Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley had a big surprise for the first day of the House of Assembly sitting: an indefinite moratorium on fracking developments in the province.
Dalley said the government is trying to take a cautious approach to hydraulic fracturing — a controversial method of extracting oil and gas from underground rock using high-pressure water and chemicals. He promised a thorough review and public consultations.
Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley speaks to media following question period at the House of Assembly Monday afternoon. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
“Our first consideration is the health and safety of our people,” Dalley said. “In making this decision, our government is acting responsibly and respecting the balance between economic development and environmental protection.”
The decision seemed to come as a surprise to Black Spruce Exploration, a company proposing a fracking development on the west coast of the province.
When contacted by The Telegram, a representative of the company said it was still putting together a response to the government announcement, and a statement would be issued later in the day.
No statement was issued as of The Telegram’s deadline.
Both the Liberals and the NDP have been calling on the government to make firm rules about fracking; up until now, it's looked like the government wasn't going to do that.
Last March, the Liberals put forward a motion in the House of Assembly calling for a specific framework of regulations to govern fracking. The motion was defeated when all of the Tories voted against it.
More recently, in September, the Progressive Conservative party debated a policy resolution — and passed it unanimously — calling on the government to use the Environmental Protection Act as the framework for regulation when it comes to fracking.
On Monday, it seemed like Dalley was saying the Environmental Protection Act isn't enough.
“We're very confident in our environmental assessment process, we're very confident in our regulations and rules that we have currently in terms of petroleum and drilling, but beyond that, in looking at this issue, it's an emotionally charged issue,” he said. “It's important to step back from this. It's important to look at all aspects of hydraulic fracturing so we can make informed decisions going forward.”
He wouldn't place any time frame on how long the fracking moratorium will last; he said the government will be undertaking a full study, and the findings will be made public.
“We need to inform this whole discussion; we need to be cognizant of the consequences of the decision, and we'll move through that process in due time,” he said.
Liberal Natural Resources critic Dwight Ball welcomed the government's move.
He said he just wishes it could have happened sooner — specifically, when the Liberals proposed it earlier this year.
“The people who I have talked to over the summer, the people who actually live close to the resource that we are talking about in western Newfoundland, are keenly interested in getting this process started,” Ball said. “I believe we have lost some time. There was an opportunity last spring to get this process started.”
New Democrat leader Lorraine Michael was also onside with the government's move.
She pointed out that the NDP has been calling for a moratorium on fracking for a while.
“I'm really glad to see that happening because this is a position that we've been holding as a party,” Michael said. “Mr. (George) Murphy has been speaking to it consistently — the need to slow this whole process down.”