ublished September 4, 2014 – 7:35pm
Last Updated September 4, 2014 – 8:53pm
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The McNeil government’s quick decision to ban hydraulic fracturing of onshore shale gas in Nova Scotia has at least one expert writing it off as a political decision.
The ban Energy Minister Andrew Younger announced Wednesday surprised Graham Gagnon, a member of the Nova Scotia Independent Review Panel on Hydraulic Fracturing, headed by Cape Breton University president David Wheeler.
A drinking water expert and Dalhousie University professor, Gagnon wrote one of the chapters in the panel’s final report and contributed more broadly to all its recommendations. He told me Thursday he was amazed how quickly the government came to its conclusion.
“Certainly, I was surprised that the (Energy Department), within about two business days, digested a (387-page) report and said, ‘A ban,’” says Gagnon.
“I was disappointed … with such a short reaction time. It just doesn’t seem like it was given a thorough consideration. At least that is what it would appear from media (reports). We haven’t had any discussions, as a panel, with the department.”
Many panel members anticipated there would be either feedback from the department or an opportunity to discuss the report with department officials, he says.
“You can just imagine with any written text, there is always the opportunity to misunderstand what we were thinking and where we were going.”
There was an opportunity for the department to host a workshop, meeting or discussion with the panel members as a followup, says Gagnon, even if it was just to clarify what was being said in the report and the thinking behind its 32 recommendations.
Considering the report’s size, the number of recommendations and the panel’s attempt to point to where the province should go next, Gagnon says, as a panel member, he naively believed that there would be some to- and-fro.
Although the Wheeler report recommended not to allow fracking right now, Gagnon says at the end of the report, there was a fairly detailed “risk matrix” created to allow the province to prioritize the risks.
Having visited locations where fracking is being used in United States and Canada, Gagnon says he believes the fracking of shale gas, like coal mining or gold mining, carries some risks, but if regulated and closely monitored, it is not going to create drastic environmental problems.
“I don’t think the concerns that are there are necessarily showstoppers. They are things, because you don’t have an onshore oil and gas industry, you have to have a regulated body (for). I can’t imagine anyone in the (oil and gas) industry being shocked by that.”
Phil Knoll, CEO of Corridor Resources Inc. of Halifax, told me Thursday he is disgusted, disappointed and embarrassed by the government’s decision.
“Watching a pure political decision like this be made, it can only be bad for” Nova Scotia, Knoll says.
Corridor does not have any operations in this province and isn’t interested in Nova Scotia, he says, but it is safely fracking for shale gas in New Brunswick and has plans to do more because there are regulations in place.
Gagnon says the rules around fracking in places where shale gas is already being produced are well documented. And given that Nova Scotia’s industry will probably take five to 10 years to start, he says that offers government time to create a regulator and implement sophisticated policies.
The ban on fracking doesn’t mean Nova Scotians won’t be burning shale gas. We will be using it, but it will be imported.
It seems odd the government would help build the local market for natural gas, by converting several hospitals to burn it, and then ban fracking, which will mean most if not all of that gas will be imported at a price set outside of Nova Scotia.