“The health of the people is the highest law.”
That’s a quote from Roman philosopher and politician, Cicero, by the way. And it’s displayed prominently on page three of the report released on Aug. 28 by the Nova Scotia Independent Panel on Hydraulic Fracturing.
The quote makes it obvious: the message the panel wants Nova Scotians to hear is that the health of the province’s people was of paramount importance to them during the review.
The report’s conclusion bears this out. The panel has determined that fracking shouldn’t take place in the province.
Not yet, anyway.
Now it’s up to the provincial government to decide whether to accept the panel’s stance on fracking or go some other route.
The guess here is that the government will follow the panel’s advice.
It would be a safe political decision to make for Premier Stephen McNeil and the governing Liberal Party.
As anyone with a passing interest in fracking knows, this is a volatile issue. Fracking, a method where water mixed with sand and chemicals is injected at high pressure into wells to crack the tight rock and allow oil and natural gas to flow to the surface, has raised hackles in many jurisdictions where it’s been proposed.
It’s been blamed for contaminating water supplies and even causing earthquakes, and companies who have been interested in doing it in Nova Scotia have encountered vocal opposition to their plans.
Nova Scotia can certainly use the economic jolt that extracting natural gas through fracking could provide. The panel’s report mentions that royalties from natural gas production could reach around $6 billion over a 60-year time frame. But those kinds of projections are just that – projections. There is no certainty they will ever be realized. It’s highly likely they will never be realized.
What is certain is that if the McNeil government decides to allow fracking, there will be a lot of yelling and screaming from those who oppose the practice and those yellers and screamers will do everything they can to make the government look bad.
That’s something I don’t think the government will be interested in dealing with on the off chance that some day in the future some company finds enough natural gas onshore worth producing.
Plus, Nova Scotia has substantial oil and gas potential in its offshore. BP Canada and Shell Canada have acreage here and are interested in drilling exploration wells on their acreage. If they were to find anything (preferably oil), that would have a larger impact on the Nova Scotia economy than natural gas production onshore.
Nova Scotia is not New Brunswick, which doesn’t have any offshore oil and gas prospects to speak of and where shale gas, which requires fracking to extract, is really the only potential it has.
Nova Scotia can afford to take a cautious approach with fracking. I expect that’s exactly what the government will do.