Fear of fracking prevailed Thursday in Atlantic Canada, where a provincial inquiry declared Nova Scotia is not prepared to allow the industry practice safely -- and will not be ready any time soon.
The inquiry report and recommendation, by an 11-member panel of mostly academic experts and consultants recruited by Cape Breton University, presented a stark contrast between popular doubts and practical knowledge about horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
"Knowledge of the subsurface, including sedimentary rocks and hydrocarbons in Nova Scotia, is extremely limited at the present time," said the 387-page report. "Thus it is difficult to quantify the potential or even to rank various basins in terms of overall prospectivity."
But public hearings, which drew 238 submissions by a cross-section of the provincial population, documented 16 sources of public anxiety about the drilling and well completion technology, the report said.
Participants were 92% in favor of at least continuing a moratorium on fracking that popular demand prodded Nova Scotia's Liberal government into imposing in 2012, or of going farther by enacting a permanent ban.
Sources of community anxiety expressed during the inquiry included risks ranging from pollution and earthquakes to excessive water use, hazardous waste disposal, industrial traffic, machinery noise and civic disharmony between factions for or against drilling.
The moratorium is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Provincial Energy Minister Andrew Young promised to respond to the inquiry report by the time the Nova Scotia legislature resumes its 2014 sitting on Sept. 25.
The inquiry panel stopped short of recommending any particular courses of government action except further study. "We conclude that the province is not able to make fully informed decisions, either for or against, the development of unconventional gas and oil resources by hydraulic fracturing at the present time."
There hasn’t been a drilling rig of any kind at work in Nova Scotia since the week ended March 9, 2012, according to Baker Hughes data. Moreover, there have not been more than a combined three onshore and offshore rigs drilling in Nova Scotia at any time since March 2003.