The issue of gathering baseline data to better analyze any future concerns with the controversial drilling method, also known as “fracking,” was also raised.
The midday meeting was held in a lecture room in the Fine Arts Building at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University. Every seat in the small classroom was taken, and it was standing room only for some of the several dozen people who jammed in to learn more about the fracking process.
The presentation, organized by the Grenfell Campus Student Union, was facilitated by Dr. Ian Simpson, a retired physician who discussed the potential hazards to human health fracking could cause, and by Simon Jansen, chairperson of the Western Environment Centre.
They presented the findings of research conducted by several citizen groups formed in the last five months because of their concerns about fracking. In particular, these groups believe more needs to be known before Shoal Point Energy and Black Spruce Exploration are permitted to conduct fracking as part of their oil exploration activities in western Newfoundland.
Projects involving offshore oil exploration require the approval of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB), while those conducted onshore come under the jurisdiction of the provincial Department of Environment and Conservation for environmental assessment.
The project proposed by Shoal Point Energy and Black Spruce Exploration, and which would include fracking, involves onshore to offshore drilling with a rig positioned on land drilling out underneath the waters off western Newfoundland.
Shoal Point Energy and Black Spruce Exploration have submitted a draft scoping document — which outlines a plan for how the environmental assessment is to be conducted — with the CNLOPB, but there is no project registered yet with the Department of Environment and Conservation.
Both processes allow for the general public to have input before decisions are made to permit projects to move ahead.
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People have until this coming Monday to advise the CNLOPB that they would like to be a part of the final scoping document process with regard to the project registered by Shoal Point Energy and Black Spruce Exploration. If a project gets registered with the provincial environment department, there will be a 35-day period for public opinion to be submitted.
Jansen and Simpson noted that fracking has been banned in some jurisdictions of the United States and is under a moratorium until the process is better understood in other areas of North America, including Quebec and some parts of Atlantic Canada.
There are no regulations specific to hydraulic fracturing in Newfoundland and Labrador, said Jansen.
“The obvious question is, shouldn’t we be just as careful as some of our neighbours?” Jansen asked the group taking in his presentation.
During his comments, Simpson noted that there is currently no baseline data indicating current levels of chemicals in the water, soil and air that could be compared to the levels that might be found following a suspected or confirmed issue resulting from fracking activity.
“We need these studies done before (an issue suspected to have been caused by fracking) happens,” urged Simpson.
Jansen and Simpson asked anyone who has concerns about fracking to call on government to establish regulations regarding the process, to demand full environmental assessments of such projects, to have baseline data compiled and to have emergency personnel trained in case there is some sort of accident involving the chemicals used in fracking.
“Whether you’re for or against this right now is not the point,” he said. “The point is taking our time, with due diligence.”
Jansen encouraged anyone wishing to follow developments on the fracking issue to check out the “Save Gros Morne and our West Coast” group on Facebook.