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Wheeler fracking panel meets with Kennetcook and Noel residents

NOFRAC renews call for moratorium

by Robert Devet

David Wheeler, chair of the fracking review panel, in the Noel Legion community hall, where he met an audience that still remembers the last time fracking occurred in their community.  Photo Robert Devet
David Wheeler, chair of the fracking review panel, in the Noel Legion community hall, where he met an audience that still remembers the last time fracking occurred in their community. Photo Robert Devet
For most attendants a moratorium is the only way to go. Yesterday NOFRAC, a coalition of anti-fracking organizations, renewed its call for a moratorium.  Photo Robert Devet
For most attendants a moratorium is the only way to go. Yesterday NOFRAC, a coalition of anti-fracking organizations, renewed its call for a moratorium. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - A fracking review community meeting held at the Noel Legion yesterday at noon got pretty heated at times.

The sixty or so attendants questioned credibility of a panel member and expressed their worries about groundwater contamination, increased traffic, pressures on the water supply and ability to continue to enjoy the peace and quiet of this beautiful part of rural Nova Scotia.

Issues around climate change and the well-being of future generations were also raised.

"This fracking isn't the flavour of the month, this is something much bigger than that. We live here, our families have lived here for a very long time. We're hoping an praying that you will stand up for us," one of the people in attendance told Dr. David Wheeler.

Wheeler, chair of the Nova Scotia Expert Panel on Hydraulic Fracturing, countered with preliminary recommendations that suggest that fracking should only proceed once stringent environmental regulations are in place, and when the affected community is clearly in favour.

For residents of the East Hants communities of Kennetcook and Noel fracking is not an abstract concept. Some seven years ago Triangle Petroleum drilled five exploration wells vertically, and fracked three of them.

When some time later Triangle Petroleum called it a day, it left behind two ponds containing millions of liters of higly saline wastewater contaminated with fracking chemicals and radioactive elements.

Nobody knew what to do with all that water. Certainly the Nova Scotia Department of Environment (NSE) had no idea.

A report issued by NOFRAC and aptly titled Out of Control documents how the department allowed 7-million litres of untreated water to be discharged in the Windsor sewage treatment, and how altogether NSE's approval process for water disposal was far from rigorous. NSE didn't even order soil tests when one of the ponds was found to leak.

The Wheeler panel itself suggests that if fracking were to occur in Nova Scotia the Kennetcook and Noel area will once again be targeted.

Not good news for many people at the meeting, whose memories of the Triangle Petroleum experience were still raw and vivid.

"It's been eight years since they started seismic testing here, and nobody has dealt with the waste water, nobody has come out here to talk to us, and nobody has done a review," said one woman.

"They should have some accountability for what happened over the last eight years, and you can make that recommendation," she told Dr. Wheeler.

There was a strong feeling that the Wheeler recommendations don't go far enough, and that a continued moratorium is what is called for.

"When all three parties say let's not frack until we prove that it is safe, and then you produce all this research that says these are all things we don't know, than the report must say let's not frack. That's where my mind is," one attendant told Dr. Wheeler to loud applause.

Jennifer West, geoscience coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre and spokesperson for the NOFRAC coalition, agrees with that line of reasoning. Yesterday NOFRAC issued a press release calling for a continued moratorium.

"We don't feel that the review has proven that fracking is safe," West told the Halifax Media Co-op.

West worries that Wheeler's refusal to clearly call for a moratorium will make it difficult for politicians to resist the prospects of new jobs that fracking may bring.

As well, she doubts that Wheeler's call for world class regulations can be met. No fracking regulations anywhere have been effective in terms of protecting health or the environment, she argues.

In terms of community consent, a prominent recommendation in the Wheeler report, West wonders what that really means.

"David Wheeler admittted that he hasn't been able to define community yet," West said."He will have just as much difficulty defining consent, let alone legislating it. It is a nice statement to make, but it is very unrealistic."

West also questions the province's ability to enforce whatever regulations are put in place.

"We are dealing with potentially between 4,000 and 20,000 wells. We don't have enough inspectors to monitor 4,000 wells, we don't even have enough inspectors to monitor two wells," said West, hinting at the Kennetcook experience. "We don't have the people, nor do we have the money to hire them."

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert


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Topics: Environment
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