Councillor DeCoff hears residents’ concerns on fracking

By Helen Murphy    

GUYSBOROUGH – Residents of District Three in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough had an opportunity to share their concerns about hydraulic fracking — and the municipality’s recent call for the provincial ban on the process to be lifted — at a town hall meeting last Wednesday, Feb. 21.

“I just wanted to go to tell people in District Three that this is the way I voted and why I voted,” DeCoff said about accepting the invitation from constituents to meet and discuss the issue.

In all about 36 people attended, he told The Journal. Most were from his District, with a few from a neighbouring district.

While there were some technical questions asked about fracking that DeCoff said he couldn’t really answer, he said the main concern seemed to be “that people felt they should have had a say before we made the decision to send this letter to the premier. Lifting the ban was a scary thing for them all.”

Boylston resident Alexander Bridge – who said about 50 people attended the meeting – agreed that a lack of consultation and transparency on the matter was a top concern of those in attendance.

“Councillor DeCoff was repeatedly challenged by questions regarding the apparent lack of due diligence by the MODG in arriving at a decision asking the province to change the anti-fracking regulation, without input from geological scientists, engineers, etcetera,” Bridge said in a media statement.

“I tried to explain to them that I voted to recommend revisiting the ban on fracking,” said DeCoff. “We were asking the government to look at it again.” The councillor said he was considering the economic situation of the province, and wondering if there is an environmentally safe way to extract this resource and help boost the economy.

Bridge said the councillor’s thinking that perhaps fracking could be developed safely was “in contrast to audience members’ concerns over the millions of litres of water used in the fracking process, the intermingling of various water sources and fluids, the many chemicals involved, the disposal of wastewater, and the size and location of tailing ponds. These and other issues formed a long list of concerns.”

The divisive issue of hydraulic fracking in Nova Scotia resurfaced in early January with the release of an Energy Department report — the Nova Scotia Onshore Petroleum Atlas — showing that onshore natural gas resources are worth between $20 billion and $60 billion.

At its monthly meeting on Jan. 22, MODG council voted to send a letter to the premier and all MLAs calling for the ban on fracking in Nova Scotia be lifted and a pilot project be undertaken to determine if this form of resource extraction can be done safely in the province. MODG called on neighbouring municipalities to do the same, and Mulgrave voted to also write such a letter at its Feb. 5 meeting.

DeCoff told The Journal that there has been some misunderstanding about where fracking or a pilot project on fracking could take place. Council’s motion did not recommend a pilot project in Guysborough County, he said, noting that the resource is not here. The Petroleum Atlas points to large reserves of onshore gas in the Cumberland and Windsor basins.

Council’s motion on the matter stated that it would “write the Premier of Nova Scotia, with copies to all members of the Legislature, indicating that in light of the recent release of the Nova Scotia Onshore Petroleum Atlas Project confirming the economic potential for onshore hydrocarbon development, that we strongly urge the Province to create regulations and legislation that remove the ban on fracking in Nova Scotia and design a program that provides strict guidelines and parameters under which a pilot project can be initiated to determine whether this resource can be safely developed for the benefit of all Nova Scotians.”

“I know this is a controversial topic,” said DeCoff.

While those in attendance expressed a desire to have more of these types of community meetings with councillors and council on issues of concern, DeCoff said when something is passed by council, any concerns should be brought before council as a whole. He said he encouraged those present to do so if they wish to take the matter further.

“The general consensus by the participants at the end of the meeting was that the evening was a positive experience, with a good exchange of views and ideas,” said Bridge in the media statement. “Many, despite differences of opinion with the councillor, thanked Neil DeCoff for coming.”