Nova Scotia bans fracking in snub to Canada PM Harper

Provincial government says environmental impact of shale gas and oil drilling needs more research

Rusty Waters, Nova Scotia (Pic: Paul Bica/Flickr)

Rusty Waters, Nova Scotia (Pic: Paul Bica/Flickr)

By Ed King

The Canadian province of Nova Scotia plans to ban fracking after an official enquiry warned of low levels of public support for the oil and gas extraction process.

Energy minister Andrew Younger said the government would introduce laws by the end of 2014 to place a temporary block on all drilling.

“Nova Scotians have indicated by a wide margin they are concerned about hydraulic fracking and the development of shales at this time,” he said.

The move comes in response to a government commissioned report published at the end of August, which recommended more research into the potential consequences of fracking.

It said: “Based on the analysis described in this report, a significant period of learning and dialogue is now required at both provincial and community levels, and thus hydraulic fracturing for the purpose of unconventional gas and oil development should not proceed at the present time in Nova Scotia.”

Nova Scotia is Canada’s second smallest province with a population under one million, located on the coast east of New Brunswick and the US state of Maine.

A 2013 poll revealed that 53% of residents opposed fracking, a technique which draws natural gas to the surface by forcing huge levels of a water and chemical mixture deep into the ground at high pressures.

The move is the latest indication that not all provincial governments agree with prime minister Stephen Harper’s hostile stance towards climate action.

Harper withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Protocol, which obliged the country to cut its carbon emissions. His last budget slashed environmental funding and proposed spending $28 million towards a new oil pipeline.

Last month the premiers of Ontario and Quebec, representing more than half of Canada’s population, outlined their own plans for tougher climate laws.

Wider debate

Speaking at a press conference, Younger said Nova Scotia’s government could permit shale gas extraction in the future, but only after further research by scientists.

“Our decision will allow the Nova Scotia legislature to have an opportunity for debate and comment should a decision to allow hydraulic fracturing in shale formations be allowed in our province at some future date.”

The report warned that the effects of chemicals used in fracking contaminating water supplies were not fully understood. It also emphasised the risk that methane, a potent climate-warming gas, can leak from fracking wells.

Proponents of fracking point out gas burns more cleanly than coal, producing around half the carbon emissions. They say it can be a “transition fuel” in the move to a low carbon economy.

Some studies suggest “fugitive emissions” from shale wells could undermine the carbon benefits of switching from coal to gas, however.

“The possibility of significant fugitive emissions of methane from hydraulic fracturing operations and associated downstream infrastructure – now or far in the future – does not enable us to make definitive claims about natural gas as a potential ‘transition fuel’ for Nova Scotia with the present state,” the report said.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers criticised the decision, saying fracking was a safe process and warning of “lost opportunities”.

The Chronicle Herald newspaper accused the government of an “Orwellian” move and said billions could be lost in revenues.

But Jennifer West, geoscience co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, which has long campaigned against the process in Canada, welcomed the news.

“It really shows that Mr Younger was listening to the people of Nova Scotia throughout this process, that he was reading their submissions, that he was really reading the Wheeler report very thoroughly and really had a good sense of how complex this issue is,” she said.

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