The co-chair of the Port au Port/Bay St. George Fracking Awareness Group, and a resident of Boswarlos near the Shoal Point drilling site, said her group is asking Environment Minister Tom Hedderson and Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall to take a precautionary approach pending an independent, science-based review of hydraulic fracturing.
She said this review should adequately consider the impacts of hundreds of wells being drilled in the Green Point Shale formation, which extends from the Port au Port Peninsula to Daniel's Harbour in Western Newfoundland.
Fracking involves injecting water, which can contain toxic chemicals or other liquids under high pressure underground through horizontal wells — to break shale rock formations to extract oil and natural gas.
Hoskins said fracking is becoming an increasingly controversial issue due to potential negative impacts on the environment and possible negative health effects.
Hydraulic fracturing has come under scrutiny in some areas, and some jurisdictions have suspended or banned it. Hedderson recently stated that the Shoal Point fracking proposal would trigger a conjoint environmental assessment by two regulators, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) and the Provincial Department of Environment and Conservation. In regards to Hedderson’s announcement that his Environment Department will be doing an assessment concurrently and conjointly with the CNLOPB, Hoskins has concerns about the objectivity and credibility of such an arrangement.
Hedderson said in a telephone interview on Thursday that there are two aspects to this, which would be onshore as well as offshore. That’s the rationale for his department going in tandem with the CNLOPB.
He said their environmental assessment is their precautionary approach and this doesn’t only involve his department; but meeting petroleum regulations, worker and equipment safety down to the disposal of drilling and waste fluids.
Hedderson said where fracking would be involved government will be paying particular attention to acquifers and drilling through them. He said if the proponent gets the go ahead, there will be lots of checks and balances in place to cover all aspects of their activity, including how it could affect groundwater.
“To date, the proponent hasn’t even registered a drilling program,” he added.
Once a proposed program is registered the time begins to tick on a 45-day environmental assessment period and there will be 30 days for the company and the public to put forward any information on the project.
Once the 45-day period is up, Hedderson can reject it, accept it as it is or accept it with conditions, meaning the project wouldn’t start until those conditions were met.
In relation to a drilling program involving hydraulic fracturing, he said the fracking fluid that would be used would have to be clearly outlined for his department as well as how it would be retrieved and disposed of to constitute a friendly material.
Hedderson said right now his department is just waiting for the proponent to come forward and that his department will put the assessment into place. He said the people with the department have become very skilled with project and have assessed many big projects during the past three decades.
“It’s important that people understand that in order to be approved, this is not some fly-by-night operation and the proponent will have to give us the information we need, including bonding, or it won’t go ahead.”
Hoskins said regarding Shoal Point Energy's plans to frack for oil on the west coast, the Fracking Awareness Group is recommending that the provincial government should follow Nova Scotia's lead and wait for the completion of a federal government review of the hydraulic fracturing process which is to be completed in the spring of 2014.
She said her group agrees with the recommendation of Judge Robert Wells, in his report on offshore safety in the oil industry, that there should be a separate independent regulatory agency for worker safety and environmental protection.
Hoskins said she believes that the CNLOPB, as part of the conjoint regulatory body, should not be both a facilitator of oil and gas development and a regulator for worker safety and environmental health.
Marshall stated in the House of Assembly last week that government supports the proposal by Shoal Point Energy, and it has legislation to govern the project. He points to the Petroleum Act, environmental assessments, and the CNLOPB.
But Hoskins said her group understands that, unlike New Brunswick — which recently announced new regulations specifically governing horizontal hydraulic fracturing — the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador does not have similar regulations in place.
She said Marshall's statement indicating provincial government support for a fracking project that has yet to undergo his own government's review and assessment process is premature and inappropriate.