Nova Scotia’s Liberal government will outlaw hydraulic fracturing techniques needed to develop shale-gas deposits in the province, dealing another blow to the fracking industry that is struggling to gain social acceptance through North America and the world.
Following a report from an expert panel, Energy Minister Andrew Younger said Wednesday that there are too many uncertainties about the environmental and health impacts of fracking, and Nova Scotians simply are not ready to accept the risks.
“Nova Scotians just aren’t ready at this time to allow for hydraulic fracturing in shale formations in the province,” Mr. Younger said in an interview from Halifax. “So this was the best decision for us to make at this time. The discussion can continue in the province but people won’t have the issue hanging over their heads.”
He said the government will introduce legislation this fall banning fracking until more evidence is available about its impact. But he added there were no companies currently pursuing an active drilling program so “it was probably easier for us to make this decision than it is for some other areas.”
The province currently does not produce natural gas onshore, though a few small companies have leases for coal-bed methane or shale development. Triangle Petroleum Corp. of Denver fracked three wells in 2007 and 2008, but failed to hit commercial quantities of gas. The company – which has active leases in the provinces – would not comment on Wednesday’s announcement.
Nova Scotia does have significant gas production from offshore fields, Sable Island and Deep Panuke, and Mr. Younger said the provincial government will focus on the offshore for future development.
The province also has ambitious proposals to export liquified natural gas (LNG), but proponents are still looking for supplies of gas to feed those projects.
The Nova Scotia decision comes as neighbouring New Brunswick faces an election fight this fall in which fracking will be a major issue. New Brunswick Conservative Premier David Alward supports shale-gas development. But his Liberal challenger, Brian Gallant, has vowed to impose a moratorium on fracking pending further study – a position supported recently by federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said the ban on fracking is misguided.
“The government’s decision appears to be largely based on considerations other than the technical knowledge and experience of industry regulators and experts in Canadian jurisdictions where hydraulic fracturing has been used safely for many decades to develop natural gas,” CAPP president Dave Collyer said in a statement.
Advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have sparked a boom in natural gas and oil production in the United States, drive significant economic and employment growth while keeping a lid on prices. While western Canadian provinces have long allowed fracking to develop both natural gas and tight oil, Quebec has imposed a moratorium, as have several states, including New York, and countries such as France and Germany.
In a study this spring, the Council of Canadian Academies concluded that there simply isn’t enough known about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing to declare it safe, though it acknowledged the enormous economic benefits that come with shale-gas development.
Phil Knoll, chief executive at Halifax-based Corridor Resources Ltd., slammed the Nova Scotia decision, saying it was “not based on science but purely political.”
Corridor has natural gas leases that require fracking in New Brunswick but not in its home province. Still, Mr. Knoll blasted the Nova Scotia government for “turning away an opportunity to attract investment into the province,” which is struggling economically.
Environmental activists applauded the move. “This is a huge victory for citizens,” the Sierra Club’s Gretchen Fitzgerald said.