A week after an inquiry reported that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) frightens the public in Nova Scotia, the province’s Liberal government promised Wednesday to ban the practice.
Energy Minister Andrew Younger announced prohibition legislation would be introduced this fall as a permanent version of a two-year moratorium that was scheduled to expire at the end of this year.
“Nova Scotians have overwhelmingly expressed concern about allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing to be a part of onshore shale development in this province at this time,” Younger said. “Our petroleum resources belong to Nova Scotians, and we must honor the trust people have put in us to understand their concerns.”
He added that the province’s aboriginal community, the Mi’kmaq, separately called for a ban on fracking, raising the possibility of safety and environmental disputes escalating into a constitutional native rights conflict.
“Our cabinet met with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs earlier this year and this was among the issues discussed at that time,” Younger said.
He insisted, however, that the fracking prohibition would not entirely evict the industry from Nova Scotia, where a small coalbed methane development is underway and two offshore platforms produce natural gas and liquid byproducts.
"The first onshore well in Nova Scotia was drilled in 1869 and petroleum development remains an important part of our energy and economic future,” Younger said. “Coal gas methane projects, such as the current well-supported project in Stellarton, and developing our offshore resources remain key priorities of government."
A provincial inquiry last week reported that practical knowledge of oil and gas that fracking might produce is “extremely limited” in Nova Scotia, but that public hearings clearly showed fear of a technology not yet tried in the province is real and widespread.
The inquiry’s report said participants in its hearings were 92% in favor of at least continuing the moratorium or of going further by enacting a permanent ban against fracking.
While the Nova Scotia decision to ban fracking did not interfere with any current projects, the method of reaching a conclusion by relying solely on popular opinion disturbed the industry.
Dave Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), said, "the government's decision appears to be largely based on considerations other than the technical knowledge and experience of industry regulators and experts in Canadian jurisdictions where hydraulic fracturing has been used safely for many decades to develop natural gas.
"While the commercial viability of Nova Scotia's onshore natural gas resource has yet to be fully proven, today's announcement has the potential to preclude Nova Scotians from benefitting from the responsible development of this resource."
CAPP pointed out that the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC) and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) accept fracking as an extension of technology that has been used safely for more than 60 years in Western Canada. "Comprehensive government regulations and industry operating practices are in place in jurisdictions where natural gas is produced to ensure public safety and the protection of the environment," CAPP said.
Nova Scotia -- like other jurisdictions where gas and oil firms have proposed trials of fracking, such as Quebec -- has no counterpart to the quasi-judicial BCOGC and AER, which must base decisions on law court-like evidence rules rather than popular opinion. The Nova Scotia fracking prohibition will be in force only on land that the Canadian constitution places entirely under provincial jurisdiction.
Ocean oil and gas production platforms have been built, often over local fears of unfamiliar industry, out to sea from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland with approval by separate, independent federal-provincial offshore petroleum boards modeled on the AER and National Energy Board.
"We encourage the government of Nova Scotia to continue to assess regulations, industry's strong technical base and safe operating practices used in other parts of Canada,” Collyer said. “We also encourage the Nova Scotia government to provide the flexibility to allow the future development of onshore natural gas as it drafts legislation this fall."