Nova Scotia’s deputy chief medical officer Frank Atherton is recommending that the provincial government take a cautious approach to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and argues in a new discussion paper that the relevant authorities “in the interests of public health . . . should take the time and make the necessary investments to ensure that proper regulation, management, mitigation and monitoring measures are established.”
The paper on the health implications of fracking, released on June 17, comes after the Nova Scotia government imposed a two-year moratorium on fracking in 2012, claiming it wanted more time to evaluate the industry.
“The science of hydraulic fracturing is relatively new,” Atherton stated in his discussion paper, and “neither the benefits nor the harms to health and the environment are fully known, and may not be fully knowable for many years, or even decades.”
Atherton reasons that companies using the controversial technique should be forced to publish the list of chemicals they use. (According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., some oil and gas drillers refuse to publicize the information for competitive reasons.) The doctor also contends that the companies should foot the bill for health-impact assessments at well sites.
Fracking involves blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well bore to fracture the surrounding rock and release natural gas, coal-bed methane or crude oil.
Nova Scotia’s deputy chief medical officer recommends that health-monitoring systems are built before letting companies frack, and presents a list of potential health hazards associated with the unconventional oil and gas extraction method, ranging from the contamination of groundwater and air pollution to surface spills, heightened truck traffic, industrial accidents and greenhouse gas emissions.
His paper included 15 recommendations and urged regulators to conduct more long-term studies on the impact of the practice on health and the environment.
Atherton’s study was released by a panel of experts that is studying fracking in Nova Scotia. The independent panel — created by the government last year to review the controversial issue — is headed by David Wheeler, president of Cape Breton University
An earlier report released by the panel concluded that fracking would not compromise the province’s groundwater supply.
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