Fracking decision likely won’t happen for another year: Dalley

James McLeod
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The government won’t have a concrete policy on hydraulic fracturing before the next general election, based on the timeline laid out by Natural Resources Minister Derrick Tuesday morning.

Moreover, Dalley said he wants the public to see the results of 10 months of reviewing the controversial oil extraction technique — known as “fracking” — but at the same time, he’s refusing to let anybody see the documents.

“I want it made public. I have no issue with that,” Dalley said. “My fear is to release it now, then that becomes the focus in a debate which is not where we think this needs to go in terms of the structure and the process that we think is best.”

Dalley announced Monday in Stephenville that the government is referring the issue of fracking to an independent panel which will be assigned to study it.

There’s a byelection happening in that part of the province right now, and Dalley spent part of the day campaigning with the PC candidate, Wally Childs.

When he made the announcement on Monday afternoon, he gave short notice, and no media outlets were able to attend the meeting.

On Tuesday, when he was back in St. John’s, reporters here had a chance to ask some followup questions.

Dalley said there will be a three- to five-member panel who will study the issue of fracking, and whether it should be allowed in the province. He said they’d also be assigned to look at issues specific to the west coast of Newfoundland, where oil discoveries make fracking a real possibility.

“It’s a very complex and sensitive issue for a lot of people, which is important to us,” he said. “We need to separate some emotion of this and really focus on the science.”

He said that the byelection wasn’t the reason he made the hastily-called announcement about the panel on Monday, but at the same time, he acknowledged it’s an important issue for voters.

“I just felt it was an appropriate time to lay this out so that (Childs) himself, as he knocks on doors in the district, can be very clear, and very clear with the people about hydraulic fracturing,” Dalley said.

Result of months of study

As for the product of months and months of study since he announced a moratorium on fracking last fall? The panel — which hasn’t been named yet — will be given all that material, and they’ll decide what to do with it. Dalley said he hopes they make it public.

“The information will be provided to the panel first, and we’ll ask for it to be made public then, when it’s appropriate for the panel to do so,” he said.

He said if there’s going to be a big public debate on the issue, then the independent panel should be the focus of that debate — he said he doesn’t want to be at the centre of it all.

The panel’s review is likely to take about a year, Dalley said

With a general election likely to happen in the spring of 2015, or at the very latest next September, it looks like the PC party won’t go into the next election with a clearly defined position on whether they’re for or against fracking in the province.

“That depends on when the timing of this review is completed,” Dalley said. “We’re trying to do this inside of a year, but again, it’s more important for us to make sure we get this right.”

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Geographic location: Stephenville, Newfoundland

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