(KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Ten years after Nova Scotia enticed Triangle Petroleum to experiment with hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in Kennetcook, Hants County, it’s the province that is cleaning up the mess it left behind.
In 2007 Energy Department Petroleum Division staff began carefully shepherding Triangle’s approval applications along to make sure the company cleared the regulatory requirements of multiple departments. Ever since the department has taken a casual approach to whether Triangle met its regulatory commitments.
This summer the oil company filed for bankruptcy in the US. Triangle Petroleum is still operating, but the government of Nova Scotia is left taking care of cleanup at the six well sites around Hants County. This includes finishing the extensive cleanup of two fracking waste holding ponds, a project now managed by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
Petroleum Division promotes development, regulatory compliance is optional
The Nova Scotia Fracking Resource Action Council report Out of Control documents the floundering of an ill-prepared department of Environment while it tries to come to terms with the fracking waste ponds it inherited from the Petroleum Division of the Energy Department.
While Environment staff actively wrestled with what to do about the waste ponds and negotiated potential courses of action with Triangle Petroleum, Energy staff took on the self-appointed role of advocacy for the company.
Belated cleanup halted when company files for protection from creditors
The draining and processing of the nearly 20 million litres of waste water at the two Kennetcook holding ponds finally began in 2015. The project was paused for winter, and was due to start again and be completed in 2016. Instead, Triangle Petroleum filed in the US for protection from its creditors.
Executive Director Sandy MacMullin of the Energy Department Petroleum Division is a very capable communicator, so the Nova Scotia Advocate hoped to interview him about how the province got into this situation. Our queries began more than two months ago. After a pause for internal deliberation, the department’s spokesperson said that the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure is handling the arrangements.
A week was spent with that department establishing that Energy were the ones who had secured the “agreement” with Triangle Petroleum. So we returned to the Energy department with the basic question why the government is now managing the clean-up, and who is paying for it. Three weeks later we got our reply. The Department could not discuss the circumstances surrounding the agreement because of “legal provisions.”
Nova Scotians have no way of knowing whether this legal agreement gives the province any real possibility of recovering the costs of the ongoing clean-up. Non-disclosure provisions of agreements are not unusual. But this one raises the obvious question of whether that non-disclosure serves to protect Triangle Petroleum, or to protect the government from scrutiny by its citizens.
Non-disclosure provisions apply to the terms of an agreement- not to the history of a project. But the Department of Energy continues to hide behind the screen of “legal provisions” when it declines to discuss how the province came to assume responsibility for project cleanup and remediation.
Promoting onshore development of oil and gas
The mission of making Nova Scotia desirable for oil and gas development transcends changes in government, and that mission resides in the Energy department’s Petroleum Division.
Anytime there is a hint of restricting fossil fuel development in Nova Scotia, we are treated to an endless stream of protests about the bonanza we are missing out on. The oil and gas industry has a well established interest in developing Nova Scotia’s offshore resources, but the onshore geology of our province is quite different. The only real interest in onshore oil and gas development comes from small junior exploration companies, hustling other people’s money for their projects.
Undaunted, the very capable and dedicated civil servants of the Petroleum Division work with what is available. It is just another challenge if they can only attract very junior exploration companies who may well go bankrupt and leave “messes” behind. And if those companies find environmental protection requirements difficult, then make it easier for them.
It seems that if these Petroleum Division practices attract scrutiny, the response is to circle the wagons and protect the mission.
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