A FRACKING BAN and disappointing results from Shell Canada’s recent offshore exploration program have made Nova Scotia a less than appetizing investment destination for the oil and gas industry. That’s not great news for provincial energy minister Geoff MacLellan. But he doesn’t appear fazed by the brutally cyclical nature of the global petroleum business.
NATURAL RESOURCES MAGAZINE: Your government released an onshore petroleum atlas in January that shows the province has lots of natural gas potential if it were developed. But much of this gas would have to be fracked to be produced and you have banned fracking. Does the atlas change the government’s thinking on the ban?
Geoff MacLellan: The government’s position has not changed. Nova Scotians have been very clear that they are not ready to support the use of high volume hydraulic fracturing in shale. We’ve released our first onshore atlas to help us understand our geology, the size of our resources, where they are located, and their economic potential. We didn’t have this information in one place before. Now it is available to government, the science community, industry and Nova Scotians.
NRM: The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board’s 2017 call for bids received no offers from the oil and gas industry. Are you concerned the sector no longer views Nova Scotia’s offshore as a desirable location for investment?
GM: The current situation is not entirely surprising. Many major global companies are pulling back on exploration activities. Companies are making tough decisions about where to look next. We’ve seen situations where parcels don’t get bids until the second or third time around. So, there can still be interest, even if you don’t get a bid. Attracting bids is a global competition. Some years it depends on where we rank versus other bidding opportunities around the world. Sometimes 10 get picked, and you are number 11.
NRM: So you still feel there are companies interested in Nova Scotia’s offshore?
GM: Interest remains strong. We met with industry this fall and we received some important feedback that points to where additional geoscience work could help attract investment. Our research suggests there is excellent potential in our offshore—roughly 120 trillion cubic feet of gas and eight billion barrels of oil. This is an industry where projects can last several decades. This is a long-term process, and it’s going to take time to attract new business.
NRM: What can you do to keep Nova Scotia and its offshore potential on the sector’s radar?
GM: The important thing for us is to keep doing the geoscience. New knowledge draws investment and feedback from industry. Then we can improve our geoscience to reduce uncertainty. It’s a cycle, and it takes time.
NRM: Nova Scotia isn’t currently an oil and gas exploration hotbed, but the province has been very proactive in developing renewable energy. What progress is being made on increasing the share of renewables in your electricity mix?
GM: We’re on-track to exceed our legislated target of having 40 per cent renewable electricity by 2020. We’ve achieved this by adding different sources of clean energy to our grid. We’ve invested in the Maritime Link, which will give Nova Scotia access to hydroelectricity from Newfoundland and Labrador. We’ve also added more wind power capacity than any Atlantic province. We’re tidal leaders, and we reached a major milestone with the first grid-connected in-stream turbine in Canada. We also launched a new solar program to help Mi’kmaq First Nations, non-profits, municipalities and post-secondary schools generate solar electricity. We’ve also reduced our electricity use by more than nine per cent—more than any other province in Canada. That lowers the amount of renewable energy we need to generate.