I have been monitoring closely the development of fracking on the west coast of Newfoundland since 2004 only to conclude that the Canada- Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) and the provincial government have been very accommodating to the industry by fast-tracking projects through its so-called environmental assessment.
This province is clearly on the side of the industry and appears to encourage any development pertaining to oil exploration, especially in the Port-au-Port/Bay St. George and Gros Morne areas, without engaging in a full assessment of the long-term consequences for the communities, the tourism industry and the environment.
Not many rules
May I remind the interested parties the findings of federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Scott Vaughan's report released in February 2013 about the lack of regulatory framework pertaining to fracking (mainly onshore to offshore exploration), not to mention the issue of not knowing the exact nature of the chemicals used.
The problem lies in what the province and the CNLOPB understands by an environmental assessment.
The general public would understand the process to be a comprehensive review, conducted by an independent, reputable source or organization on all aspects of fracking.
This review would include the social, environmental and economic impacts (beliefs and risks), as well as an adequate framework and regulations of this method of exploration/exploitation.
This does not sound to me as anti-development or anti-fracking, but rather a review based on due process and due diligence.
On the other side, the province appears to be satisfied to have an evaluation; a) conducted by the industry; b) within a short and only 35-day period for comments; c) with a brief overview of the proponent(s) submission; and d) a "put together" of selected regulations already on the shelf in various acts, guidelines and suggested procedures.
Then, a quick 10 days for the minister of environment to rubberstamp the project.
To my knowledge, this has been done in 2004 and 2005 in the Bay St. George, Robinson's area, so it would only be business as usual for the government.
The communities, groups, researchers and scientists would not approve of such a cavalier approach to a new technique.
The people, the communities and our reputation as an oil province deserve much better!
This particular method of oil exploration is indeed new, as it would, based on my research, be the first time in the world, that oil exploration through fracking be performed from an onshore to an offshore setting.
At the local level, the people in small communities are led to believe that "all kinds of jobs" would be generated by the projects in Sally's Cove, Lark Harbour and Port au Port.
I might refer readers to the Shoal Point Energy Amendment for their project in Port au Port submitted to the CNLOPB on Jan. 8, 2013, where one can read on page 12 that "the majority of jobs during the exploration phase would be filled by external contractors and not by the proponent."
In other words, jobs from fracking will not be as many and not long term compared to platform drilling.
A clear choice
Knowing this, would you rather support the tourism industry and its growth (local jobs) on the west coast and in Gros Morne as your main draw rather than risk your region and its current reputation as a clean, pristine and iconic destination?
Gros Morne and the communities in the Bay St. George region have developed a sustainable, long-term tourism industry based on great scenery, festivals, an impeccable international reputation and as one of the "locations to visit on your bucket list."
Why would the federal and provincial governments allow the introduction of such an incompatible element in this picture?
Mary Knight is a researcher-consultant who writes from St. John's.