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Nova Scotia anti-fracking coalition worried about fracking review

Too much secrecy, not enough consultation, and scope too narrow

by Robert Devet

Fracking is a contentious issue in Nova Scotia.  Now anti-fracking activists charge that a hydraulic fracturing review undertaken by the government will not provide sufficient public input and has too narrow a scope. Photo Robert Devet
Fracking is a contentious issue in Nova Scotia. Now anti-fracking activists charge that a hydraulic fracturing review undertaken by the government will not provide sufficient public input and has too narrow a scope. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK, HALIFAX - In late August the government announced a comprehensive review of hydraulic fracturing in Nova Scotia. The review is led by Dr. David Wheeler, president of Cape Breton University.

Now NOFRAC, a coalition of more than fifteen environmental and community organizations, criticizes the Wheeler review for being too limited in scope and lacking public input and independence.

"The Review as presently outlined, will not be the complete and independent scientific review promised by the Liberal Party in the party’s election platform," the coalition states in an open letter to government that was made public this morning.

Concern among environmentalists has been growing as more information about the planned approach becomes available.

Now that three technical experts have been appointed and the terms of the contract between Dr. Wheeler and the government have been posted, NOFRAC decided there was sufficient evidence to go public with its concerns.

One concern is the time set aside to do the review.

"The review is under the contract something that must be completed by the middle of next year," Mark Tipperman, member of the NOFRAC Steering Committee, tells the Halifax Media Co-op. "And that is wholly inadquate."

Tipperman points to standard environmental assesments, which typically take much longer although those reviews deal with a more narrow scope and cover much smaller geographic areas.

Not only is there not enough time to do the job, opportunities for public input will be minimal.

"There is an opportunity for the public to nominate members of the review panel, and that is good," says Tipperman, "but Dr. Wheeler picks his consultants on his own, and he picks and chooses from among the nominated panel members."

Tipperman also sees no evidence that there will be public meetings during the review. Even the conclusions that the review panel reaches will not be subject to public discussion prior to becoming final, Tipperman says.

Tipperman notes that the proposed code of conduct for panel members states that no communication may occur about what the panel members are talking about.

Scope of the review is also very problematic for NOFRAC.

"The problem with the scope is that it is unclear," says Tipperman. "There is supposed to be a fairly broad scope but when you look at the itemized list [in the contract] it is rather specific and leaves a lot of things unmentioned."

What are missing are things like the impact of fracking on the health of Nova Scotians.

"Health is a critical impact of fracking, the contamination of the water and the air is pretty well established, I mean the the toxic nature of the material deployed and released during the fracking process," says Tipperman.

All that the review offers in terms of health impact is a literature review, Tipperman explains. But that is not good enough, especially because none of the technical consultants Dr. Wheeler hired have a background in health.

The coalition does not like that one of the recently hired consultants is the CEO of a company that actively promotes hydraulic fracturing. This does little to reassure Tipperman or other members of NOFRAC, who do not expect that environmentalists or community representatives will be appointed to the review panel.

"Nova Scotians were promised a thorough, independent scientific review of the entire industry. What we are getting is a very superficial look at hydraulic fracturing, in a very limited number of subject areas, based on summaries prepared by three consultants with narrow backgrounds," the open letter concludes.

In an email response to the open letter provided by the Department of Energy and sent to the Halifax Media Co-op on December 17th the government takes issue with some of the criticisms issued in the open letter while remaining silent on others.

"We encourage Nova Scotians to become involved with this review and there are many ways they can do so. Written submissions will be accepted. There will be on-line forums and surveys starting in January, and public forums will begin in February, giving Nova Scotians multiple ways to have their say.," writes Darcy MacRae, spokesperson for the department.

The email also states that the contract with Dr. Wheeler allows for an extension beyond June 2014 if necessary to complete the work.


Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

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Topics: Environment
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