HANTS COUNTY, N.S. – John Lohr, who is currently in the running for leadership of the Nova Scotia PC party, says he thinks the shale industry should be explored following the results of the Onshore Atlas Project, which shows a large reserve of natural gases in some parts of the province.
The Onshore Atlas Project, which was conducted by the Department of Energy, highlights a large royalty potential from natural gas sources, and has re-opened the debate on fracking in the province.
“I’ve come out saying I’m in favour of (hydraulic fracturing) with caveats; one of those is having community buy-in,” Lohr said. “I don’t think that means we need to have a vote and have every single person in the community say yes. I don’t (think) we’ll get 100 per cent of people in favour.”
Lohr said he doesn’t have a strategy yet on how to determine what he would see as appropriate levels of community buy-in.
The MLA for Kings-North said he acknowledges that the environmental concern is the main point of opposition towards the practise.
“We would have to have a fairly high level of confidence that we could address the issues of wastewater, if there is in fact any wastewater,” Lohr said, adding that some more modern hydraulic fracturing techniques don’t require as much wastewater.
“I think the industry has moved along a lot since we’ve even had the last debate about this in Nova Scotia.”
Lohr said he would like the province to enact “the best in the world” regulations before approving any new shale gas operations.
“The fact is that this report shows a potential of $20 to $60 billion U.S. natural gas resource available, which would mean $3 to $5 billion in royalties for Nova Scotia plus the income tax generated by the workers,” he said.
Lohr said the province is already receiving benefits through federal equalization payments, which he says comes from ‘have provinces’ that use fracking including Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
“It’s really oil and gas money, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “So on the one hand we’re willing to accept money from that industry in the form of transfer payments, but we’re not willing to do it ourselves.”
In the 2017-18 year, Nova Scotia is expected to receive $1.779 billion in equalization payments from the federal government.
Lohr said the environmental risks of fracking are relatively low, and says they're comparable to other forms of industry.
He also said that Nova Scotia drills oil out at sea, which he says is potentially more dangerous as it’s harder to address issues on the water.
Some studies have suggested that fracking has also increased the risk of earthquakes in some jurisdictions, including in British Columbia.
“We desperately need the economic development and the income, and I’m not saying I want us to go ahead under any circumstances, I just want community buy-in,” he said. “It’s a massive resource that’s there and I believe it would make a huge difference in our province if we do it in a responsible way.”
When asked whether or not the province should move on from fossil fuels entirely, as the Ecology Action Centre is calling for, Lohr said natural gas would be a benefit to Nova Scotia’s power generation if the existing coal fire plants were retrofitted to use natural gas.
“If we did that, immediately we would have a 50 per cent reduction is greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
Liberals maintaining moratorium, NDP remain opposed to fracking
The sitting Liberal provincial government has yet to respond to questions from the Valley Journal-Advertiser regarding the Onshore Atlas Project. However, in previous statements to the media, Premier Stephen McNeil said the province remains committed to the fracking moratorium.
Meanwhile, the provincial NDP is calling on the government to reaffirm Nova Scotia's fracking ban.
"The fracking ban is an important policy to protect Nova Scotia's natural environment and our water sources," said Lenore Zann, the NDP Environment spokesperson in a press release. "The public has been clear on their position. Nova Scotians are against fracking. The Liberal government should be focusing their energy on creating new green and sustainable industries."
The NDP said in a press release that they would like to see the provincial government proclaim the ban on fracking, entrenching it further.