Is There a Regulator in the House? Through the Fracking Rabbit Hole with Nova Scotia Environment

Is There a Regulator in the House?  Through the Fracking Rabbit Hole with Nova Scotia Environment by Ken Summers, February 12, 2012 , Halifax MediaCoop
NOEL, Nova Scotia — At the moment, Nova Scotians have two aspects of the continuous fracking debate on the table. Firstly, there’s the locally focused issue guaranteed to gain increasing attention: the long overdue reclamation of the two 5 year old fracking waste storage ponds in Kennetcook, northern Hants County. Resolution of this issue has become complicated by the contentious issue of filtering out radioactive materials from the wastes, materials that were found after remediation of the ponds had already begun.

Then there are the same issues played out in the communities around the Jodrey family-owned Atlantic Industrial Services (AIS) waste treatment facility in Debert. AIS is holding, for intended treatment and discharge, some of the fracking wastes transported from Kennetcook, and a greater amount of fluid wastes brought from several fracked wells in New Brunswick.

AIS discharges treated wastes into the Colchester County’s Debert sewage treatment plant, which are then carried down the Chiginois River to the tidal estuaries of Cobequid Bay. Whether or not to allow the discharge into its sewage system has been a hot municipal council item since September 2012. The Nova Scotia government actually plays a far greater role than County Council in how this has unfolded, but so far has succeeded at remaining in the background. … The other important aspect of the fracking debate in Nova Scotia is the ruling NDP government’s ‘Hydraulic Fracturing Review’, which has not yet been released. Even without any new fracking in the province, the lingering effects of previous fracking – and misgivings in how the province has dealt with wastes from those attempts – suggest that controversy will keep bubbling out into the open. The upcoming ‘Review’ has provided Ministers easy lines about addressing genuine concerns in the matter, while clipping off messy follow-up questions. With few questions asked from mainstream media within the province, the NDP government gets a free ride to kick the issue out of view with an  in-house study that won’t be put under scrutiny until long after the upcoming provincial elections.

Elevated Levels of Radioactivity in Nova Scotia Fracking Wastes

Contamination of water supplies with chemical cocktails is understandably the most prominent controversy around fracking for shale gas, anywhere. But shale fracking also brings to the surface vast quantities of toxic materials occurring naturally in the resource-holding rock. Considering how widely distributed uranium is in the geology of Nova Scotia, it should not have been a surprise that elevated radioactivity levels in fracking wastes were an issue with the province’s first two exploratory shale gas wells fracked in early 2008. Yet the NDP government appears to have initially been caught completely off-guard by this.

Is There a Regulator in the House?

Everyone concerned assumes that Atlantic Industrial Services is an approved processor of fracking wastes. In an earlier article this author suggests that in accepting fracking wastes for processing AIS appears to be operating outside the terms of its approvals from the regulator, and Nova Scotia Environment has allowed and even encouraged the company to proceed regardless. To this allegation, provincial Environment staff replied that “the assertions in your article are without merit.”

Consider the facts:

FACT:  All of the Environment department’s Industrial Approvals for AIS Debert explicitly prohibit the company from processing what are classified as waste dangerous goods. Nova Scotia Environment spokesperson Lori Errington has said repeatedly that the department has determined that the fracking wastes from Kennetcook are not waste dangerous goods, and therefore AIS is in compliance.

FACT: The NSE supervising engineer who wrote the 2008 to 2010 approvals for the Kennetcook fracking storage ponds always referred to the wastewater as waste dangerous goods, as does the consulting engineer for the driller, Triangle Petroleum. When the discrepancy was pointed out to spokesperson Errington, she queried the engineer, who backpedaled. “That is not what he meant to say,” noted Errington.

FACT: When questioned about another missing and unaccounted for 4 plus million litres of frack wastes, whose whereabouts remain publicly unknown, Environment has repeatedly maintained that the department did not need to monitor where the wastes went or how they were disposed of because NSE had previously determined the wastes were not of concern. But no sampling was done for the most toxic chemicals used, and the department had simply accepted Triangle Petroleum’s statement that the amounts used were “minimal”. [page 9]

FACT: At a well later fracked at Noel Lake, there were no storage ponds, and all the waste fluids were transported out and disposed of, somewhere. This is most likely part of the 4 million plus litres disposed of in places unknown by contractors unknown. And there is no evidence of any testing or monitoring whatsoever, not even the limited sampling done with the Kennetcook waste ponds.

FACT: The New Brunswick PC government has always been openly and overtly in favour of fracking shale gas. As part of it’s improvement of the optics, it asked for recommendations from the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. Her findings are just a cursory opinion compared to the thorough studies of health effects that New York and Quebec have both extended their own fracking reviews to include.

QUESTION: The NDP has said nothing about studying the human health effects of fracking. They are potentially planning on including something in the government’s Fracking Review. But will it be the bare minimum for improving optics like New Brunswick, or will it be a robust study following the leads of Quebec and New York? There is a burgeoning amount of research on the effects that increasing levels of accumulating “low level radiation” sources has on human health. The Health Canada guidelines for acceptable exposure used by the provincial Environment department are now decades out of date. Considering the wide distribution of subsurface uranium at the same depths as shale beds, and that the first two fracked test wells in the province turned up wastes with elevated levels of radioactive materials, might the NDP government mark this as a special need for a health effects study in the Review? Or will the Ministers continue to stand on waiting to see what Quebec and New York come up with? [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

How Alberta Will Fight Fracking Folk Hero Jessica Ernst, In famous flaming water case, regulator to argue ‘no duty of care’ to landowners or groundwater ]

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