Colorado Fracking Boom Photo Essay

A worker wears a protective helmet decorated with stickers during a hydraulic fracturing operation at a gas well near Mead, Colo. The head of an expert panel reviewing the industry's potential in Nova Scotia says hydraulic fracturing should not proceed until more research is complete. (The Associated Press)

The Nova Scotia Liberal government says it will announce its position on hydraulic fracturing within the month.

Energy Minister Andrew Younger was responding today to the release of a report by David Wheeler, president of Cape Breton University. Wheeler headed up a panel that spent six months examining the contentious issue.

The independent panel is recommending that hydraulic fracturing not be allowed in Nova Scotia until there is more research and a way is found to give local communities a say in the process.

"We understand there's a lot of people who have an interest in what the future of hydraulic fracturing would be in the province and it's our intention to have a decision relatively quickly," said Younger.

The panel's three key recommendations are as follows:

  • Hydraulic fracturing should not proceed at the present time in Nova Scotia.
  • Independent research is needed to measure health, environment and economic impacts.
  • Nova Scotia should design and recognize a test for "community permission," with regards to hydraulic fracturing.

The report estimates that in a "lower to medium case" scenario — where 4,000 wells are drilled over a 40 year period — hydraulic fracturing could result in $1-billion in annual investment generating between 750 and 1,500 direct jobs.

"These jobs might be distributed over a geographic area, which could extend over one or more of Colchester, Cumberland, Hants, and Pictou counties. We estimate that approximately one-third of the $1-billion annual spending, under this scenario, would be for local [Nova Scotia] content," the report states.

The report also forecasts a potential royalties to the Nova Scotia government of $150 million per year, while cautioning better modelling is needed to determine costs and benefits. 

In 2012, Nova Scotia's then NDP government imposed a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, saying more study was needed. Then, just before going to the polls in 2013 the NDP government appointed academic David Wheeler to examine the issue.

Wheeler's 376 -plus page report was issued Thursday.

"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," the report concludes.

"Nevertheless, there is a clear need to put in place comprehensive baseline health and environmental monitoring, management and mitigation [risk reduction], strict regulations, and  enforcement."

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well bore to split the surrounding rock and release trapped hydrocarbons, usually natural gas, coal bed methane or crude oil.