Catherine Abreu’s optimism is turning to concern.
More than a year ago, Abreu, the energy coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, and other environmentalists heralded the decision by the provincial government to place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing as it attempted to draft regulations to go along with new legislation for the practice.
The decision followed the release in August 2014 of the Wheeler Report, a detailed look at the future of fracking in the province authored by a group of experts and led by Cape Breton University president David Wheeler.
Since that time, however, Abreu said it feels like things have stalled, something Wheeler himself said last summer.
“We’ve been waiting for over a year and a half now,” she said. “That’s quite an inordinate amount of time to write a set of regulations.”
Among other things, people on both sides of the issue are waiting for the province to come up with a definition of what constitutes high-volume hydraulic fracturing, to determine how geological formations other than shale will be treated, clarity on how the prohibition might be reassessed if the minister wanted to do so, and information about the possibility of fracking being permitted for research purposes.
Paul Barnes, Atlantic manager for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the industry is likewise waiting to see what the government will do next.
Barnes said he and his colleagues knew that in regions such as Nova Scotia, where fracking is a newer concept, it could take time to develop regulations that are appropriate for the region and to allay public concerns.
“We get regular updates from the government staff so we know they’ve not stopped work on it,” he said.
“If it takes a bit of time then, as an industry, we’re OK with that,” especially given the downturn in the sector, said Barnes.
“No one is really knocking on the door to want to undertake activity that the moment, but we’ve been saying to (the government) that they need to ensure they have the right regulations and policies in place for when the industry does rebound, because when industry does rebound there are investment opportunities to be had.”
Abreau, who has struggled to get information and updates from the government, said she is beginning worry about what might be causing the delays. As our province, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador all face financial challenges, there is fear among some people that it could make fracking an attractive option, said Abreau.
“Now I’m starting to feel nervous that we, once again, have fallen into this trap of believing hydraulic fracturing provides us with some kind of economic boom and we’re missing out on it,” she said.
“I can sympathize with the fact that some people are looking south to the jurisdictions that have made bundles of cash from hydraulic fracturing and thinking, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be great if we could bring that here.’”
But to that point, Abreau contends there is no evidence the resource in Nova Scotia is anywhere near the level required to create an economic boom.
While New Brunswick is a more attractive location for development because of the resource that’s known to exist, said Barnes, decisions that province’s government makes about fracking could influence what happens in Nova Scotia.
Still, he thinks Nova Scotia could be poised for success with on-shore resources based on how bullish the government has been about liquid natural gas, primarily with the idea of importing gas from the United States to liquify here and then send to markets overseas.
If at least one of the proposed LNG terminals in the province comes to reality, it bodes well for on-shore development here, said Barnes.
“While we think there’s reserves (in Nova Scotia), it’s likely too small for market or too expensive for the kind of domestic market, but if you could liquify it and send it overseas, then that creates opportunities as well.”
Energy Minister Michel Samson recently told reporters his department continues to work on a definition for high-volume hydraulic fracturing and, as part of the process, staff have visited other jurisdictions where fracking is already permitted.
“I don’t accept the premise that this is an easy subject or an easy definition to come to; it’s quite technical and there’s different definitions based on which definition you choose to go with,” he said.
The minister rejected the suggestion his department is dragging its feet on the file.
“Staff have visited various provinces and states that have legislation and regulations to see how it works there, but, at the same time, we need to make sure that Nova Scotians are comfortable with the concept and whether they are supportive of seeing this industry move forward in our province.”
The definition will be seen as a key component of how the industry may or may not develop in the province, said Samson, and he’s been presented with examples of how it’s defined elsewhere. The Wheeler Report also called for the government to consider social licence and how that might factor into a project being approved in a given community, something the government also continues to examine.
But Abreu thinks all of this talk takes away from a bigger point, which, in her view, is that too many people remain fixated on an industry that doesn’t even exist here and, even if it did, is not sustainable over the long term.
“I worry that we are really locked into an outdated model of prosperity.”
Instead, as the province’s attempts to create a green economy begin to take off, that is where the emphasis should be placed when looking at energy development for the next 20 years, said Abreu.
“We’ve generated at least 1,300 jobs directly in the energy efficiency industry (and) we’ve generated at least 1,700 jobs in the renewable energy industry and, in both of those industries, we’ve created dozens of Nova Scotia-based, local businesses.”