David Wheeler has learned bunches about fracking: “Not everyone is familiar with my CV, I guess” by Jacob Boon, August 14, 2014, The Coast
After two weeks of intense public meetings, the final report on fracking in Nova Scotia will be released by the province’s advisory panel later this month. The head of that panel, and president of Cape Breton University, Dr. David Wheeler took time away from his print deadline to speak with The Coast about what he’s learned.
The Coast: How did the public meetings go?
David Wheeler: I thought they were very informative. I think people at the panel meetings were, obviously, for the most part very well informed and often passionate in their view. So, that was very much appreciated by me, and I think by the entire panel. [Why wasn’t “the entire panel” present for citizens to ask questions?] Of course, we discussed it quite a bit in terms of what feedback we were getting. I think they were very successful, and I think the feedback on the recommendations—or the emerging recommendations—were helpful. I think it allowed us to clarify some of the ways we were describing what we were saying in ways that were better understood, perhaps. So, I think it was very worthwhile doing.
TC: Were you surprised at all by the reaction of the communities?
DW: No, we always knew that people would be very passionate. Some people even said that maybe we should consider not doing public meetings, but from my point of view, right at the beginning, I declared that it was important that we did that. It was important to involve Nova Scotians in debating the emerging recommendations of the panel. … People. I think, bring strong views to bare, and that’s right and proper. I did regret, I think, a handful of interventions which crossed a line in terms of calling to question the ethics of the panel or individual members of the panel. I think that was inappropriate. [If the shoe fits?] But that was a very, very small number of people and I don’t think representative of the broad range of attendees, who actually were pretty respectful of the process and pretty well informed. That was what I take away from it, rather than the very, very small number of people who were more into questioning personal ethics or the ethics of the panel. [Isn’t it time somebody did? And when will Canadians call the Council of Canadian Academies frac panel on their ethics?]
TC: That’s come up recently with you chairing LearnCorp [a firm responsible for training oil and gas workers], and you say that doesn’t bias you?
DW: No, anyone who knows me knows that I bring a level of seriousness and objectivity to all topics of energy and the environment. Again, I think more people would have been concerned about my historic links with the environmental movement, rather than this industry. But, not everyone is familiar with my CV, I guess.
TC: In hindsight, should you have been more upfront about that role before this advisory panel started?
DW: I didn’t even think of it. I didn’t think it was an issue. When I was being asked to do this by the province, as a favour to the province, unpaid and voluntary, the last thing I was thinking about was what I might have done in the past or what I’m doing currently when there is actually no conflict of interest. So, it never came up. I didn’t think about it [If Dr. Wheeler didn’t have the memory, integrity or ethics to think of it, then shouldn’t at least the government? They stand to gain, by the conflict.], and anyone who wants to create an impression of a conflict for particular reasons obviously can do with any public servant. Anyone who looks down my CV will see many, many activities I’ve done in the past which, in theory, if you wanted to create an impression of a conflict, you could do that. [When a conflict is real and created by Dr. Wheeler and or the government, is there any need to “create an impression” of one?] I could list you lots and lots of examples of where my involvement with environmental organizations, social justice organizations and others could be portrayed as anti-the oil industry by someone who wanted to make that link. But it wouldn’t be fair and it wouldn’t be accurate. My track record, I think, speaks for itself. So, I have no regrets. I’m not in a conflict, and I never thought that in taking on a tough, voluntary and unpaid job for the province anyone would ever position my role in that way. [What salary does Dr. Wheeler make at the university?] I guess, it’s an interesting topic this one, where people throw all kinds of things at you. [Was it anything like the frac Hell families live with, that Dr. Wheeler and his panel ignored in their reports? Was it like the shock and betrayal people experienced when they found out Dr. Maurice Dusseault had been issued a frac patent by the Canadian government, before he was appointed to Dr. Wheeler’s panel?]
TC: You said now that no fracking should proceed in Nova Scotia before more public discussion and research. Why?
DW: Well, I think there’s a real need to learn from all the evidence that our panel’s been able to look at on the topic of hydraulic fracturing. [What about the important evidence that Dr. Wheeler and his frac panel conveniently ignored and left out of their reviews and reports?] That’s really why we’ve come to the conclusion that the province is not ready at this time to entertain hydraulic fracturing until there has been a much broader debate and discussion. What we’re saying is that should happen at the provincial level of course, but just as importantly, it should happen at the community level. Whether that’s municipalities, whether it’s Aboriginal communities, because these are important issues. We need people to be fully informed of the risks, both direct and hypothetical risks. We also need people informed of the potential benefits. [Bias, worker training and frac patent profits anyone?] Then we need to apply a Nova Scotian lens to what that looks like at the community level. Time is required for those discussions and debates. Until those discussions and debates have occurred, we don’t think it makes any sense, whichever side of the fence people are on, to just crash things through. I’m sure the government would not wish to crash things through arbitrarily. That doesn’t strike me as being sensible for them, for communities or even for industry. What is required at this point is a deep discussion amongst Nova Scotians about the issues so we can all learn together. [By ignoring the most serious frac harms and scientific evidence?]
TC: Was this advisory panel process supposed to find an answer though? One way or another, yes or no? More study seems likely to anger both sides.
DW: Well, it shouldn’t, because all sides should recognize, including the government, that it would be inappropriate to proceed with significant unknowns, particularly at the community level. One thing we have been able to identify is where would be of potential interest to industry. That’s one of the advantages of having people involved in the panel who understand the industry at a deep level. We’ve been able to determine where the likely interest would be, down to the level of particular oil and gas reservoirs. [Truth sneaking out, about the panel’s and Dr. Wheeler’s conflict of interest and bias?] It would have been impossible for us as a panel, to go down to that level of granularity and say, okay, what would this mean in Cumberland County, or what would this mean in Colchester County? Or in Hants County? We weren’t able, because of resource constraint, to go into that level of detail, in terms of okay, if this industry ever did take off in those areas, what would be the implications for other economic activities, tourism, forestry, fisheries, so on? What would be the implications in terms of economic impact, both positive and negative in those communities? So, really unless you go to that level of detail, again it’s impossible for local communities or the province to take a view. So, what we’re saying is, once we’ve had a period of reflection, hopefully based on the results of our review, then if anyone wants to take it forward, that’s the level of analysis one would need to go into. What would this mean to Cumberland County? And the people who should be involved in that would be the people of Cumberland County. Their views are paramount in that kind of conversation. Again, people may be disappointment by saying postpone it forever, and/or go ahead. But actually if people are more thoughtful, they will see why if you apply the precautionary approaches we’ve done [by refusing to be appropriately comprehensive, upfront, honest, accountable and transparent?], and as actually we’re bound to do in Nova Scotia legislative terms, because of Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, if you apply that precautionary approach, there is no alternative other than simply taking time to absorb what information is out there, and then to think about if this ever does occur, what it would mean at the community level.
TC: If the province decides to allow fracking, which obviously is out of your hands…
DW: Again, we’ve been very careful not to overstep the bounds here. You know, the province, when it receives this report, has all options open in terms of how it decides to move. That’s how it should be in a democracy. [Didn’t Dr. Wheeler say earlier the panel is creating “emerging recommendations?” How democratic is it for Chair and panel to leave out the most damning frac research and contamination cases, and recommended NS follow the “model” regulator in Alberta that has been behind closed doors while lying to the public, deregulating to allow fracing free-for-all with no legal recourse when things go wrong, and argues publicly in court that it owes “no duty of care” to contaminated drinking water or any harmed Albertan? Why would Dr. Wheeler’s frac panel recommend such an outrageous thing, if not to remove all legal protections and frac the living Hell out of Nova Scotians?]
TC: But, if they were to allow fracking, what regulations or rules jump out to you as being needed?
DW: Well, you’ll have to wait for our report to answer that question. [Didn’t Dr. Wheeler say that’s not the panel’s role, that it’s up to the government to decide?] But I can tell you in general terms. We are, the panel’s still debating this, but hopefully we’ll have finished debating in the next few days so we meet our print deadline, but we’re talking about very strict, if, capital “i,” capital “f,” if this every happened in our province, everything is then contingent. If this ever happened, then clearly one would be talking about the most stringent regulations that are out there as best practices in Canada. [Same promise as everywhere else that industry and frac patent holders and profit takers want to frac: “best in the world,” or “most stringent” or “toughest” or “world-class” regulations but when it comes down to living frac’d, they’re only in dreams. What contradiction does Dr. Wheeler present with his comment regulations “as best practices?” Best practices are unenforceable and voluntary, used by industry, governments, regulators, synergy groups, NGOs, and conflicted frac panels and Chairs to push deregulation, while publicly promising “most stringent.”] We’ve also created this notion of a community consent to proceed, which is hard-wiring the ability of communities to be empowered and involved in decision making. Again, whether you take an industry perspective, or a community perspective or the government perspective, that makes sense because you would not want to proceed against the wishes of local people. It wouldn’t make any sense. So, we’ve created, if you like, two levels of what we hope will be reassurance for Nova Scotians. One, of course will be filling out best practices in legislation and regulation, and making clear it’s not just about having regulations, it’s about funding them resourcing them and enforcing them. Which was a big concern from the stakeholders we heard from at the hearing. It’s about having the best regulations, but it’s also about resourcing and politically following through regulations [What about having the best and most stringent aquifer repair plan and funding for it?]. Secondly, we’ve created this notion of a community-consent to proceed, which I think again is important for people to understand and that will require some design work. We haven’t been able to be prescriptive on that, but we have drawn attention to some principles that would need to be in play, defining, sort of what it means to be a community. Again, that’s up to politicians and municipalities and the province itself to come to a view on.
TC: Have your own opinions about fracking changed through this process?
DW: Well I’ve learned a lot.
TC: Like what?
DW: Well, I’ve learned a lot of technical details about hydraulic fracturing. I’ve obviously kept a completely open mind, as you’d expect, as the independent chair of this process. People may be surprised to learn this, but I’ve enjoyed the process. It’s been, for me, an important piece of public service. [frac patent public?] I’ve learned a lot, so in the future I’ll be able to speak more knowledgeably about hydraulic fracturing. For someone interested in sustainability, like I am, for someone interested in the future of Nova Scotia, like I am, it’s important that I become more knowledgeable, and I’m hoping that lots more people become more knowledgeable in months to come. [How many Nova Scotians know more about fracing than Dr. Wheeler and his frac profit panel?]
Organize now against industry land grabs by Cleve Higgins, August 15, 2014, The Chronicle Herald
An open-pit gold mine in Moose River; a gravel quarry in Fogartys Cove. The common thread is that they involve government expropriations on behalf of industrial extraction companies. This poses a serious threat to landowner rights in Nova Scotia and to the health of the land and water.
There are only three laws in Nova Scotia that allow a private company to request a government-issued expropriation: the Mineral Resources Act, the Petroleum Resource Act and the Pipelines Act. In other words, these extractive industries have a special status in the Nova Scotia legal system, with privileges that are granted to no one else.
This is what makes expropriations of the Fogarty family, or the Higgins family, legally possible. A real respect for the land and landowners’ rights demands an end to these expropriations. Of course, advocates for the extractive industry (including those employed by the Department of Natural Resources) will argue, as they have recently done in this paper, that these expropriations of private land are extremely rare.
This hides the ugly truth on the ground, which is that companies use the threat of expropriation to pressure landowners into selling. If they’re going to take it anyway — why not sell?
These laws get used when principled landowners are completely unwilling to sell land to an extractive company that is going to leave it irreparably scarred.
Furthermore, advocates for industry will argue that their projects are for the “public good,” that it will mean jobs closer to home, so we won’t need to travel out west for work.
We can’t help but wonder what “public good” they are talking about. Nova Scotians whom we know appreciate things growing on the land, clean water, and the sustainable industries and tourism that depend on them. Some of us might go out west for work when we have to, but when we see the legacy of extractive industry — the black pits of tar sand extending to the horizon or the vast fracking zones — then we’re glad to come back to Nova Scotia, to the beautiful pieces of land we grew up on.
When advocates for extractive industry talk about the “public good,” they’re referring to one thing only: money. And most of that ends up in their own pockets. For the rest of us, their expropriations of the land never have been for the public good and it never will be.
We need to think ahead to what expropriation for extractive industry is going to mean in the years to come. If shale-gas fracking is ever permitted in this province, then the Petroleum Resource Act will allow fracking companies to request expropriation of private land for their numerous drill pads and other facilities.
In Moose River, we made the mistake of waiting until the expropriation request came before we started fighting it. For all of you who are concerned about fracking, and who don’t want to see your land expropriated for a fracking drill pad or other extractive project, you need to start organizing now. Find out what projects might become active in your area, and talk to your neighbours about how you’re going to collectively refuse to allow your land to be taken.
Finally, we should all look to the inspiring example of the Mi’kmaq people, who have been respecting and defending this land for a very long time. Barbara Low is a Mi’kmaq woman who spoke at one of the public meetings on fracking in Port Hawkesbury, and she got right to the point: “I want to make it clear that we want the land to be safe and secure for future generations, and we will not allow fracking to happen on Mi’kmaq territory.”
Together, we can all protect the land from the extractive industries and their expropriations. [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
Ronalie Campbell comment: At a hearing with a local oil company and government official present, the oil rep blurted out “it wasn’t us, it was Encana, CNRL, and all those others before us that blew the cap rock to hell.”
An Alberta government lawyer argued in court this week that Jessica Ernst’s lawsuit on hydraulic fracturing and groundwater contamination should be struck down on the grounds that it would open a floodgate of litigation against the province.
“There could be millions or billions of dollars worth of damages,” argued Crown counsel Neil Boyle.
“By any responsible account,” [Pennsylvanian Supreme Court] Chief Justice Castille wrote, “the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and the future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.” ]