Finance Minister Joe Oliver criticizes N.S. fracking ban

The federal finance minister says Nova Scotia could be shutting the door to economic opportunities by banning hydraulic fracturing.

'The record is long, it's clear, it's unambiguous and it's unblemished,' says Oliver

Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver argues that fracking has been going on in several provinces for decades without any contamination of drinking water. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia could be missing out on an economic opportunity by banning high-volume hydraulic fracturing, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver warned after the province decided to indefinitely prohibit fracking for onshore shale gas.

Oliver argued that fracking has been going on in several provinces for decades without any contamination of drinking water.

However, he didn't point out that the Nova Scotia ban specifically applies to high-volume fracking, which requires far more water than conventional fracking and has been around for less than a decade.

"Fracking has been going on in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan for over 50 years," he said at a news conference in Toronto Thursday. "There've been 175,000 wells drilled using fracking and not a single case of drinkable water contamination...

"So the record is long, it's clear, it's unambiguous and it's unblemished."

The Nova Scotia government announced Wednesday it will ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing for onshore shale gas, saying residents have been clear that they are not comfortable with the practice. The Liberal government cited a study by Canadian scientists that concluded significant uncertainty remains on risks to the environment and human health despite fracking's potential economic benefits.

The decision prompted criticism from industry groups, which insist the process is safe and could bring big financial payoffs.

Oliver echoed that sentiment.

"When a government steps back from the responsible development of its resources and that development doesn't create an environmental risk, there are economic consequences inevitably to that and there's a lost opportunity," he said.

A two-year moratorium on fracking was put in place by the previous NDP government in 2012 as public protests grew in Nova Scotia and in neighbouring New Brunswick.

Fracking is a process that forces pressurized water and chemicals into layers of rock to release trapped oil and natural gas.

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