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Paul Jenkinson: Cumberland County’s energy symposium sends the wrong message on fracking

Paul Jenkinson attended last week's Energy Symposium organized by Cumberland County's Energy Authority.

On May 2nd Cumberland County’s Energy Authority held its 4th Annual Energy Symposium in the community of Springhill, Nova Scotia.

Any event that speaks to the issue of natural gas development is sure to focus the attention of the oil and gas lobby as well as concerned citizens on the watch for  potential weakening of the Nova Scotia fracking moratorium.

Past comments by the provincial  government have raised the possibility that the fracking moratorium might be exempted if a community wanting fracking came forward to government with that request. For that reason the Cumberland event had the possibility of holding historical significance, so I was eager to observe what was to follow. 

It should be noted that this years‘ topic “Natural Gas Development”  seems strangely out of touch with current local and global realities.

In scanning the news in the days before and after the symposium I noted several local and global stories that spoke to the current challenges.

For instance, an Alberta story described how oil and gas suffered another setback when Trident Exploration ceased operations because of low prices and abandoned thousands of operating wells. Additional bad news for the carbon energy sector came with the  decision by Ireland to join France, Germany and Bulgaria in a national ban on fracking. As well, the Stop Climate Change student strike continued across Canada and the globe with local students marching in Halifax.

Nonetheless, in Nova Scotia the provincial  government’s Economic Development Committee called Energy and Mines staff a few weeks ago to answer questions on natural gas, coal bed methane production, solar energy and other topics.

And now the Municipality of Cumberland County was sponsoring  the Energy Symposium with natural gas development as focus. 

It seems as if the Province and the Municipality are sending “faint hope” signals to the oil and gas industry, signals that resulted in industry speakers lining up to lend their “industrial expertise” to this event.  

The Cumberland Energy Authority has a stated mission of “Setting the standard of leadership in local government for the development of renewable energy, support of the progressive energy sector and the encouragement of a sustainable future for our Communities.”

Past energy symposiums have focused on  progressive themes such as Climate Change Trailblazers  and featured a variety of speakers from the academic, scientific, environment and related industries.

The 2019 Energy Symposium Speakers list in contrast was primarily populated by a group of oil and gas industry executives such as  Ray Ritcey, CEO of The Maritime Energy Association, John Hawkins President of Heritage Gas, Jennifer Matthews of The Association of Canadian Petroleum Producers and Sandy MacMullin Executive Director of the Petroleum Branch of the Nova Scotia Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Any possibility of a balance exploration of natural gas and fracking would have to be provided by two remaining speakers Jonathan McClelland, CEO of Cumberland Business Connector, and Barb Harris environmental health researcher for the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition (NOFRAC).

Additionally Ken Summers, an investigative journalist and frequent contributor to the Nova Scotia Advocate, added his fracking cautions during the panel discussion that followed the presentations.

The facilitators introducing the oil, gas and fracking-friendly speakers showed great deference to each one speaking of their technical expertise, their many industrial accomplishments and in this writers view strayed very close to losing any presentation of neutrality on the natural/fracked Gas topic.

The carbon energy representatives’ core messages were that yes, climate change is real, but that slow and steady incremental change  was the way to proceed in the production of energy. Natural and fracked gas was simply presented as one tool in the energy tool box which would power the planet going forward.

The message included assertions that fracking water could be cleaned up after industrial use, that fracking was probably not the source of tap water catching fire in some locations, that environmental pollution and accidents were rare, and that Cumberland County was sitting on top of a methane resource that should be harnessed, with a nod and a wink indicating that these speakers and the companies they represented would only be too happy to assist in that development.

The government’s Mines and Energy  presentation also downplayed the risks associated with natural gas and appeared to avoid the topic of fracking taking the decidedly political tact of saying with a moratorium in place there was nothing to discuss.

To the CAE’s credit they did invite Barb Harris who has a reputation of speaking from sound scientific peer reviewed research.  

Harris was able to provide information on the high level of infant health problems in areas where fracking occurs. She spoke to the related health issues in the general population living within several kilometers of a well field. She noted a recent BC Government paper that clearly stated that any  lack of findings regarding fracking accidents and harm was because the research had not been conducted.

Harris also spoke to the fact that fracking as an industry was in the “experimental phase” and that the dangers associated with it were emerging. She noted that the industry has moved from claiming earthquakes in jurisdictions that allow fracking were not related to hydraulic fracturing,  to admitting it might be related, to agreeing it was probably related, to admitting that earthquakes often came as a result of hydraulic fracturing.

At the end of the day, while Cumberland Energy Authority facilitators thanked the audience for participating in a respectful dialogue, questions from the audience clearly indicated that the lack of balance in the speakers presenting, the absence of scientific independence and the lack of Indigenous voice called into question this years’ Cumberland Energy Symposium.

It is my hope that the Energy Authority listens to the concerns presented and returns to an exploration of sustainable energy development for next year’s Symposium.

Paul Jenkinson is a member of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia (SuNNS) 

See also: Letter: Why is the Mining Association asking for $20 million?

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  1. I think both the recent symposium and the debate last fall in Pugwash are part of a process of legitimization (others would call it educating the public) recommended by the Wheeler report on fracking. Barb Harris and Ken Summers both spoke well against fracking for gas and although the symposium was stacked for industry, the audience was more evenly divided. I wonder where the impetus for these events originates. Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, the MLA for Cumberland North, has been promoting the industry and it certainly offers opportunity for networking with the business class. However, I think our managers underestimate the opposition on this one.

  2. It’s my understanding Barb Harris was only invited after she reacted out to the group. I wonder if the same goes with Ken Summers.

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