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Not Just A Licence To Drill: Priority Challenges For Water Governance And Hydraulic Fracturing

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Michele-Lee Moore (Victoria, Canada), Karena Shaw, Heather Castleden, Megan Kot, Rosanna Breiddal, Mathew Murray
University of Victoria1, Queen's University2, Dalhousie University3

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 9: Water allocation among competing uses and users,
AbstractINTRODUCTION Shale gas development -- especially hydraulic fracturing of unconventional sources -- has become a source of controversy across all scales of water governance. Perceptions of the risks of hydraulic fracturing operations are polarized: supporters see the operations as a low-risk source of economic value that could improve energy security in the form of a "greener" energy than other fossil fuels, but opponents believe these developments pose significant threats to surface and groundwater quality and quantity and associated social and ecological systems. In this context of polarized public discourse, many jurisdictions, facing the pressures of the fast-moving and powerful fossil fuel industry and -- in many regions -- lacking capacity and experience, have turned to one of two starkly contrasting approaches: (1) opting in, allowing rapid development in a governance environment full of regulatory gaps, or (2) opting out, erecting bans or temporary moratoriums to delay production. Where the former has been chosen, resistance by the public, local governments, and Indigenous Nations has often followed. Yet, between these two extreme approaches lies a whole range of regulatory opportunities and hybrid governance possibilities. The purpose of this presentation is to share the results of a knowledge synthesis study that aims to identify key knowledge gaps that currently hinder the development of water governance arrangements that address the complexities of creating more socially, culturally, and environmentally responsible hydraulic fracturing. METHODS Using the current water governance and hydraulic fracturing context in Canada as a case study, but comparing it to other international jurisdictions, this presentation will include data collected from a comprehensive literature review, a 3-round Delphi study of 112 Canadian water governance experts, and a workshop on regional water governance challenges and hydraulic fracturing. Data were subjected to content analysis using NVivo, a qualitative data analysis management program to identify, analyze and report on patterns emerging from the data (Aaronson 1994). RESULTS/DISCUSSION The data collection revealed numerous outstanding issues with regards to water governance and hydraulic fracturing. Firstly, we offer an analysis of the assumptions embedded within these issues, in an attempt to identify to root of the challenges. Secondly, we share the results that determined the priority knowledge needs as: * How to design water allocation processes for hydraulic fracturing to ensure principles of "good governance" are embedded? (e.g. transparency, independence, accountability); * What are better regulatory approaches to address water volumes, water quality, and the pace and development of water licences for the purpose of hydraulic fracturing; * How to design governance processes (not just organizational structures) that are inclusive and reflective of Indigenous nations and non-Indigenous community values; * How can communities re-engage governments, who have adopted a deregulation stance in recent years, back into water governance; and * How can governance processes address spatial (allocations are considered site specific) and temporal (rate of development and cumulative) concerns. The final section of the discussion focuses on the most appropriate research approaches for addressing these knowledge gaps, recognizing community, government, Indigenous nations, and industry needs. CONCLUSION The use of water for hydraulic fracturing activities raises concerns about both water quality and quantity, and places questions about the water-energy nexus at the forefront of water governance dilemmas. In some regions, the issues thus far have revealed that the current approach to water governance does not inspire trust or confidence by the public, nor build social, cultural, and ecological resilience. However, the issues and knowledge gaps that it has revealed in those places can serve as an opportunity to strengthen collaborative water governance approaches, and to improve the overall processes of water governance, particularly surrounding water allocation for energy.
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