Fracking panel unlikely to recommend continued moratorium

Published on July 23, 2014

Dr. David Wheeler speaks to a group gathered at the Pictou County Wellness Centre about a study he's leading about hydraulic fracturing. ADAM MACINNIS – THE NEWS

Fracking is a contentious issue.

While Dr. David Wheeler, president of Cape Breton University, prepared to talk about his findings from a government-commissioned study into the topic in one of the upstairs rooms at the Pictou County Wellness Centre Monday, downstairs opponents to fracking were handing out information of their own.

Mary Rigby, one of those distributing fracking information said her biggest concern is with the potential risk to the water supply.

“Water is non-refundable,” she said.

She believes it’s important to ask some questions before considering fracking further.

“Do we know what we’re doing and do we need it?” she asks.

She believes that people should look for more environmentally friendly energy sources.

The province commissioned an independent review of the effects of hydraulic fracturing last summer, which was mandated to include public consultations and a panel of experts.

From the time it was commissioned, there have been 238 submissions by people with information they believe should be taken into account.

A Corporate Research Associates study in 2013 found that 53 per cent of Nova Scotians oppose the development of hydraulic fracturing in the province with 39 supportive and eight per cent undecided.

Some of the preliminary conclusions state the knowns and unknowns in regard to hydraulic fracturing.

Among the unknowns are the proven size of the resource and if industry will be interested in exploring for it, as well as the long-term implications for climate change and well-being of future generations.

About the knowns of preliminary conclusions, the study states that the risks and impacts can be described in semi-quantitative or qualitative terms in most cases. It also states that regulatory frameworks exist or likely can be developed to address aspects of the most significant 100-year risks assuming the knowledge base continues to develop toward supporting this goal.

The final draft of that will be presented to the government in August.

“The panel will not be recommending a moratorium, I do not believe,” Wheeler told a similar group during a meeting this week in Amherst.

Continuing the moratorium will be a political decision, and the goal of the review is to help inform those decisions, he explained.

“This is a political choice we don’t believe, as a panel, that we have the power to make,” said Wheeler. “You are more than welcome to take our review, which puts in highly cautionary recommendations, and say to your MLAs that this looks and sounds like a moratorium.

“That’s your democratic right, but ultimately the provincial government has to make that call,” he added.

What he did reveal were several recommendations that will be in the report, all with the proviso that the review panel is “not saying this activity should proceed now in our province, nor are we saying it should necessarily proceed in the future.”

If foundational research proceeds far enough, and if communities welcome the prospect of fracking, the panel will recommend seismic testing and exploration “when full, prior and informed community consent is in place.”