HALIFAX - A new study on the potential for hydraulic fracturing in Nova Scotia says there just isn't enough research available to draw firm conclusions about the impact on communities.
The study says the use of high-volume fracking to extract oil and natural gas from shale deposits emerged as a profitable business only a decade ago, which means peer-reviewed studies are hard to come by.
"The literature regarding socioeconomic effects of unconventional oil and gas development on communities is just beginning to emerge," says the study's lead author, social ecologist Shawn Dalton.
"Because community research is often oriented toward problem-solving, there is a dearth of information regarding when shale oil and gas extraction ... has gone well, and a relative abundance of reports on challenges and problems — most of it centred on communities in the U.S."
Dalton's study says the American experience with fracking is unlikely to be repeated in Canada.
"Some of the incidents and accidents that have happened in the States may be less likely to occur here," the report says.
"Canada’s regulatory regimes tend to be more restrictive, and because of the observed experiences in the U.S., more safeguards were adopted in Canada before horizontal, multi-fracked wells became common in this country."
However, the report makes it clear that Nova Scotia's limited experience with fracking is cause for concern.
Dalton says the cleanup of a handful of test wells that were fracked near Kennetcook, N.S., about six years ago "has been poorly managed by government and industry."
"The community of Kennetcook remains the site of two open ponds containing fracking wastewater, and the company that created the ponds ... is no longer operating in Nova Scotia."
Dalton's study, released late Thursday, will form the basis of a chapter in a report to be produced later this year by an independent expert panel appointed by the province in February.
Nova Scotia is under pressure to develop its unconventional oil and gas resources because it is facing a dwindling population and fiscal challenges, the study says.
The report also says energy companies hoping to drill in unproved areas with little or no industry services — like Nova Scotia — are facing extreme risk due to high costs and "vociferous opposition" from protest groups like those found in New Brunswick.
"New Brunswick has moved ahead with ... hydraulic fracturing in unconventional reservoirs, but not without considerable resistance from various actors in the community," the study says.
Marilyn Cameron, an environmental activist and farmer in rural Nova Scotia, said the study supports the view that Nova Scotia's two-year-old moratorium on fracking should remain in place.
Cameron said Dalton's study says virtually nothing about agriculture or rural economies even though all of the areas in the province that have shown promise for shale deposits are in rural areas.
"She said we didn't have enough information," Cameron said Friday in an interview from her fruit and garlic farm in Grafton.
Cameron also criticized Dalton's recommendation to proceed with a so-called "human ecosystem framework" study should Nova Scotia grant a go-ahead to the fracking industry.
"How will monitoring prevent harm from happening?" Cameron asked. "Who wants to be a lab rat so that the industry can learn from our experiences?"
At the very least, Cameron said, the Nova Scotia government should seek the consent of rural residents before making any decisions.