Pressure mounting to ensure fracking review is truly independent

Gary
Gary Kean
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The news of an independent external review of fracking is being welcomed by just about everyone.

 The concern now is ensuring the work is influenced neither by government, nor the industry that stands to gain from the controversial processs should it be permitted.

Simon Jansen has chaired meetings of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness Network, the coalition of nearly 20 organizations and almost 200 people who share concerns about the hydraulic fracturing of underground rock to facilitate access to oil and gas resources. The network has been drawing attention to research that has shown fracking can potentially have negative impacts on human and environmental health, as well as jeopardize the viability of economic sectors such as the tourism and fishing industries.

The independent external review announced Monday by Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley during a visit to western Newfoundland, where fracking has been a bone of contention in recent times, is exactly what the network has been advocating for.

“That is really the only way the government can gain public trust,” Jansen said of a truly independent review.

Dalley’s department has already conducted its own internal review and plans to share those findings with the panel government will appoint to do the external review. That panel will consist of three to five people and Dalley said they will focus on human health, the environment and the economy in addition to the science involved with fracking.

Jansen said people don’t just want their concerns to be heard, they want them to be given their due weight in the review.

“I have never seen an environmental issue that has galvanized the conversation on the west coast like this one has,” said Jansen.

Dalley’s announcement comes in the midst of a byelection in St. George’s-Stephenville East, one of the areas where fracking could happen if government lifted its moratorium on the practice.

Bernice Hancock, who is running for the New Democratic Party in the byelection, said the timing of Dalley’s announcement is questionable and just a bid to garner votes for the governing Progressive Conservative’s candidate.

She said Premier Tom Marshall, the former natural resources minister, was “visibly upset and dismissive” of concerns raised by hundreds of people attending a meeting about fracking on the Port au Port Peninsula last fall.

“Where was all this about health and safety and putting people first last fall?” asked Hancock.

In a recent interview with The Western Star, Marshall said public objection to private sector development, including fracking, has stalled economic growth in the region. Hancock also noted how Marshall had said opposition to fracking by students and faculty at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University in Corner Brook was not based on a full appreciation of the science behind fracking.

“That does not sound like a party who will put the people and the environment first,” she said.  

Dalley said there will be public consultations as part of the independent review. Like Jansen, Hancock said the public consultation process can’t be a mere formality that will be shelved by the panel.

“We don’t want consultations like we’ve seen in the past with people from big corporations coming and giving us spiels about how wonderful fracking is,” said Hancock.

Wally Childs is the candidate the Tories hope will reclaim the seat being left vacant by resigned cabinet minister Joan Shea. He said he never asked his party for a clarification of its stance on fracking, but was called off the campaign trail Monday to hear what Dalley had to announce.

He has had some discussions about fracking with voters during his campaign so far. Some support it, some don’t, he said.

The important thing, said Childs, is that government gets as much information that it can before it decides on a policy on fracking.

“If this is something that is going to endanger the environment or the health and safety and protection of our people, then it’s not something I can support,” said Childs.

Childs is from Lark Harbour in the Bay of Islands — another area targeted for potential fracking activity — and has been a teacher for 20 years in the district he now wants to represent.

“I don’t want to have to go back and hang my head in shame, thinking I made decisions that are going to hurt these young ones that I’m teaching,” he said.

The Western Star made attempts to speak with Scott Reid, the Liberal candidate in the St. George’s-Stephenville East byelection, but calls to the party were not returned as of press time Tuesday.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness Network, New Democratic Party, Memorial University in Corner Brook

Geographic location: Stephenville East, Newfoundland, Western Star Lark Harbour Bay of Islands

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  • Graham Oliver
    August 18, 2014 - 10:49

    Response to Dennis Bruce: 1. I respect your viewpoint “an independent review does not mean putting the Environment first”. You are an economist … economists are well- known for putting the Environment at the very bottom of the personal well-being list, maybe just ahead of Health. I was a physical educator all my life. Health is my number one priority and Environment also ranks very high. We no doubt agree to differ on that point. I agree with you on a balanced approach though. 2. You may be correct that individuals and groups who have been extremely active in reviewing extensive, peer-reviewed studies on fracking may “never be satisfied with a positive fracking review decision”. It really depends on the objectivity of the process. There is one gigantic group of Canadians who are pushing back extremely hard against Harper’s “RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT AT ALL COSTS” agenda. And that is probably because Harper has gutted the Navigable Waters Protection Act, as he has proceeded in lock-step with Dick Cheney in the US who brought in the Halliburton Loophole which gave oil and gas companies a free-for-all with the environment. Harper has also thrown out all of the good environmental science work that has been done by a legion of Canadian scientists, closed science libraries, put duct tape over the mouths of Government scientists, shelved a report on fracking by Scott Vaughn the former Environment Commissioner, and I could go on, but that’s enough for now. Yip … there are people in this country who have said “enough is enough” with the Harper Agenda. You are right. No one can predict with great certainty what environmentalists will accept from an independent review … such is life in a national debate where the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has an open door policy with a PMO and where Big Oil donates huge sums of money to political parties in an effort to curry favour. Environmental Movements don’t have that same influence with the PMO and provincial governments. 3. In reference to your discomfort with these (anti-fracking) Groups. And Mr. Marshall’s discomfort level with them as well. I had a wonderful,l cordial conversation with Mr. Marshall yesterday at the opening of the YMCA in Stephenville… very congenial indeed. We actually chatted about fracking and the economy and Norway’s 975 billion dollar rainy day fund and the fact that Alberta is running a 3.5 billion dollar deficit this year and 4 billion in 2015 and 4 billion in 2016. I am actually a fiscal conservative and not that scary a guy. But yes … I was THE enthusiastic first speaker at the Dusseault presentation last January in Corner Brook . You know, the scary guy that you said in your letter to the Western Star spoke for “seemly 15 minutes criticizing Dusseault as he walked about the hall with a mic in hand tossing papers around” ... In reviewing the video of the event it was actually less than two minutes that I spoke. We will continue to publicly question the dangers of fracking and we will put the process under the microscope and we will ask very tough questions. Mr. Bruce: that is called democracy and considering how Stephen Harper has taken our democratic rights away, if you have strong beliefs concerning an issue it is essential that you speak up. So you should get use to it and “if you can’t stand the heat, you might want to vacate the kitchen and sit back in an easy chair with a fresh report from the Fraser Institute. 4. When you say polling shows people are in favour of fracking … where can we get a copy of that poll. The “Ask the People” question in the Western Star on Saturday certainly does not support your claim. Dr. Wheeler who is conducting the fracking review in NS stated that a large number of citizens in NS are against fracking (The Coast from Halifax). A poll done one year ago in NB determined that 53% of the citizens were against fracking, others were undecided, while a ? percentage supported development. The numbers in NL are probably not a whole lot different. And you are correct, Sheri Somerville, who owns a public relations firm out of Fredericton NB, often tours the country promoting the CAPP agenda was not represented in the article by Gary Kean, nor was Sheran McLellan from the Board of Trade. And it would have been good if they could have repeated the CAPP speaking points …. “200,000 wells … no contamination of water” etc. etc. 5. I agree that tourism “will not cut it” as far as keeping this province going … we need more jobs, but tourism certainly is an important industry that we should not try to eliminate by proceeding with fracking our coastlines. Tourism brings in over one billion dollars a year to our economy. In regards to Alberta and people travelling there to work, that is a reality and yes we should encourage sustainable industries to set up in our province to create jobs, but they should be subjected to rigorous environmental reviews. Question: If fracking is such a profitable industry, then why is Alberta running deficits and spending Peter Lougheed's Heritage Fund (Source: Canadian Taxpayers Federation)?

  • Dennis Bruce
    August 13, 2014 - 07:46

    Comments on the article: 1. An independent review does not mean environment first, it means balancing environment, economics and social aspects. This perception is a major problem and needs to be the foundation of the independent review. 2. The anti-fracking groups will never accept a positive fracking review decision and are therefore not independent. As such, they should not have undue influence on who gets on any panel. Given their inflexible and unbalanced stance, it is amazing they get so much media and political attention which really distorts public perception. 3. I can understand Marshall’s discomfort at attending an anti-fracking session – I have seen these folks at another meeting and experienced the same frustration and “discomfort”. I agree with Marshall’s comments that if the paper mill had not been developed and was just now being proposed, groups such as these would fight against the development. 4 The fracking issue has not galvanized the west coast – in fact, polling would suggest most people are in favour of such development or are at least open minded to it. Fracking will appear to be galvanizing if the media does not present both sides of the story – like this particular article which is very disappointing. Where are industry comments, Board of Trade, CAPP comments, etc.? 5. I am shocked the lack of economic development, the over reliance on government transfers as an income source (in the region where fracking is proposed), and commuting workers to Alberta west is not more an election issue – as opposed to fracking. It is ironic that fracking developments in Alberta are keeping these regions going. Without any new development, how do these regions plan to support themselves economically? (No, Tourism doesn’t cut it).