Parrsboro asked to take anti-fracking stand

Andrew Wagstaff
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Council considering resolution after presentation from citizens

PARRSBORO – There is no hydraulic fracturing taking place in Parrsboro right now, and a group of concerned citizens hopes to keep it that way.
In fact, the group has asked Parrsboro town council to join a chorus of municipalities in taking a stand against the controversial practice used in shale gas exploration, making its case in a presentation at council’s monthly session on Feb. 25.

Bill Davison (standing) and Harriet McCready took part in a public presentation on the dangers of hydraulic shale gas fracturing to Parrsboro town council at its Feb. 25 meeting. Looking on is Coun. David Harrison.

“The reason we’re here is because every extra voice makes a difference,” said Harriet McCready, who led the presentation. “If one more town, Parrsboro, adds its voice and sends a letter to the review committee and the government, it just puts the message across that we’re concerned. There is not enough evidence to say this is going to be safe yet.”

Shale gas fracturing – commonly known as fracking – involves the drilling of deep wells, and the high-pressure pumping of water and chemicals into the wells to push the rock apart and allow the gas to escape.

The danger, according to U.S. statistics quoted by McCready, is that these wells will leak over time, thereby allowing these chemicals to enter into the drinking water supply. In the first year, she said there is a five per cent chance of a leak, 30 per cent after five years, and a 60 per cent chance after 30 years.

“There is evidence that pathways will form from the shale layers into the aquifers – the water supply system,” she said. “Highly elevated methane, ethane and other hydrocarbons have been found as close as one kilometer from active shale gas wells.”

McCready gave a thorough presentation to council that included drawings, statistics, case studies and photographs. It was also well received by a sizable group of members of the public on hand.

She identified numerous potential areas of impact should fracking come to the Parrsboro area, including ground water safety, possible contamination of the bay, increased trucking on local highways, as well as impacts on wildlife, tourism and the fishery.

She also pointed out that communities that have allowed fracking in the United States have not seen any economic benefit from it, but in fact have underperformed in comparison to others.

Most of all, she said there are still too many unknowns about the long-term effects of fracking.

“It comes down to, does anyone know how to do this safely?” said McCready. “Drilling for natural gas is ahead of the science that would prove it to be safe or not.”

Also on hand at the meeting was Bill Davison, an engineer who lives in nearby Halfway River, and specializes in risk assessment and mitigation. He said he is not convinced that fracking can be done safely.

The potential blowout of a shale gas well during the drilling operation is the least worry, according to Davison, who said the greater risk would come from the potential leaks of the entire underground system over time, saying it’s “just a question of when.”

“I’m not against natural gas exploration, but in this way it’s kind of insanity,” he said. “When you do the numbers and the math, it’s tremendously risky to the environment. It just doesn’t make sense.”

McCready urged council to follow the lead of other municipalities such as Cumberland County council, which wrote a letter to the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) last year encouraging a ban on fracking in Nova Scotia, and Inverness County council, which passed a bylaw banning fracking in its municipality. The UNSM passed a resolution supporting a province-wide moratorium on fracking until provincial and federal reviews have been completed.

Parrsboro council did not decide on a course of action at the Feb. 25 meeting, but assured McCready and her group that they would give it due consideration.

Mayor Lois Smith did not hide her views on fracking, however.

“I’m really afraid of it, personally,” she said. “I don’t have grandchildren, but I think we need to consider the next generation. There hasn’t been proof to show us it’s not devastating to the Earth and to our health.”

Twitter: @ADNandrew

Organizations: Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, Cumberland County council, Inverness County council Parrsboro council

Geographic location: Parrsboro, United States, Halfway River Nova Scotia

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