By Dennis Bruce
Dear Editor: Newfoundlanders are world renowned for their hospitality. If you attended Memorial University’s Harris Centre’s session titled “The Facts About Fracking: An Engineering Perspective” last Thursday night in Corner Brook, you would not have experienced that sense of welcoming.
In fact, I was embarrassed at the treatment of our invited guest Dr. Maurice Dusseault, and the lack of regard for the audience by some representative(s) of the Fracking Awareness Group.
I had the Harris Centre’s forum on fracking on my calendar for some time and I looked forward to hearing two experts speak on fracking from a technical engineering perspective. I was among about 150 interested people that attended the session.
The presentations were by Dr. Dusseault and Dr. Lesley James and they lasted about one hour in total and were quite interesting indeed. After hearing the two presentations, I was pleased that I had invested the hour of my time in an attempt to become more informed on the technical engineering issues related to the fracking process and how oil, tight oil, is extracted by the process of hydraulic fracturing.
Once the formal presentations were over, the floor was opened up for questions. That is where the session went downhill very fast. The microphone was passed on to a member of the Fracking Awareness Group who rambled on for seemingly 15 minutes walking around the room, flipping a document of some sort to Dr. Dusseault, and gave a “speech” covering many issues including: fracking and health, fracking and the economy, fracking and social impacts and fracking and the environment.
While I don’t know if the speaker was an engineer, an economist, a medical researcher or all of the above, my take on his perspective was that the fracking process is bad, very bad for everything you could possibly think of. After the speech, Dr. Dusseault was given the opportunity to respond and he did quite appropriately (paraphrasing) — how can I respond to that when there was no question.
The microphone was passed on to several people from seemingly the same row or section of the audience who proceeded to provide their own lengthy speeches on the topic but there were a few questions sprinkled in during their respective filibusters. At that point I considered leaving but decided to stay to see how this whole thing played out. Unfortunately, most of the question period was devoted to speeches and I learned very little throughout the question and answer period. Through the process, Mr. Dusseault was under constant criticism and was, through innuendo, accused by some speakers of being a mouthpiece for the oil industry.
The question and answer part, however, was not a complete writeoff. There were some legitimate questions and concerns raised by some in the audience about Dr. Dusseault’s presentation and how certain new peer reviewed research was inconsistent with his presentation.
These questions were made passionately, were quite legitimate and presented the very sort of intellectual discussion that I had come to witness.
I was hoping to get the chance to ask a question or two as well but that opportunity was not feasible due to the lengthy diatribes from many in the audience. I would guess that many others in the audience felt the same way.
It should be noted that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom’s gives us all the right of freedom of expression and the representative(s) of the Fracking Awareness Group were well within their Charter rights to come and disrupt the meeting and make their speeches and continue to preach that all aspects of fracking are bad, very bad. Their position on the issue is firm and will not be changed and that is their Charter Right. I respect that. That being said, their approach to the session was quite inconsiderate to those that came to the session with an open mind and that wanted to be educated by noted experts on the topic at hand — an engineering perspective on fracking.
My advice to the Harris Centre is to continue to put on forums that tackle such controversial topics. The discussion and challenge is healthy and the facilitation of such events is an important function of our educational institutions.
However, next time please don’t pass out the microphones to the masses, do not allow speeches from the floor and ensure the question and answer protocols are enforced.
To the Fracking Awareness Group, I would hope that if you attend such an event in the future, I would ask that you show some respect and consideration for the invited guests and your neighbours who come to these sessions to learn from subject matter experts.
To Dr. Dusseault, I extend my apologies for the lack of respect you were, in my opinon, treated with.
Please be assured that I and many others in the audience enjoyed your presentation. I didn’t agree with absolutely everything that you presented, but I certainly appreciated your perspective.
Whether or not to allow hydraulic fracturing in our province is a key issue that we need to address and without a doubt there will be very polarized views on the issue — and that’s OK. That’s healthy. I hope our province initiates their review of fracking as soon as is feasible so that we all can educated on the potential social, economic and environmental implications of fracking.
It will be challenging to sift through all the propaganda and loud voices to make an informed decision, but it is important that we do so.
Let’s keep in mind that this review process should be balanced and occur in a respectful manner. We all want what is best for our province, but we may all have very different sense of what is “best.”
Dennis Bruce is an economist who resides in Corner Brook