Session at city hall draws politicians, curious public
In Newfoundland and Labrador, there are currently no applications with the provincial government to use hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas work.
Even so, the hosts of a gathering in St. John’s Saturday afternoon are anxious to see the subject further addressed by the provincial government.
A “Facts on Fracking” session was held from about 2-4 p.m. at the Foran Room at St. John’s city hall. Representatives for the local chapter of the Council of Canadians and the East Coast Fracking Awareness Group welcomed Graham Oliver, with the Port au Port/Bay St. George Fracking Awareness Group, as a guest speaker.
Oliver walked through his understanding of the process of hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and concerns around the once-proposed use of fracking to extract oil from the ground in western Newfoundland.
Companies including Black Spruce Exploration and Shoal Point Energy had previously suggested they would be fracking wells within the year, but have since retreated from that position.
The provincial government is currently reviewing another company’s proposal to drill a conventional oil exploration well on the island, but no fracking is involved.
The province will not see any fracking without a submission to the provincial Department of Environment, one that will have to be taken through the environmental review process before a company is granted permits for work.
With his presentation at city hall, Oliver said those permits should never be granted, if ever called for.
“People in Stephenville, Port au Port Peninsula, they all know fracking. They know about fracking. They don’t want it,” he told The Telegram after his presentation — one in clear opposition to the practice of fracking.
Liberal, NDP presence
Liberal leadership candidate Cathy Bennett listened to the presentation and stood to say, having also spoken with others on the topic, she is “not interested” in having to deal with the wastewater produced during the fracking process, among other concerns.
"For me, I don't think fracking is something we can do in Newfoundland and Labrador," she said.
NDP MHA George Murphy also attended and made note of the provincial NDP’s long-standing call for a moratorium on fracking, until further research can be completed on the topic, including research specific to western Newfoundland.
NDP MP Ryan Cleary brought in a federal-level perspective. He pointed to potential environmental effects from wells gone wrong and said a strong, arms-length regulator is needed from the environmental perspective — just as the NDP wants a safety regulator for the offshore oil industry, independent of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.
Not everyone in the roughly 75-member audience could be tied to a political party.
“I think we have to be vigilant and try to make sure due diligence is done before we do any (fracking) in Newfoundland,” said St. John’s resident Patricia Mercer. “We don’t want to risk any of the beautiful aspects of our province.”
Mercer said, in a brief interview following the talk, she was interested in connecting with other people in Newfoundland who want to keep oil exploration involving hydraulic fracturing at bay.
“It’s very interesting and I learned quite a few facts about fracking, and I’m convinced it’s the wrong thing to do,” said Colin Smith, who described himself as not being affiliated with government, industry or any of the groups presenting.
“I’ve lived on the west coast and I’m not looking forward to the development of fracking where we live.”
His wife, Mary Smith, hails from Kippens. “We raised our three children there. We plan to move back there actually — we’ve been living in St. John’s,” she said. “And we would really hate to see it destroyed and to have those kinds of environmental concerns.”
Concerns resonating with the audience included fears of: contaminated drinking water, wastewater spills, carbon emissions contributing to global warming, excessive truck traffic and noise, and loss of local freshwater areas. There continues to be back and forth between industry and fracking opponents — including the groups hosting the session at city hall — on the facts around each topic.
Call for more information
Greg Malone provided introductions and acted as a facilitator for the question and answer period at the event.
At one point, he questioned why more factual information on the subject was not coming directly from government. “Kathy Dunderdale should be telling us everything Graham (Oliver) is telling us today,” he said.
Over the summer, then-Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall suggested the provincial government was in a period of information gathering on fracking. Marshall travelled to Weyburn, Sask., in early August, specifically to find out more about onshore oil exploration in that province.
In addition, from Aug. 24-27, he attended the Energy and Mines Ministers' Conference in Yellowknife, N.W.T. After the event, he told The Telegram much of the trip was focused on hearing from representatives for other provinces on their experiences with fracking and onshore oil regulation.
Marshall is no longer Minister of Natural Resources. MHA Derrick Dalley took over the role in a cabinet shuffle Oct. 9 and The Telegram will be following up with Dalley on the subject later this week.
Yet both the premier and Marshall have already said, despite the information gathering, the government remains confident current regulations would be enough to properly deal with any proposed fracking projects.