‘To frack or not to frack - that is the question’

Lenore Zann, MLA report

Published on August 15, 2014
Lenore Zann

When it comes to the question of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and whether the province should extend the moratorium that our former NDP government put in place in 2012 - or if they should allow this type of energy extraction to take place in Nova Scotia- a decision by the current Liberal government should likely be forthcoming later this summer or fall.

Dr. David Wheeler, who headed up an independent study on the risks and benefits of the practice, told me at the public consultation held in Truro that he would be handing over the finished report on Aug. 15 to the current Minister of Energy Andrew Younger.

During the recent public meetings of the Wheeler Commission, more than a 1,000 people attended one location or another to hear what Wheeler was “recommending” for fracking in Nova Scotia. 

There are a couple of interesting, and relevant, direct quotes from the Nova Scotia NDP handbook regarding the principles of the party when it comes to decisions like this as it recommends that we adhere to the "precautionary principal" when it comes to the environment. It states the following approach should be taken:

"The production and distribution of goods and services shall be directed to meeting the social and individual needs of people within a framework that sustains the environment."

I attended two of these public consultations - one in Truro and the very last one in the First Nations community of Whycocomaugh - and at both meetings there were people who just wanted to learn about this form of energy extraction while many more were extremely passionate about voicing their concerns.

Several expressed disappointment when we were told the commission would not be recommending extending the moratorium. Wheeler explained the mandate of his job was not to recommend anything - but simply to research and present evidence on the pros and cons of fracking. He said after he hands in his report it will be up to the elected members to decide what to do.

An overwhelming majority of community participants in the meetings were in favour of extending the moratorium. Some suggested extending it for at least 10 years. Some called for an outright ban. People’s main concerns were:

· Impacts on our drinking water. 

· Impacts on health. 

Air pollutants associated with shale gas.

· Fugitive emissions of methane, a highly concentrated greenhouse gas that negatively impacts our climate by increasing global warming.

When it came to people's concern about our water supply many expressed their desire not to risk tampering with it as we have many small, interconnected watershed areas across the province. One such important watershed region is right here in Colchester County. This is also one of the regions that could be a contender for fracking sites. So when I asked, as MLA for this region, if Wheeler considered the process of fracking to be safe, he contended it has not been proven to be a completely flawless practice and the possibility of spills or leaks is real.

In my own opinion, keeping our water supply safe - meaning clean and potable - should definitely be a priority for any government.

I also attended the annual First Nations Assembly in Halifax this summer and spoke with many of our chiefs about their thoughts on fracking. Each chief I met told me unequivocally they are not fans of fracking.

Many people I've met in my travels this summer have expressed concern about the value of their properties and businesses decreasing if they live in areas near fracking operations. 
Still others are concerned about the price of their home insurance going up if they live in an area where fracking might take place.

As I go about my business in my community as an MLA and across the province this summer in my capacity as NDP critic for communities, culture and heritage, agriculture and environment, attending both official meetings and grass-roots protests, I have listened to the people and have heard what they have to say about their desire to live in a clean and pristine province where they can breathe fresh air and drink and swim in clean water. I have also heard from many people who are desperately looking for a job.

At the final public session on fracking in Wycocomaugh, Wheeler pointed out that for an income-strapped province like Nova Scotia, which is woefully in debt with many rural communities in need of jobs, if fracking is allowed, then over the next 30 years approximately 2,400 jobs may be created and revenue pumped into provincial coffers.

At that point a young man spoke up for the first time. He proceeded very calmly but emotionally to tell the room that although he works in the oil and gas industry out west and commutes home to Cape Breton, he would not want to see the same environmental conditions existing here at home. He said that he is telling all of his friends, "You may have a job for a while but if you can't swim in the rivers anymore or drink the water what's the point?"

In my humble opinion, what we really need to examine is how we can provide the same number of jobs (or more) as well as increase revenue for the province through renewable, sustainable forms of energy. Even some of the major corporations in the energy industry are now looking to a point in time when we no longer rely on fossil fuels.

Whatever the current Liberal government decides to do about fracking in the short or long term, it seems to me that even with the most restrictive regulations, all of the study in the world on risks and benefits cannot override the certainty many Nova Scotians feel that ending the moratorium and allowing hydraulic fracking to take place would devalue our province as a good place to live.

In fact our children seem to be leading the way in teaching their parents (and grandparents) of the direct connection between a healthy, sustainable environment and their own health and future. Since without an environment we don't really have an economy.

From what I'm hearing around the province this summer, there is a growing desire for all levels of government to get onboard the renewable energy train to take us to a better, safer future with clean water and air so that we can all enjoy Mother Nature's bounty for generations to come.

Lenore Zann is MLA for Truro - Bible Hill -Millbrook - Salmon River and NDP Environment Critic