking wastewater in mid-January.
Delorey informed the crowd that it is believed between 6,000 and 14,000 litres of wastewater poured out of the holding pond as a result of the added pressure excessive amounts of rain and snow placed on the cap.
He said the provincial and federal departments of environment are still investigating to determine what kind of an impact, if any, the spill had on the environment.
This information prompted one attendee at the meeting to note that dead animals were found around the pond in the fall.
Delorey said he only recently became aware of this, and the Department of Natural Resources has been asked to investigate.
Triangle Petroleum chairperson Peter Hill informed the crowd that the company responsible for the by-products of the hydraulic fracturing activity must file a proposal with the province when a plan is in place to empty the holding ponds.
He said he would drink the treated wastewater, but noted that Triangle Petroleum would never ask for it to be released into a freshwater system.
“I’m prepared to drink that water ‘cause I’ve seen it and I know what it is,” said Hill.
“We would never make a proposal that would take that water, treat it and put it back into a freshwater system. We're not going to do that, even though that water is pure and meets all the requirements of Health Canada.”
Hill, who eventually toasted to the health of the community and chugged back a few sips of the water, said he would like to see the water treated at the facility in Debert and discharged into the sea.
That comment struck a chord with people in the crowd concerned about the well being of the flora and fauna in the Bay of Fundy.
Hill noted that Triangle Petroleum still requires more information to know if a commercial case can be made for building a shale gas development in the area.
“It's not even been determined whether we can get this gas to surface to make it work,” said Hill.
He admitted the company must be able to show the community there is a “sensible way” to dispose of the wastewater before additional exploratory drilling occurs.
“If the community does not want this stuff, does not want the development, does not want the economic benefit of a vast amount of gas, then that's fine. That's your decision and we will respect that and we will just pack up and we will go,” said Hill.
Upon receiving an invitation to pack up and go from a few members of the crowd, Hill reminded those in attendance that this sort of development is required because people rely on such things as lights and electricity.
John Didkowsky said he’s travelled and witnessed the impacts “unbridled industry” can have on a community.
“I think our scientists right now are on the backburner as far as being able to contribute any science to any decision making in this country,” he added, earning a round of applause.
Didkowsky implored Delorey to always place the mandate of the Department of Environment first during his time in office.
“You have to protect us, not industry,” he cautioned.
Joe Cogswell asked the minister how many people have to oppose fracking for the provincial government to impose a ban on the controversial shale gas extraction method.
“You done it once, you didn't get it right,” said Cogswell. “What makes you think you're going to get it right?”
Kathy Didkowsky echoed these sentiments during her time at the microphone.
“Your mandate is to be the Minister of Environment and socioeconomic should not trump environment in your department — especially economic,” said Didkowsky.
“People here rely on a healthy environment and regardless of the amount of money that might come from this industry, there’s no point in having industry if your people are sick.”
Delorey stressed that he will refrain from expressing his opinion on the future of fracking in Nova Scotia until an ongoing independent review of the procedure, led by Dr. David Wheeler, is completed.
“If I was to say anything on either side of the issue of fracking there is the potential that it could be interpreted as influencing… the work of that Wheeler Report,” explained Delorey, who later noted that the report is not an environmental assessment.
In addressing media at the close of the meeting, Delorey said he is working on gaining the trust of the public.
“I did not say tonight to the community to trust me because I don’t believe that that's fair given what they've gone through. I believe it's something that I'm working with the department to earn through this process.”