Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hydraulic Fracking Decision About Social License

In the early 1990s while studying marine sciences I was involved in preparatory work for what became the Sable Offshore Energy Project. Monitoring seismic work and observations of marine life impacts as exploration work began. Nova Scotians were looking at estimates of trillions of cubic feet of offshore gas potential and were only just coming to understand the benefits and risks which could come with a project of this nature.

A few years before that, through student research at what was then TUNS, I was involved in modelling the engineering and environmental implications of tidal barrages in the Bay of Fundy for energy production. Again, Nova Scotians were seeking to understand the opportunities and risks.

Over the intervening years, I was involved in various projects ranging from marine projects to mineral projects to community development initiatives. I’m not sure it was called social license then, but in every one of these projects, whether it was the development of a mine, or a community finance project, it was well understood that if you didn’t involve communities and work with them then the project was doomed to fail.
The panelists on Dr. David Wheeler’s panel have spoken about their differing views on the future of hydraulic fracturing in shale formations in Nova Scotia. However, one thing they unanimously signed onto in their report was that social license does not currently exist in Nova Scotia for hydraulic fracturing and it “should not proceed at this time”.
The lack of current social license is why our government introduced legislation to ensure it we address the issue of social license and not allow the process at this time.
Our geography, geology, types of agriculture, and history with onshore development demonstrate different questions which need to be answered in the Nova Scotia context before industrial scale hydraulic fracturing in shale formations takes place here. This is something both the Wheeler panelists and the Council of Canadian Academies addressed in their work. We are doing the work necessary and allowing for future research opportunities to better understand this technique in the Nova Scotia context.

For example, we are investing in an onshore atlas to understand what the resource potential is, and more important, where that resource potential is. This will permit discussions with the communities most likely to be impacted (positively or negatively) by development.
Every resource development company I‘ve met with has stressed the importance of social license. Not one has said we should forgo this. This is smart business. Nova Scotians get a say in the development of their resources, whether those are renewable or non-renewable. Even the latest independent data released in the past week indicates a strong majority of people across every income group, every education level, and every age group supports a moratorium at this time. Employment and investment in our energy sector has grown in every sector over the past year. It continues to grow and we anticipate some exciting announcements in the coming months. We will continue to grow our energy and resource sectors and we will do it in a way that benefits Nova Scotians.