Nova Scotia

Delays on Nova Scotia fracking regulations could be political

Despite repeated delays in releasing draft regulations for fracking in Nova Scotia, documents show that Energy Department staff have been presenting government with options to consider.

Documents show options being presented to government behind the scenes

Almost two years since the release of the Wheeler Report on fracking, the Liberal government has yet to release draft regulations or even define high-volume hydraulic fracturing. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

The provincial Energy Department has been presenting government with potential definitions for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, for more than a year.

The Liberal government continued a moratorium on fracking following the release of the Wheeler Report in August 2014, in part to give it time to develop regulations should the practice one day be permitted; those regulations are supposed to include a definition of high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Little public information since Wheeler Report

Since then, however, there have been next to no updates from the government or explanations for why the process is taking so long.

The Grits have yet to determine if there is even a commercially-viable resource in the province or produce a plan to answer that question. It's also clear there is no social licence right now in any community, a key recommendation from the Wheeler Report.

Despite the lack of public information, a response to a freedom of information request shows that Energy Minister Michel Samson received a presentation on fracking from department staff last September that included a list of recommended definitions for the terms "high-volume," "hydraulic fracking" and "shale formations."

Information redacted

Those definitions, along with their implications and conclusions of the presentation were all redacted.

It also appears there have been working definitions for the term since at least May 2015.

A technical paper on fracking prepared by Energy Department staff included a proposed definition, according to a department email dated May 15, 2015. That paper was also redacted.

While there are people on both sides of the issue who would like to see more clarity from the Liberals, there is some political safety in being where they are; as long as they can say the issue is being studied, the Grits can't be accused of bringing in an outright ban and, thus, being called anti-business.

Progressive Conservative finance critic Tim Houston and his caucus have repeatedly criticized the Liberals for stifling business potential by not permitting fracking. (Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party)

And while there may not be an outright ban, the lack of regulations and a definition means companies can't frack, which surely satisfies many people opposed to the practice.

Tory finance critic Tim Houston and his caucus have repeatedly criticized the Liberals for stifling business potential by not permitting fracking.

Houston accused the Liberals of letting politics get in the way of developing the industry. Knowing people within the department are doing work and bringing forward suggestions makes the delays all the more frustrating, he said.

"You can't hold industry and people hostage to your own political wills. You have to, kind of, explain to people what you're doing and why you're doing it," he said.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill's party supports a complete moratorium on fracking but says the public has the right to be kept informed on what's going on. (James Hutt)

NDP Leader Gary Burrill, whose party supports a complete moratorium on fracking, agreed that the public has a right to know where the government stands on the issue. He didn't mince words about what might be behind the delays.

"Well I suppose a reasonable person could reasonably come to the conclusion that they wish to not have to deal with the substance of this matter until following the general election, but I think that people deserve to know what their position is on the matter now."

Draft regulations scheduled to come last year

A government communications workflow for the week of June 8-12, 2015, notes that communications planning was in progress for public input, a media release and social media plan related to the regulations.

The point is further underscored by a communications workflow for the week of June 29 to July 3, 2015, where the draft fracking regulations were targeted for July 23 or 24 of that year.

"Refreshed" messages on the subject signed off on by the department on July 3, 2015, include the phrase: "This summer, industry and the public will be able to comment on draft provincial regulations" that define the term and outline the parameters for testing and research.

Those draft regulations were never released.

Government still not ready

Samson has repeatedly said the work would be released when it's available, but has offered no other details.

The minister was not made available for an interview on Tuesday. In a statement, Samson said a definition is still not ready and the government is taking the time to get it right.

"When a definition and draft regulations are ready, we will share them with industry and with Nova Scotians for review and comment."