N.S. fracking review will be exhaustive — panel by Selena Ross, February 13, 2014, Chronicle Herald
No one said it would be easy reviewing everything the world knows about fracking. Nine people starting an independent review of hydraulic fracturing in Nova Scotia will keep busy until May looking at more than 500 pieces of evidence. The panelists laid out ground rules at their first meeting Wednesday at Dalhousie University in Halifax. The goal is to “make sure that we take every possible impact of hydraulic fracturing into account from all perspectives,” said Cape Breton University president David Wheeler, directing the review. That is a big task for an industry that operates all over the world and has been the subject of intense debate for years. The panel also wants to be transparent about its conclusions, but it will not make the meetings public.
So it has chosen an approach of debating furiously in private and then releasing the results through a series of exhaustive papers. The panel members will write or commission papers on different aspects of fracking: waste water, for example, or health or economic effects. Each paper will draw on dozens of other documents and sources. The panel will read drafts, edit them at their remaining five meetings and then release them publicly as they go along.
“That cycle should play out for probably seven or eight papers,” said Wheeler. “And then those papers will become the basis of much of the final report.”
The estimated cost of the review is $100,000, with an added $35,000 for the aboriginal consultation. The panel members are paid a small honorarium of around $1,500 each. Each paper will be about 10 to 20 pages long and will be written in a non-academic way, with about 50 to 100 listed references. “People can expect to see one or two a month emerging, probably starting in March,” said Wheeler.
On Wednesday, the panel began to debate the first paper, which was an introduction to what fracking is. The topics of the remaining papers will be released publicly next week, Wheeler said. At Wednesday’s meeting, which he called “lively,” the panel decided to add one new topic to the list, about drinking water. “We’re going to have a paper on the integrity of wells,” said Wheeler. “This is a particular technical question that we believe is a really important part of the story, in terms of how one might remove the environmental risk.” The trick of looking at all the evidence is not just to boil it down to 10 or 20 pages, but to relate it to Nova Scotia, he said. “In each case, you know, we can review the literature … nationally and internationally. So, can this be done safely to the satisfaction of stakeholders in the different parts of the world? But then, of course, what’s really important is the question, could it be done or should it be done in Nova Scotia, given the particular situation in Nova Scotia?” That means some of the evidence considered will be about the province rather than fracking per se, he said. “For example, you know, what’s in the geology of Nova Scotia that we have to consider?”
There have been other reviews of fracking, but most have been done by governments needing to make a decision about the issue. Wheeler believes this review is unique in its “quasi-academic” independence and scope, which allows the panelists to consider health and anything else they choose. “We’re allowed to look at anything, and we have the expertise, we believe, to allow us to do that.” The nine experts announced last week include academic experts on geology, water management and engineering, as well as a Membertou First Nation leader. Eight of them were present for the Wednesday meeting and the ninth Skyped in, said Wheeler. [Emphasis added]
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