Fracking confusion

Andrew Robinson
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Some jumping to conclusions on offshore activity in western N.L., citizens’ rep says

When people decide to join forces for a common cause, it is best to make certain everyone has their facts straight, as was evidenced in a case discussed in the recently released annual report from the Office of the Citizens’ Representative.

Citizens' representative Barry Fleming. — Telegram file photo

"This is another example of the various types of work ombudsman offices do, just given our unique position overlooking certain aspects of the bureaucracy,” said Barry Fleming, Newfoundland and Labrador’s citizens’ representative. “We get a good view of the landscape of government policies and government actions, and quite often through misinformation or error, people sometimes get concerned about issues which haven’t been approved or haven’t come to fruition.”

This February, a man representing a group of citizens concerned about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, contacted Fleming’s office alleging that companies were engaging in such activities off the coast of western Newfoundland without the proper permits.

Having been reportedly unable to reach decision-makers within the Department of Environment and Conservation, the man asked Fleming’s office to intervene.

“He was under the impression, as were members of his group, that fracking had begun in April of the previous year, yet the Department of Environment had announced on radio that the company did not have a permit,” said Fleming.

The man offered Fleming’s office a list of companies he alleged were illegally engaged in fracking. Fleming contacted the assistant deputy minister in the department to find out what was going on and learned that companies would need to register with the province before engaging in fracking activity.

“At that point, no company had been issued a permit to start that process,” said Fleming.

Going back to the original complainant to find out how he and others came to the conclusion that fracking was taking place illegally in the area, Fleming learned that assumptions were being made based on general business activity.

“Irrespective of giving environmental permission to proceed, there can be tons of activity going on in an area prior to the point where environmental permits have to be granted, and in smaller areas the speculation as to what might be taking place sometimes takes on a groundswell that can warp the reality of what’s actually going on,” said the citizens’ representative.

Fleming’s office later referred the man to the director of environmental assessments for further information related to potential fracking applications.

“I think it was just a simple matter of confusion on his part. I travel the province three or four times a year, and I met with some representatives from that group, so that’s how we made initial contact, and there was nothing about their presentation to me or our chat that would lead me to believe that they were being provocative or mischievous about their request to our office. I think it was just a good faith misunderstanding.”

Watch this week and next for other stories by Josh Pennell and Andrew Robinson from the citizens’ representative’s report.

Organizations: Department of Environment and Conservation

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • david
    December 16, 2013 - 11:00

    "When people decide to join forces for a common cause"....that description makes it sound almost rational. What happened in this case,. as it usually does here, is a small group of factless, agenda-driven malcontents scared people into a frenzy, and a mob mentality took hold. There was never an ounce of logic or data or potential ever discussed...just worst-case scenarios and doom. Ignorance is expensive and dangerous, and it is unfortunately the sole currency of public engagement in Newfoundland.