Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fracking Bill Failure (Response to AllNovaScotia.com)

The following originally appeared in AllNovaScotia.com on Monday, November 14th. It appeared in response to an article which reported the government had not moved on many of the commitments made when the bill on hydraulic fracking was introduced. 

It’s unacceptable that after almost two years the provincial government has yet to publish their definition for high volume hydraulic fracturing for public for comment. Worse still, is the fact the definition gone from coming soon, to having no date in sight. It reflects a disrespect for industry, environmentalists, and all those who participated in discussions on this issue.

When I as the Energy Minister of the day brought forward legislation concerning hydraulic fracturing, early draft definitions were already on the table. Department staff confirmed at the press briefing the final regulations, on not only the definition, but what would constitute research activities in the bill, would be ready within two months for public comment. This was a critical commitment to the legislation moving forward. At the time, I presented to the legislature definitions of high volume hydraulic fracturing from other jurisdictions which staff had sourced, showing possibilities, and demonstrating that similar wording found in the government bill was already in use elsewhere.

Freedom of Information requests show the current Energy Minister was also presented with definitions and options. This information, in full, together with any briefings and notes, should be released to the public now given the unacceptable delays.

There was significant speculation at the time about the reasons for the bill. There were different views (even from review panelists) about whether the legislation respected the guidance of the review led by Dr. Wheeler. The decision was not based on personal opinions of me or staff, but rather was a considered decision premised on three points, in addition to legal advice provided to the department. Those points were: respecting the party’s election commitment regarding fracking, recognizing the position of municipalities that they opposed fracking in the province as represented to the department by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, and most important, recognizing that requirements around consultation and consent or accommodation had not been met with the province’s First Nations. Speaking to many energy companies at the time, it was also clear there was little short or medium term interest in onshore development in Nova Scotia, outside of coal bed methane which remained unaffected by the bill.

Part of the promise of the bill was to get the onshore atlas completed quickly so it could be determined whether commercial opportunities even exist onshore in Nova Scotia. This was critical given the history of dry wells in Nova Scotia’s onshore, and the fact we could be faced with a debate over something which wouldn’t happen anyhow. Now it appears little work has been done on this effort. As well, engagement with municipalities and First Nations about onshore development (and all energy opportunities) was to get underway. The bill would have allowed these discussions to happen knowing nothing would be forced upon anyone given the need to amend or repeal legislation to move forward with a project. These tasks also appear not to have happened.

The failure to address any of the promises of the legislation is a failure of governing. It undermines confidence in the ability of government to manage energy and environmental projects, as well as to live up to commitments made to stakeholders.