STEPHENVILLE Economic development in Newfoundland and Labrador does not come at all costs, says Environment and Conservation Minister Joan Shea.
The newly appointed minister said hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is very much a priority for her. In fact, as a resident and MHA of Stephenville — on the west coast of the province, where Shoal Point Energy is interested in using the controversial drilling technique to mine oil and gas — she says she is now in a position to be a leader on the issue.
With no current proposals before government related to fracking, Shea said it is the right time for her to look at the environmental assessment process and listen to public opinion.
She said it is not certain whether the province would eventually take a stance, or what the stance would be, with regard to the controversial issue. In the meantime, she has faith in the environmental assessment process.
“It is a rigorous process,” she said. “If any application comes in, it would have to go through that process. It’s not like government can say, ‘If we were fracking and, if you would apply, than you would get to do it.’ Whatever somebody applies for, if it is environmentally unsafe or we can’t mitigate the damage or risk to the environment, no matter what the process, it can’t be approved.”
She even went as far as to say she would never approve any application that would pose a risk to the environment or people’s health.
“My personal view is, whether it is fracking or any other way to extract oil or gas from deep within the earth, it has to be safe,” she said. “The process itself has to be safe, but, once the work is completed, the long-term affects on the people in that area also has to be safe.
“Whether or not I approve of fracking, I won’t approve of anything if I feel, through the assessment, that people will be harmed.”
However, the significant financial impact of mining oil to a province also has to be considered, the minister admitted. Newfoundland and Labrador went from a have not to a have province largely because of oil and gas discoveries.
“Economic development is important, but, in no way can we say economic development takes precedence over our environment,” she said. “Any type of economic development has to be able to outline the affects they will have on the environment, how they will mitigate those affects, and what the long-term results are going to be.”
As minister of Environment and Conservation, Shea said it is incumbent upon her to listen to the people, and hear their concerns and questions. She said she is familiar with fracking as an MHA who listened to her constituents and forwarded their concerns to the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources. Now, that she is minister that she will continue listening and getting people the information they need to make informed decisions.
“Right now, a lot of the questions and concerns around fracking are dealing with fear,” she said. “People are afraid. People are asking for information.”
Other than the environmental assessment, Shea said there are regulations for such activity which also has to be applied. Those regulations would be through the Department of Natural Resources.