On September 3, Nova Scotia’s government announced that it will indefinitely ban high volume hydraulic fracturing onshore. According to Energy Minister Andrew Younger, “Nova Scotians have overwhelmingly expressed concern about allowing high volume hydraulic fracturing to be a part of onshore shale development in this province at this time.” The government will introduce legislation this fall.
Before making its decision, the government of Nova Scotia commissioned the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment at Cape Breton University to conduct an independent study and 10-month comment period on the socio-economic impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Dr. David Wheeler, President of Cape Breton University, led the study. The nearly 400-page final report, released on August 28, 2014, recommended that “Nova Scotia should design and recognize the test of a community permission to proceed before exploration occurs for the purpose of using hydraulic fracturing in the development of unconventional gas and oil resources.”
The government also received input from Mi’kmaq communities, indigenous to Canada’s Maritime provinces, including Nova Scotia. The Mi’kmaq have aboriginal, treaty and statutory rights that the government has to consider. According to the report, “if the Mi’kmaq people possess Aboriginal title rights over portions of Nova Scotia where there is subsurface unconventional gas, unless an exceptional justification test is met, the Mi’kmaq have the right to decide whether that gas will be exploited.” The Mi’kmaq have expressed support for the ban.
Environmental groups are also pleased with the government’s announcement, but the decision to ban high volume hydraulic fracturing has drawn criticism from groups such as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (“CAPP”). Dave Collyer, president and CEO of CAPP, was disappointed in the decision, stating, “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.” While noting the viability of Nova Scotia’s onshore natural gas is not yet proven, Collyer fears that the government’s decision may “preclude Nova Scotians from benefitting from the responsible development” of hydraulic fracturing.