Wheeler drilled at Windsor 'fracking' meeting

Updated July 25

Ashley Thompson athompson@hantsjournal.ca
Published on July 24, 2014

Fracking continues to be a contentious topic in Windsor.

Dr. David Wheeler, chairperson of the panel leading a review of hydraulic fracturing that is expected to be filed with the provincial government in mid-August, hosted a public meeting in the Hants County War Memorial Community Centre in Windsor July 24.

The meeting was the tenth in a series of public engagement sessions hosted throughout the province.

From the start of the session, Wheeler stressed that the panel will not be recommending the government open the province up to fracking in the near future. In fact, he said it could take at least 10 years for Nova Scotia to be ready for the controversial shale gas extraction method.

“We all need time now to think about this activity — what it might mean, what it might not mean — and we need a big debate in our province,” he said.

Wheeler, the president of Cape Breton University, said there are too many unknowns for the panel to properly assess the pros and cons of letting fracking take place in Nova Scotia at this time.

“We don’t know what would be the long-term implications for health and well-being of future generations.”

The panel isn’t saying fracking should be outright banned, either. They’re leaving the final decision up to the politicians, and hoping their academic review of the procedure will prove to be a powerful resource to citizens and elected officials alike.

“There should be community permission to proceed and, in the absence of community permission to proceed, then it wouldn’t be a smart thing to do,” said Wheeler.

“It wouldn’t be a smart thing for the government to try to crash something through against the wishes of the people and it certainly wouldn’t be smart for an oil and gas company to do that in the face of massive opposition from the public.”

Wheeler stood before a crowd of about 250 people in Windsor, many of whom openly expressed opposition to fracking. The Raging Grannies activist group opened the meeting with a song stressing the importance of protecting the environment and conserving energy.

Concerned citizens shared fears that allowing fracking to occur within Nova Scotia would put human health and the environment at risk in exchange for promises of monetary gain.

Speakers in opposition of fracking said they fear permitting oil and gas companies to frack within Nova Scotia would lead to groundwater contamination, air pollution, unmanageable volumes of traffic and increased instances of illness.

Marilyn Cameron, of Grafton, said the proposed well sites would occupy several acres of valuable farmland that could otherwise be used to help grow Nova Scotia’s agricultural industry.

“That is a catastrophic loss to agriculture,” she said, noting that closing the doors of farms harms Nova Scotia’s food security.

Cameron said the agricultural sector, a multi-million dollar industry that employees thousands, has the potential to grow and last forever as long as fruitful farmland is available.

Duncan Keppie, a retired geologist with extensive experience working in Nova Scotia, scolded Wheeler for not using a 60-page report he submitted to the review panel in the report that will be submitted to the provincial government.

Keppie claims the current geological information in the review panel’s draft report overestimates the amount of shale gas that could potentially be exploited.

Keppie earned an enthusiastic round of applause in asking, “Are we the generation here that uses the last drop of hydrocarbons available or should we be thinking about our grandchildren and generations beyond?”

Wheeler reiterated that citizens must clearly articulate their concerns to their elected officials.

Mark Tipperman, a lawyer and member of NOFRAC, concurred.

“We need the legislature to step up to the plate and adopt a ban on fracking,” he said, to animated applause.

Tipperman said the true risks of living in close proximity to a fracking development have yet to be revealed.

“We can’t really quantify the degree of the risk until there is more fracking, more monitoring and more studying. Do we want to be a part of that guinea pig process?”

Dominic Padula, of West Hants, said the evidence-based review Wheeler is heading seems to dismiss information against fracking and overlook the fact that there is no way of proving the practice is safe.

“We don’t want it — doesn’t matter how much you sell it to us. We don’t want it,” he said, staring Wheeler straight in the eyes.

Wheeler maintained the he is not, and has never, tried to sell fracking to anyone.

West Hants Warden Richard Dauphine said his council took a resolution calling for a continued moratorium on fracking to a Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities meeting and it received unanimous support from elected officials throughout the province.

“The breath of fresh air here this evening is when you said the community has to accept it or it’s not coming, it’s already been passed by the union — nobody is going to accept it,” said Dauphinee.

“So, it’s over,” he concluded, earning a standing ovation coupled with enthusiastic applause.