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Majority favour ban or moratorium on fracking in Nova Scotia: discussion paper

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HALIFAX - The majority of people who offered opinions for a report on hydraulic fracturing in Nova Scotia say they want the province to ban or maintain a moratorium on the industry.

There were 238 individual submissions to an expert panel that's looking at the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the province.

Of those, 92 per cent said they supported a moratorium or ban, while 0.5 per cent were against such prohibitions, says the discussion paper released late Tuesday.

As a result, the authors said the province should proceed slowly and carefully as it considers whether to proceed with fracking.

"Given the known and potential environmental impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing ... a precautionary approach in Nova Scotia is prudent," states the 37-page report.

"Ongoing public consultation, interdisciplinary research and careful consideration of policies and regulations moving forward is required."

The panel gathered feedback on the issue from last October until the end of April and will use it to form the basis of a chapter in a report to be produced later this year by an independent expert panel appointed by the provincial government.

It found the most common concern for respondents was the effect fracking could have on water resources, followed by perceived risks to infrastructure and local industries, such as farming and forestry.

The authors said despite the fact that there is limited research and literature available on the impacts of fracking, there are legitimate concerns for its potential effect on groundwater.

Some respondents said that since a significant number of residents rely on groundwater for their water supply, the resource should not be put at risk of contamination from fracking.

"I am concerned about potential contamination and overuse of public water supplies, both drinking water and agricultural irrigation water, with many Nova Scotia communities already painfully aware of their lack of sustainable potable water supplies," a family physician wrote in a submission to the panel.

The paper said there was little clear science on the effects of fracturing on well water, but states there are real risks involving gas leaks and the flowback of water that is injected into the ground and returns to the surface full of fracturing fluids and radioactive materials.

Other respondents said they were concerned about the effect increased truck traffic linked to fracturing would have on air quality and roads.

The authors said it has been shown in the United States that some rural communities were not prepared for the rapid growth associated with fracking or the loss in the value of properties near such operations.

Several respondents referred to two hydraulically fractured wells near Kennetcook, N.S., where a high volume of so-called flowback water has been stored for six years awaiting remediation.

"Our communities have watched as our regulators have failed to act on our behalf," wrote one person. "If the province cannot deal with two test wells, how can it ever regulate an entire industry?"

Jennifer West of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax said she was pleased the paper recommended the government take a precautionary approach, consult the public and do more research on fracking.

But she said she's worried it will ultimately recommend fracking proceed with stringent regulations in place.

"It's a very complex problem and I don't see how regulations will successfully mitigate many of the environmental and health concerns and water resource problems that come with fracking," she said.

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