A new report prepared by interdisciplinary expert panel set up by the Nova Scotia regional government has determined that the science of shale gas exploration is too little understood and recommended a moratorium on fracking until its effects are better known. It has also decided that that communities should give permission before fracking can proceed and made more than 30 recommendations in cases where method is given the go-ahead.
The Chair of the Panel, Professor David Wheeler, President of the Cape Breton University and former Pro Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth University, said the recommendations were ‘game changing’ and that governments ignore them ‘at their peril’ – ClickGreen website reports.
The panel – which received 238 submissions of evidence from citizens and interested parties – has found that in the case of hydraulic fracturing and its associated activities and technologies, scientific observations are lacking in many areas.
For example, there is little information on methane gas toxicity because outside shale gas exploration and associated with it methane contamination of aquifers, the likelihood of inhaling large quantities of methane is small, and there is no indication that it creates a significant health hazard if inhaled in small quantities.
Similarly, in other examples results may be lacking because of neglect or a lack of awareness, or because the effects are not immediately apparent.
The Report warns: “We need only reflect on the decades it took for the links between smoking and cancer to be accepted to understand the problem.”
“Scientists try to fill gaps in knowledge with rigorous study and publications so that society can continue to progress in matters of health and general welfare, but these studies take time and resources.”
“Therefore, we are not in a position today where we can declare that all risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and its associated activities are fully understood, still less, that they can be perfectly controlled.”
ClickGreen quotes three main recommendations included in the report:
1. A significant period of learning and dialogue is now required at both provincial and community levels, and thus hydraulic fracturing for the purpose of unconventional gas and oil development should not proceed at the present time in Nova Scotia.
2. Independently conducted research of a scientific and public participatory nature is required to model economic, social, environmental, and community health impacts of all forms of energy production and use – including any prospect of unconventional gas and oil development in Nova Scotia – at both provincial and community levels.
3. Nova Scotia should design and recognise the test of a community permission to proceed before exploration occurs for the purpose of using hydraulic fracturing in the development of unconventional gas and oil resources.
The Panel represented expertise in a broad ranges of disciplines: Aboriginal wisdom, economics, environmental geography, water science, environmental science, public health, social science, social ecology, petroleum geology, geoscience, law (including Aboriginal law), and knowledge of the natural gas industry. Six of the 11 panellists were academics). Prof Wheeler insisted the Report had integrity because all of the Expert Panel members were nominated by stakeholders, including the public, and a “CV’ test was applied against each in their category of expertise.
And the conclusions, he said, are transferable in a general sense.
He added: “Much of what we recommended was plain common sense, including the need to recognise a ‘community permission to proceed’ and the need to model all of the impacts, positive and negative, at a regional level.
“I cannot imagine any government, or indeed any industrial actor with any sense wishing to crash through a process like unconventional gas and oil development against the wishes of local people. It would be a recipe for conflict and economic uncertainty where no-one would win.
“Many of our specific recommendations related to the particular circumstances of the Province of Nova Scotia, but they were based on a thorough assessment of the technical risks and uncertainties in the emerging literature on hydraulic fracturing, as well as on current practice in North America.
“And so even the more specific recommendation probably have some benchmarking relevance for the UK and Europe in terms of the need for thorough prior assessments, monitoring, effective regulations, mitigation of social and environmental impacts and so on.
“I am sure that we have created a set of checkmarks which will be of interest to other jurisdictions considering this technology.”
He added: “We discussed at length the hard economic and scientific questions, and I believe we have brought some realism and objectivity to bear in many areas. But we also dealt with public perceptions and the challenge of making anything happen in a democracy where people do not trust public institutions or industry to do the right thing.
“Our process absolutely underscores the value and importance of stakeholder-inclusive independent reviews of contentious issues like hydraulic fracturing, and ongoing involvement of the public in the assessment and management of risks if the technology is to be applied.”
And adds: “We strongly suggest that whatever time is needed for each of these steps should be taken, without any sense of deadline-setting or impatience by any actor.”
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