One of the issues candidates in the upcoming byelection in St. George’s-Stephenville East will have to take a position on will be hydraulic fracturing.
On Monday, Progressive Conservative candidate Wally Childs found out what his party’s next steps are going to be in dealing with the controversial issue. Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley was in Stephenville and, during his visit, announced the provincial government is commissioning an independent external review of the controversial method of fracturing underground rock to facilitate the extraction of oil and gas resources.
Last November, the province effectively instituted a moratorium on the practice commonly referred to as fracking by not accepting any proposals to do such projects. At the time, Dalley also announced his department would do an internal review of fracking as it impacts the geology of the province and review how other jurisdictions have been handling the issue.
That wasn’t good enough for opponents of fracking, including the Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness Network, a coalition of 20 organizations that collectively demanded an independent, external review.
Before making his announcement Monday, Dalley met with the network which he said welcomed the news.
The government is going to appoint between three and five experts who will form a panel that will carry out the external review. Dalley did not give a time frame for when the panel will be appointed or when it will begin its work, noting government is still early in the process of drawing up the terms of reference for the panel.
“Sooner, rather than later would be my preference,” said Dalley. “What’s important here is that we find the right people and the right balance for the panel and have the right approach to the issue.”
That balance, said Dalley, must involve weighing the health, safety and environmental concerns raised about fracking, the science involved in the process and the potential economic impact it could have. The review, he said, will be done from a Newfoundland and Labrador perspective, with a specific focus on western Newfoundland, where fracking is likely to occur if ever permitted.
“First and foremost will be the health and safety of the people from the region,” said the minister.
The review will also include continued consultations with other jurisdictions that have gone through their own independent reviews.
With the byelection looming, Dalley said government and the PC party felt it important to let Childs and the electorate know government’s direction when it comes to the controversial subject.
“(The fracking awareness group) are engaged in the byelection over here and want the candidates to clarify their positions,” said Dalley.
The Western Star