The desire to prohibit hydraulic fracturing in Nova Scotia might close doors that lead to progress. Instead, we should develop and pursue in a socially and environmentally responsible manner the economic opportunities that fracking affords.
On Aug. 28, the Wheeler commission issued its report on hydraulic fracturing — a technique used to extract natural gas from the ground more commonly known as “fracking.”
The report advised a cautious approach, asserting that we do not yet know enough about the practice and decisions should involve the community. It also acknowledged that fracking could bring billions of dollars to the provincial economy. It recommends establishing adequate baseline monitoring along with effective and enforceable regulations, and advises the province to conduct formal social and environmental impact assessments.
Within a few days of the report, Energy Minister Andrew Younger announced that the provincial government would introduce legislation prohibiting high-volume fracking. This hasty reaction from Younger is inconsistent with Wheeler’s advice to follow a cautious approach by conducting more research and consulting Nova Scotians.
Prohibiting the practice altogether, however, is troubling for a number of reasons.
There is a marked difference in suppressing a problem by banning it and resolving a problematic situation. Prohibition is not an effective solution, but rather represents a kind of a flight from the situation, a refusal to deal with it.
Prohibition fails to advance our understanding of fracking, whereas approaching it with caution compels us to debate the question robustly, to dissect it and identify areas for improvement, encouraging us perhaps to develop new techniques and novel solutions to our problems. In the spirit of the Report of the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy (commonly known as the “Ivany report”), let us summon a new attitude. Let us close the door on saying “no” and keep open the doors that lead us to saying “yes, we can solve that problem.”
If, instead of turning our backs on the supposed problems that fracking would bring, we tackled them and addressed their challenges, we might figure out ways to extract resources safely, allowing us to enjoy the economic benefits of resource extraction in environmentally responsible ways. We could keep more young and educated Nova Scotians working in Nova Scotia.
More Nova Scotians working in Nova Scotia means more families together, a wealthier and more vibrant economy, and more people paying taxes to support our social programs and sustain our infrastructure. In addition, leaving the door open to the possibility of pursuing environmentally and socially responsible techniques would allow more Nova Scotians to exercise their ingenuity and use their talents for the betterment of Nova Scotia. It might help develop sound safety techniques that other jurisdictions could then adopt.
Developing new technologies and marketing them to other jurisdictions, in turn, would result in greater secondary economic activity and even more jobs in the province.
And there is more. Finding more solutions to technical problems here may further attract and sustain a culture of innovators, risk-takers, problem-solvers and entrepreneurs instead of motivating them to seek such conditions elsewhere.
Nova Scotia has already done as much with offshore exploration and extraction of natural gas and petroleum. And drilling from a platform at sea is a highly complex and challenging enterprise that we are managing well.
Such sound management, know-how and innovation need not stay offshore.
The same sense of innovative adventure can apply to many other activities and economic sectors. Fortunately, we have not banned the extraction or use of coal in Nova Scotia. Our legitimate environmental apprehensions may be balanced with our concerns for sustainable energy sources. There is room to apply our ingenuity and skill to seek and develop better techniques that will burn coal more cleanly, more cheaply, and more efficiently, for example.
The Wheeler commission’s recommendation to proceed cautiously is an invitation to explore the opportunity for better solutions to our challenges. After all, we can best solve those problems that we understand well. Forbidding, in fearful reflex, activities that are otherwise lawful and beneficial in so many other jurisdictions does the opposite.
It is worth repeating that prohibition does nothing to foster understanding. Banning fracking outright shuts the doors on the potential for further progress. It closes opportunities for greater innovation, technical advancement, and the development of more employment that would keep more of our children and grandchildren in the province. That’s why prohibition is the wrong impulse.
*This piece appeared in the opinion section of the Chronicle Herald