The Nova Scotia government's decision to effectively ban the use of hydraulic fracturing is unnecessary and will preclude Nova Scotians from benefitting from the responsible development of their onshore natural gas resource.
As Nova Scotia's offshore natural gas supplies are projected to decline over the next decade, the province may ironically have to rely on natural gas imports from other jurisdictions that allow hydraulic fracturing, without being able to generate the benefits of developing this resource responsibly at home.
We encourage the Nova Scotia government to reconsider its decision and to assure the flexibility to allow future development of onshore natural gas as it drafts its legislation this fall.
David Wheeler's report does not propose a moratorium or referendum on hydraulic fracturing. Instead, the report encourages Nova Scotians to "[keep] an open mind on future developments." It also points to the potential economic benefits Nova Scotia could gain if the province were to proceed with natural gas development.
As other jurisdictions with potential to develop natural gas from shale rock have demonstrated, it is not necessary to ban hydraulic fracturing in order to address public concerns and to ensure protection of the environment. New Brunswick is a case in point.
The New Brunswick government has taken the time to assess regulations, industry's strong technical base and safe operating practices used in other parts of Canada where hydraulic fracturing has been used safely for decades. This track record is a result of comprehensive government regulations, industry operating practices and evolving technologies that are collectively designed to ensure public safety and the protection of the environment.
This work by the New Brunswick government has resulted in a regulatory framework and royalty structure that will allow for the responsible, safe development of natural gas to the benefit of the people in New Brunswick. We encourage the Nova Scotia government to consider a similar approach.
This approach is reinforced in the Wheeler report, which points out "there is currently no evidence of catastrophic threats to public health in the short-to-medium term that would necessitate the banning of hydraulic fracturing outright." In fact, the report says that if Nova Scotia were to decide to develop onshore natural gas, it must make "necessary investments to ensure that proper regulations, modelling, monitoring, management and mitigation measures are established." The regulations and practices for doing exactly that are well-established in other jurisdictions.
Adopting this approach would address many of the concerns Nova Scotians may have about natural gas development. It would also allow Nova Scotia policy makers and regulators to make decisions in a broader context than solely focusing on the environmental dimension of natural gas development, and allow for positive economic, social and energy security outcomes.
The path forward announced by the Nova Scotia government is a missed opportunity for the people of the province. The Wheeler report has outlined the potential economic benefits responsible onshore natural gas development could generate in Nova Scotia. The report's "lower medium case" estimates that about $1 billion annually would be invested in Nova Scotia if hydraulic fracturing were allowed to proceed, and that as many as 1,500 direct jobs would be created in the development phase. About one third of this $1 billion in annual investment would be spent on what the report calls "local content." This is a significant economic benefit to a province with an unemployment rate higher than in many other parts of Canada.
Building on Nova Scotia's long track record of responsible resource development, the development of natural gas from shale rock utilizing hydraulic fracturing can and should be a part of Nova Scotia's economic and energy future.
Energy Minister Andrew Younger said that "our petroleum resources belong to Nova Scotians." He is correct, but Nova Scotians will only benefit from these resources if they are responsibly developed.
The experience in other jurisdictions, where natural gas is being developed in a safe and responsible manner, clearly demonstrates this is being achieved.
Kept in the ground, Nova Scotia's onshore natural gas resource will benefit no one. The decision to ban hydraulic fracturing should be revisited.