At a summertime meeting, dozens of anti-fracking advocates poured into West Hants council chambers, many armed with flags, to rally politicians to uphold its stance against hydraulic fracturing in the region.
Although there has been a provincial moratorium on hydraulic fracturing since 2014, representatives of the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition (NOFRAC) say there’s been a resurgence in interest from industry representatives.
“The industry wants to break the Nova Scotia moratorium on fracking,” said Barbara Harris while speaking to West Hants councillors June 25.
Harris, who spoke on behalf of NOFRAC, says that Hants and Cumberland counties are being targeted due to the industrial potential to tap into shale gas deposits. She said she wanted to share their concerns and facts before councillors supported any projects that could indirectly lead to opening up the moratorium.
Harris outlined what NOFRAC sees as the dangers associated with using hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas and other hydrocarbons held in dense rock formations. Chief among those risks is the unknown chemical concoction that is pumped into the rock bed to break it up.
“There are hundreds of chemicals used in this and not all are disclosed. There are many that are labelled trade secrets,” she said.
Harris estimates between five and 10 million litres of water mixed with chemicals is required per fracked well, noting NORMS, naturally occurring radioactive materials, come back up following the process. NORMS could include such things as mercury, arsenic, and uranium.
Unlike conventional oil drilling, where the well will eventually run dry, shale gas doesn’t do that.
“Shale gas is completely different, there is no pooling, and that's why the technique is different and the risks are different,” she said.
Hydraulic fracturing is combined with directional drilling. So unlike conventional wells, where they drill down to tap into the petroleum, they have to drill down and then drill out to reach the gas.
“When we got the moratorium, the distance they were able to drill was about two miles. Now it's about four miles, so down and out. And then high pressure explosive in order to break up the rock,” said Harris.
She commended the council of the day that took a stance in 2013 against allowing fracking and sent a resolution to the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities which outlined West Hants’ concerns for water use, water contamination, air pollution, health and well-being of residents, disposal of fracking wastewater and the risks it poses to water sources.
“It was very foresighted,” she said, noting those risks are “even greater than we understood five years ago.”
Harris spoke before the committee of the whole June 25 for more than 40 minutes, bringing up examples of places that have also banned fracking, as well as examples of people who have been affected by the industry.
“Watch out for the line, ‘keep an open mind,’” said Harris.
“Now they don't have an open mind on this; they have a position. But it's very interesting because it makes anyone who doesn't have an open mind on this look like you're wrong, (like) you're being unreasonable,” she continued.
“I would say to you rather than keeping an open mind, get educated, look at the facts, look at the science and take a position and do what you feel is appropriate based on the facts,” she said.
“There are many bans and moratoriums on shale fracking. We are in very good company.”
In closing, she asked councillors to be wary of industry promises.
“Look behind the rhetoric and find your facts,” she said. “And I hope that you will continue the work you've already done to keep the door firmly closed to fracking in Nova Scotia because I do believe that that ban on fracking protects communities, existing industries... and it protects the climate.”
At the July 9 council meeting, councillors voted 9-1 to reaffirm its stance, declaring it “does not support hydraulic fracturing that would result in the short- or long-term economic, social or ecological ramifications that arise from the process of hydraulic fracturing in shale.”
Further, West Hants voted to send a letter to the provincial government, copying it to the official opposition and every municipality in Nova Scotia, indicating it remains supportive of a ban on fracking and that if the province ever changes its mind on the ban on fracking, that the province do an extensive public consultation process “and full consideration be given to the protocols and procedures to address fracking of water and the eventual disposal of this product through wastewater treatment plant facilities.”
Robbie Zwicker was the lone councillor to vote against the motions made by council.
“Is anybody on council off grid? Cuz if not, you’re all using fracking gas. That’s what we use to generate a lot of electricity in Nova Scotia so I just want to point out the hypocrisy of this,” Zwicker said before the last vote on the subject.
He said council is OK with benefiting from natural gas that has been fracked elsewhere, but suffer from a “not in my backyard mentality.”
In an interview following council, Warden Abraham Zebian said that while the decision to allow fracking is ultimately up to the provincial government, West Hants council wanted to make its stance known.
“We are of the opinion that there’s just not enough information that’s known about it at this point for us to agree with any of those methods,” said Zebian.
“If the province allows it, then we have basically no say in it,” he added. “We are just reaffirming where we stand. We stand behind our residents, we stand behind the environmental freedom we have currently and that’s why we reaffirmed it.”
DID YOU KNOW?
The 167,000-hectare Windsor Block is the only area where there has been fracking conducted in Nova Scotia.
Triangle Petroleum expressed an interest in developing shale gas and acquired the lease. The company’s peak operation in the Kennetcook-Noel area was between 2007 and 2009. Three of the wells the company drilled during that time were done via high volume hydraulic fracturing. This resulted in two holding ponds containing upwards of 20 million litres of fracking wastewater. Triangle Petroleum was prohibited from injecting 12-14 million litres of the produced brines back into the rocks where they were extracted. The company was asked to remediate the site while the government conducted a review on fracking.
The Kennetcook holding ponds subsequently leaked, with some of the untreated fracking wastewater running into a nearby brook.
The Town of Windsor agreed to process seven million litres of fracking wastewater through its sewage treatment plant between 2010 and 2011 — with the treated water going into the Minas Basin. The fracking wastewater was not tested for radioactive levels before being processed.
A provincial moratorium on permitting hydraulic fracturing went into effect in September 2014.
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- The community of Kennetcook has been dealing with a large amount of fracking wastewater since 2007.
- Editorial: Fracking moratorium must remain intact.
- Windsor council requests more information on fracking wastewater disposal.