Hydraulic fracturing comes up at councils

The Nova Scotia Onshore Petroleum Atlas listed the approximate economic benefit of onshore oil and gas resources at between $20 billion and $60 billion US.

STRAIT AREA: A letter from the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) seeking support in lobbying the provincial government to lift its ban on hydraulic fracturing came before two local municipal councils.

Inverness County’s stance on fracking is being tested due to the urging of the municipal leaders from Guysborough.

“To summarize, they are asking us to support their efforts in asking the province to take the ban off hydraulic fracking,” said Betty Ann MacQuarrie, Inverness Warden.

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Council was approached by letter on January 24, and Guysborough Warden Vernon Pitts did the approaching. His note pointed out the economic benefit of hydrocarbon development to Nova Scotia is estimated to be between US$20 billion and US$60 billion.

However, Nova Scotia Energy Minister Andrew Younger introduced legislation banning the process in late 2014. The technology, according to Pitts, “has unlocked a period of unprecedented economic growth” for Alberta and 21 states south of the border. With that, the technology can help Canada become independent from reliance on unstable foreign energy sources, Pitts maintains.

The problem is, Inverness County has its own by-law against hydraulic fracturing on the books.

“We have a by-law prohibiting fracturing, and to in turn support it in another municipality is not a good message,” said Tanya Tibbo, acting CAO for Inverness.

Ultimately, council decided to send the matter to a policy meeting where its by-law can be reviewed. If the province ends up allowing fracking, Warden MacQuarrie noted the municipality’s by-law would certainly be tested.

Part of the problem with supporting fracking, several councillors noted, is that the technology is evolving. The safety of the process may have improved over the years, but it’s difficult for people outside the industry to know exactly what’s what.

“Is fracking as bad as they say it was?” asked Councillor John MacLennan. “It was an environmental thing with everyone on the bandwagon.”

“You have your opinion and that’s okay,” said Councillor Jim Mustard. “But if we’re going to have this conversation, let’s have it in depth. This is a question we can’t answer right now.”

“You’re right,” MacLennan said. “It’s hard for us to support [Guysborough] right now.”

Mulgrave is asking the province to remove its ban on hydraulic fracturing for the sake of a pilot project.

Last week, Mulgrave Town Council received a letter from the MODG requesting support to have the province lift the ban and implement a pilot project.

Mulgrave Town Council voted to voted to pass the motion, which asked “that the council of the Town of Mulgrave write the Premier of Nova Scotia, with copies to all members of the Nova Scotia Legislature, indicating that in light of the recent release of the Nova Scotia Onshore Petroleum Atlas project confirming the economic potential for onshore hydrocarbon development, that we strongly urge the province to create regulations and legislation that remove the ban on fracking in Nova Scotia and design a program that provides strict guidelines and parameters under which a pilot project can be initiated to determine whether this resource can be safely developed for the benefit of all Nova Scotians.”

Mulgrave CAO Jim Davis said council felt the risk was low based on modern technologies and the approach that was recommended in the motion.

“It would have to be a pilot project first to see… what it looks like and develop guidelines and parameters based on our situation here in Nova Scotia,” Davis said.

“We’re just trying to find our way on it. They figure it’s worth a try based on it being done pretty well all across the continent.”