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This week, NOFRAC wrote an open letter to government stating our concerns about the current provincial review of hydraulic fracturing in Nova Scotia. The letter is posted below, and the entire letter with appendices is available here.
Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition (referred to as NOFRAC) is a Province-wide association of organizations and individuals who vigorously oppose hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, commonly known as “fracking.”
We are disappointed that neither the Premier nor the Minister of Energy have had time to meet with us since the election. We had hoped to discuss our concerns about the Review of Hydraulic Fracturing with you directly and early in the process. Because our efforts to meet with you have not yet been successful, we are writing to outline our concerns about: (i) the contract entered into between the Province and Cape Breton University dated August 28, 2013 (“Contract”), which provides for a review of hydraulic fracturing under the guidance of Dr. David Wheeler (“Review”); and (ii) the procedure for the Review and the appointments for the Review presented thus far. We write now because it is not too late for the Government to amend the Contract and provide for a Review with the depth, scope and expertise required.
We can summarize our concerns in a few sentences. The Review as presently outlined, will not be the “complete and independent scientific review” promised by the Liberal Party in the party’s election platform. The Review process as presently set out by the Contract between the Minister responsible for the Department of Energy and Dr. Wheeler, does not allow the time nor provide a process for more than a cursory, superficial review of hydraulic fracturing with little or no attention to the specifics of the Nova Scotia context, geological, economic and human. Moreover the technical consultants recently appointed by Dr. Wheeler reflect a review that is likely to have a narrow, industry oriented focus, in which the health and social dimensions of the issue are not a priority. A truly independent review would be independent both of government and of industry.
The Liberal Party promised the public a moratorium “… until such a time as the practice is properly investigated and a complete and independent scientific review is completed” and the Party clearly stated, “until we can definitively determine that fracking will not harm our resources, our environment, or the general public in any way, the extraction procedure should be prohibited.” NOFRAC agrees that such careful scrutiny is essential where so much is at stake.
Given the complex, multiple issues involved in hydraulic fracturing, we believe that the short time frame, limited effort inherent in the Review and the technical consultants’ narrow and industry oriented backgrounds, will not provide: (i) the complete review called for by the present government, nor (ii) an evidentiary record and thorough analyses for the government to “definitively determine that fracking will not harm our resources, our environment, or the general public in any way.”
Our concerns arise based on our review of the Contract and announcements made to date about the Review.
We have a number of concerns. We have set out our most essential concerns with the Contract and the Review below, and have provided additional detail in the attached appendix.
1) At present, the Review has no focus beyond “hydraulic fracturing.” There is no clear question or questions that the Review is addressing. The Review will apparently not grapple with such basic questions as “What are the full nature and extent of the risks and costs and what are the benefits of hydraulic fracturing?” or “Would hydraulic fracturing benefit Nova Scotia and Nova Scotians as a whole.” It does not appear that the Review will evaluate and weigh all the material risks, downsides and potential benefits of hydraulic fracturing. Indeed it would be next to impossible for the Review panel to do so, given the limited time and resources allocated to the Review and the very limited scope of the panel members’ responsibility.
2) We have seen nothing in the Contract or in announcements about the Review which provides any reason to believe the Review will take a “holistic,” “cradle to grave” approach, evaluating the full impact of all material aspects of the new unconventional gas industry including hydraulic fracturing. Many of the issues, including health, environmental, social and economic impacts (including costs to be borne by the public and impacts on existing industries), can only be understood by considering all aspects of unconventional gas extraction, including cumulative impacts over time.
3) Potential impacts on human health will apparently only be considered through a literature review – and that literature review will seemingly be summarized for the Review panel’s consideration by three consultants who lack the background to evaluate the literature. Furthermore, a literature review alone will not provide a full understanding of this complex issue, where many health impacts are just emerging and being documented.
4) It appears that the unique geology of the Province, and other specific Nova Scotia realities will not be evaluated in depth. This is particularly disturbing because in a September 10, 2013 email, the now Premier, the Honorable Stephen McNeil noted the importance of a “complete moratorium” unless “an independent study and review showed the process could be safe in the Nova Scotia geological context”;
5) The Contract provides the Review is to be conducted within the context of the Province’s energy strategy and Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act. It is unclear why the Contract favours consideration of these two Acts, with no apparent consideration given to the provincial Environment Act, or the federal Species at Risk Act, Fisheries Act, Environmental Protection Act or rights of First Nations.
6) The Contract provides for one or more technical consultants who will write technical papers on the key subjects outlined by the review. These technical consultants will be engaged for a total of only 30 working days, including orientation, research and writing and are expected in these 30 days to summarize the full range of issues outlined by the review. This is very disturbing, because the concerns raised by hydraulic fracturing are not simple technical questions with clear, existing answers that an engineer or similar expert can be hired to investigate and report on. The narrow backgrounds of the senior technical advisors appointed by Dr. Wheeler only exacerbate this shortcoming. The issues are complex and contentious and scientific studies are relatively new and only beginning to generate results in many of the areas where the Review should be focusing its attention.
7) Potential panel members are being told in the Review’s Call for Nominations that they are expected to attend six half-day meetings. Outside of these meetings, their primary task is stated as being to review the technical papers prepared by the review’s technical consultant(s.) There does not appear to be an expectation that panel members will conduct in-depth review and evaluation of primary resources (for example, peer reviewed papers, experiences in other jurisdictions, gaps in information, etc.), compare conflicting evidence, assess emerging evidence and consider the range of reported experiences in areas where hydraulic fracturing is taking place. The minimal time commitment requested of panel members is significantly less than a college student would be expected to spend on a typical college course. The complex subject of hydraulic fracturing, with its potentially wide-ranging and long-term consequences for Nova Scotia, cannot be evaluated in such a limited time frame or with such a limited knowledge base. The time frame and expectations of review panelists does not allow for a comprehensive, in-depth review as promised by the new government.
8) The Contract and Review Process contain no provisions to ensure the public will have a full and fair opportunity to provide input and air their concerns at any critical stage of the panel’s work. The Review provided for in the Contract should have been similar to a full strategic environmental assessment (“SEA”), but even broader.
The role of the public should have started with scoping comments on what questions and concerns the panel should address, followed by a period of information gathering and consultation during which all interest groups have an opportunity to submit information, followed by an adequate opportunity for the public to review, evaluate and comment on the technical papers and following that, the panel’s draft report, and ending with an adequate opportunity to review, evaluate and comment on a proposed final report.
Because of the complexity of this issue, each comment period should be at least a few months long. Instead the Review panel will be rushed and the public’s opportunities for input will be limited and of very brief duration.
9) The Contract and Review process provide for public consultation only through use of online town hall style tools and one face-to-face meeting with key stakeholders – not the public at large. There are no public hearings, public meetings or public sessions. This works to the disadvantage of a large number of people. This process is quite different than the Aquaculture Review being carried out at the same time.
10) The draft “code of conduct” set out by Dr. Wheeler will keep the workings and discussions of the panel hidden from public view. The only communications to the public will be those the panel agrees to. A panel is not a jury or the inner circle of government, where no disagreements are allowed to reach the public. We believe that a key part of transparency is to allow panel members to express their opinions in public.
11) The Review is to be completed by a firm deadline of June 30, 2014. This is not a goal but a deadline. It does not give the Review panel the flexibility required to spend the time needed for readily foreseeable reasons, such as the extent of the information to be evaluated and the extent of the public’s desire to participate in the Review process. A normal SEA takes from two to four years. New York State’s review of fracking has been ongoing for eight years, as more and more issues emerge. The Contract should have provided that there is no deadline but rather a mandate to take all the time required to comprehensively cover the subject and all related areas of concern. The oil and gas in the shale and coal beds is not going anywhere. There’s no reason to rush.
Nova Scotians were promised a thorough, independent scientific review of the entire industry. What we are getting is a very superficial look at hydraulic fracturing, in a very limited number of subject areas, based on summaries prepared by three consultants with narrow backgrounds. Even the best panel in the world would not be able to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of hydraulic fracturing covering all critical areas within the limits set by the Contract. The limitations in the Contract will not allow the panel to respond to the challenge posed by the government itself, to “definitively determine that fracking will not harm our resources, our environment, or the general public in any way…”
We wonder whether the discrepancy between the review promised by the Liberal Party and the Review described in the Contract and by public announcements about the Review originate with the apparent source of the Contract, namely the Department of Energy. The Department of Energy is devoted to the exploitation of oil and gas resources. The Department looks at hydraulic fracturing in a narrow, technical context. The Department does not have a mandate, or the expertise, to protect public health, insure sustainable rural development, assess potential harm to existing industries, or protect the environment.
We would like to see leadership of this issue in the hands of the Premier’s office. The Premier’s office is the only office in government that can ensure that the Contract and Review take into account the diverse impacts of hydraulic fracturing, which involve virtually every department in the government.
As we stated earlier, it is not too late for the Government to amend the Contract and provide for a review with the depth and scope required.
Your thoughtful consideration of this letter and a written response followed by appropriate action on your part and Dr. Wheeler’s would be very much appreciated by NOFRAC and the public at large. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss these issues further.
Very truly yours,
Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition
Click here to read the entire letter, including appendices.
Nova Scotians overwhelmingly support a continued ban on fracking, according to a just released poll. The poll found that 69% of Nova Scotians strongly support or support a continued moratorium on fracking, unless an independent review finds there is no risk to drinking water, human health, the climate or communities.
The poll, conducted from September 30-October 6, during the last week of the provincial election, found strikingly solid support for a continued ban in all areas of the province –from a high of 72% in Cape Breton, to 70% in HRM and Annapolis Valley/South Shore, and 61% in the northern part of the province.
The overwhelming support crossed the political spectrum – 71% percent of those committed to vote Liberal, 72% NDP and PC and 82% Green either strongly supported or supported a continued halt to fracking. Support was equally strong among men and women, and held steady across all age groups.
Only 16% opposed a continued moratorium, with 8% opposed, and 8% strongly opposed. Fifteen percent had no opinion.
“This is crystal clear. Nova Scotians overwhelmingly recognize that fracking has the potential to do great harm, and that fracking should not be permitted unless it can be proven safe,” says Mark Tipperman of the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition (NOFRAC).
“Anyone working on this issue knows that concerns about fracking cross the entire political spectrum: this poll confirms it,” says Gretchen Fitzgerald, Director of Sierra Club Canada -Atlantic Canada Chapter. “The intense support for Elsipogtog NB shows the deep concern that people in this region and beyond feel about protecting their land, water, air and rights.”
“We’re waiting to see how the new government will proceed with the independent review of fracking impacts,” said Angela Giles, of Council of Canadians. “We hope they will ensure that the review covers all the key issues, is evidence-based, is fair and transparent, and includes meaningful public participation.”
Thirteen hundred (1300) people were polled by Abacus Data. The poll was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition (NOFRAC), the Council of Canadians and the Sierra Club Atlantic. The margin of error for this survey is plus or minus 2.8%, 19 times out of 20.
The polling question read:
Fracturing or hydraulic fracturing, is a relatively new process for extracting shale gas. Concerns have been raised about water contamination, harm to human health, and negative effects on communities and the climate. The Nova Scotia government has a moratorium on fracking while an independent review is underway.
Do you support keeping the ban on fracking in place, unless the independent review finds there is no risk to drinking water, human health, the climate or communities?
NOFRAC represents more than 100 members spread throughout Nova Scotia, including more than 15 environmental and community organizations. The coalition was formed in December 2010 to share information about the risks of hydraulic fracturing and the development of shale gas in Nova Scotia, and to raise public awareness about the risks of these practices.
For additional information, please contact
Angela Giles: firstname.lastname@example.org; office (902) 422.7811; cell or text (902) 478.5727
Mark Tipperman: email@example.com; (902) 542-0555 or (541) 963-5214
Gretchen Fitzgerald: firstname.lastname@example.org; office (902) 444-3113; cell (902) 444-7096
The Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition today released an analysis of the four political parties’ positions on fracking and shale gas extraction.
NOFRAC calls for a 10-year legislated moratorium or a full ban on hydraulic fracturing. The coalition asked each party to answer the question:
“If your party controls the government, will your government extend the existing moratorium and legislate a 10-year moratorium on fracking? If not, what conditions would have to be satisfied before your party would consider lifting the present moratorium on fracking?”
All four parties responded, and NOFRAC has provided analysis of each of their positions.
|Supports a 10-year moratorium or ban on hydraulic fracturing||No response||No response||No response||Yes+
Green Party does not support onshore gas production by drilling and hydraulic fracturing
|Proposes process that could lead to a 10-year moratorium or ban||Yes- independent review, evidence-led||Yes –complete and independent scientific review||No process proposed.
|Recognizes need to consider wide range of issues before determining whether to lift present moratorium||Independent review will look at social, economic, environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing.||Review should consider potential harm to resources, environment and the general public.||-Issue of public safety
-Firm protection for groundwater
-Would not force on communities
|Conditions required before lifting moratorium||-Will not allow hydraulic fracturing in Nova Scotia unless Nova Scotians know that it will not harm the environment.
- No hydraulic fracturing while review is in process- estimated completion mid- 2014.
|- Until such time as practice is properly investigated and a complete and independent scientific review is completed.
- Until we can definitively determine that fracking will not harm our resources, our environment or the general public in any way.
|-Unless and until there are regulations that provide superior level of protection, including for groundwater.
-Must address valid local concerns, eg local geology.
|Bonus points||For recently recognizing limitations of internal government review process and establishing a new, independent, evidence-led review, with broader scope and open-ended outcomes.||For supporting the need for an independent review since 2011.
For proposing a ban on the importation of fracking wastewater from other provinces.
|For committing not to force local communities to accept fracking.
|For unequivocally recognizing the risks of hydraulic fracturing for onshore gas and supporting a complete ban.|
NOFRAC had several concerns about the expanded review, and we were glad to receive feedback relatively quickly from the government on many of our points. To review our concerns, please see our letter from September 3, 2013.
Here is the government response:
On behalf of Premier Darrell Dexter, Leader of the New Democratic Party, please find attached the NDP response to your request for a position on hydraulic fracturing. I very much appreciate the thoughtful and thorough letter regarding the NS NDP government’s striking of an independent review panel to examine the effects of hydraulic fracturing, chaired by Dr. David Wheeler.
NOFRAC made it clear that a review of fracking should be independent of government, and should include public consultation; the NDP has listened and responded to both these concerns. That independence is why we have left many of the panel details in Dr. Wheeler’s hands.
I would like to respond to the points you raise in the order you made them.
1) The new panel will indeed take a whole of industry approach, and evaluate the full impact of all material aspects of unconventional gas extraction.
2) I would like to assure you that the panel review is meant to be comprehensive. We encourage NOFRAC to submit your specific concerns to Dr. Wheeler, and the government, for consideration.
3) The government has retained the right to ensure the panel members represent a comprehensive cross-section of expertise and independence, in consultation with Dr. Wheeler.
4) Your point with regard to independence of both government and industry has been heard and understood.
5) Dr. Wheeler is committed to transparency in public policy development, as he has demonstrated in the other processes he has led. The fracking panel process will be transparent.
6) I appreciate your comments about public consultation, and I am certain that Dr. Wheeler will take them into account as he designs the process. He is copied on this response for precisely that reason.
7) The deadline is not set in stone; it is, however, an indication that the NDP government takes this process seriously and wants to see the matters resolved. That being said, the panel will be certainly be given more time if it needs it.
8) The NDP government has repeatedly promised Nova Scotians that no fracking will be approved in Nova Scotia while the practice is under review. In 2012, Minister of Energy Charlie Parker and Minister of Environment Sterling Belliveau, in an official government release, explicitly ruled out the issuance of any permits, stating bluntly: “No hydraulic fracturing will be approved in Nova Scotia during the review. “ (http://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20120416004). I want to assure you that this ban remains in effect until Dr. Wheeler’s independent review is complete and under review by the government.
9) The budget will be flexible; Dr. Wheeler will have the resources to carry out the thorough review that are needed.
The NDP platform in this election has seven key commitments. They are listed and described at http://nsndp.ca/platform. I hope you and your members will have the time to review them
Again, I would like to assure you that no fracking is currently underway in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia NDP also has no intention of engaging in “green fracking” research and development as an economic growth area for Nova Scotia, unlike the Liberal Party.
Thank you for the opportunity to outline the NDP’s positions on the different facets of this important issue.
On behalf of Premier Darrell Dexter
Leader, Nova Scotia New Democratic Party
PRESS RELEASE: The Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition (NOFRAC) welcomes the province’s recently announced independent review of fracking.
“We are pleased that the government has expanded the scope of the review to include social, economic, environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing,” says Jennifer West of the Ecology Action Centre. “This is an important step in ensuring that the wide range of concerns about fracking and unconventional gas extraction are evaluated before decisions are made.”
NOFRAC is also encouraged by the government’s decision to empower the panel to consider all possible outcomes. “This is a welcome difference from the mandate of the internal review panel which had the stated goal of adopting new regulations based on ‘best practices,’ says Barb Harris, author of NOFRAC’s recent report, Out of Control: Nova Scotia’s Experience with Fracking for Shale Gas.
In a letter to government sent this morning, NOFRAC also outlined a number of concerns and suggestions about how the Wheeler panel will be established and operate.
“At this point, we have no information about what the panel will look like, who will be represented, and whether the public will be able to provide meaningful input into the process at all critical points,” says Mark Tipperman, also a member of the NOFRAC steering committee. “Our response to government points out the need for a truly representative process considering the fullest range of issues.”
NOFRAC’s response also points out that the issues that the panel will be considering are complex and wide-ranging. Tipperman notes, “ We have some concerns about a projected completion date in 2014. We hope that the panel is empowered to take all the time required to evaluate the issues thoroughly.”
NOFRAC also asks the government to clarify that no hydraulic fracturing will take place during the time of the review, and that the government will not grant any new leases for resource exploration or development which might involve hydraulic fracturing during the review period.
NOFRAC is a province-wide association of organizations and individuals who vigorously oppose hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas.
For further information contact:
Mark Tipperman, email@example.com, (902) 542-0555 or (541) 963-5214
Jennifer J. West, Ecology Action Centre, GroundWater@ecologyaction.ca, (902) 442-5046
Barb Harris, firstname.lastname@example.org, (902) 351-2490
Congratulations Colchester for stopping the release of fracking wastewater!
We applaud the Municipality of Colchester Municipal Sewer Use Appeal Committee for its decision not to allow the release of fracking wastewater through the Debert sewage system.
“This is a thorough and thoughtful decision,” says Mark Tipperman, member of the NOFRAC Steering Committee. “We are especially pleased to see the committee recognize the importance of not proceeding without an understanding of ‘the long-term cumulative effects of repeated discharge of treated fracking wastewater into the Chiganois River and Bay of Fundy.’ The committee has based its decision on key points raised in appeals, including the incomplete information provided about the chemicals which may be contained, the experimental nature of the process to remove radioactive elements and the lack of objective analysis about the impacts of this release.”
Read the full NOFRAC press release here.
Colchester Municipal Council stated that “In the end the Committee feels it is not the role of the Municipality to allow the Bay of Fundy to be a petri dish for fracking wastewater. Rather it is the Municipalitiy’s role to ensure the environment is protected now and in the future, and in that role it must exercise caution to act only when the information is complete.”
Read the full decision by the municipality here.