We have been treated to a relentless barrage of editorials and columnists in The Chronicle Herald attacking the government since Energy Minister Andrew Younger announced there would be a legislated ban on high volume hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas.
One theme many times repeated is the thousands of jobs and billions in government revenues that have been left on the table. The Wheeler review gave a completely free hand to industry and its tireless champions in the government’s petroleum directorate to draw those figures out of thin air.
The review did not acknowledge public submissions pointing to research that questions those job figures, nor mention that typical government royalties accruing from shale gas extraction are near zero. Nova Scotians have seen this movie many time before. The government of the day slavishly cheers on the cornucopia of promises that always come before the cut, dig or drill and run.
Columnists repeat most often how Mr. Younger has slammed the door on the debate that the Wheeler panel began and framed. But the oil and gas industry is not going to walk away from the hopes for onshore development. We are instead witnessing the launching of their assault for the next round.
Mr. Younger has not ended the debate on unconventional oil and gas, nor has he shut the industry out. He has raised the bar from its pathetically low position where consideration of risk in new resource extraction development has been historically pushed aside in Nova Scotia.
The industry is still free to make its case to Nova Scotians that shale gas fracking is to our benefit. What has changed is that the industry cannot follow past history and slip in sideways, claiming it has social licence after working the quiet, “reasoned” corridors of power, while giving soothing messages to the appropriately disengaged public.
For shale gas fracking to be allowed, the oil and gas industry will now have to win a majority vote of the legislature. Nova Scotians can be proud that we are pioneers in subjecting this powerful industry to what should be a standard practice of democracy.
Shale gas fracking is the form of unconventional fossil fuel extraction that has come under the most scrutiny. As the Canadian Council of Academies found even earlier than the Wheeler panel, we need to do a lot more science. But the questions have been identified. The government has put into practice what David Wheeler said very clearly weeks before the final report came out: Nova Scotia is not ready for hydraulic fracturing, and cannot be ready anytime soon.
From all the noise and whining, you would think the industry has lost everything. They know that is not true.
Mr. Younger has so far indicated that the legislation will only ban high volume hydraulic fracturing of shale. The other side of the coin is that this could, in practice, make other forms of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional oil and gas extraction possible. .
Hydraulic fracturing is not allowed in the Stellarton coal bed methane pilot project. The minister still expresses enthusiastic support for the possibilities of coal bed methane. But a producing field building towards dozens, then hundreds, of wells cannot be developed without fracking many of them, and the target coal seams are much closer to the water aquifers we depend on than are the shale bed resources. Nova Scotians will be discussing how this square peg meets a round hole.
Extracting gas from “tight sands” and other tight hydrocarbon-bearing formations also depends on hydraulic fracturing. New Brunswick has over 30 wells in the tight sands of the McCully field near Sussex, and Nova Scotia has a number of similar geological formations. The debate over developing unconventional extraction of fossil fuels in Nova Scotia has really just begun.
One of the many cries of anguish by the elites who know what is best for us came from Steve Parker, CEO of the spin-doctor firm CCL Group. Parker talks of being outgunned on the fracking issue by the “environmental extremists” of “well funded environmental groups,” who “defeated the factual arguments of industry and science….”
Ironically, it was industry-based panelists who complacently expressed opinions as if they were facts without reference to supporting evidence or acknowledging contrary research.
Mr. Parker’s claim about a “well funded opposition” is rich. A conservative assessment shows at least a four to one paid staff ratio in favour of fracking proponents, not to mention which side has big salaries and budgets.
The hysterical reaction of Nova Scotia’s elites obscures the very modest movement in the last few months toward some levelling of the playing field that has always been tilted heavily in favour of resource extraction.
On unconventional oil and gas extraction, Nova Scotians have served notice that snow jobs will not do any more. We demand real engagement and answers.