CORNER BROOK — Kenny (Mutchie) Bennett said it most profoundly, but Corner Brook Qalipu ward councillor Brendan Mitchell is taking a message of anti-fracking back to the band council.
Mitchell, along with Benoit’s Cove ward councillor Bern White, organized a town hall meeting on the controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”
The meeting comes more than a month after the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band signed a letter of intent with Black Spruce Exploration Corp. — the company intending to frack for oil along the west coast of Newfoundland. The agreement to work together on a number of important issues around the development of the oil and gas sector has been greeted with controversy and skepticism.
Mitchell opened the meeting, which was attended by close to 50 people, by clarifying that the letter of intent was discussed at the council table and that opportunities by way of conventional drilling only is supported. He said it was stated clearly that fracking cannot be supported at this time.
At the meeting’s end — following a resounding verbal vote of confidence from those in attendance — Mitchell confirmed that is his position.
“I was hoping to hear a message of yay or nay, and I think I got my answer,” he said. “As Corner Brook ward councillor, I will be going back to council and saying that, based on what I heard and saw, at least the large majority of the people in this session are nervous about fracking and can’t support it at this time.”
Earlier in the meeting, following presentations from Graham Oliver and Ian Simpson, Bennett took the microphone to make a plea to his fellow people to take a stand against fracking.
Pride replaced by shame
Bennett said he attended protests at a potential shale gas site in New Brunswick this month, actually leaving just hours before the violent clash with police. He said the pride he felt when he was told he was the first Qalipu member from Newfoundland to join the Elsipogtog First Nation in their protest was replaced with shame and embarrassment when he told them about the letter of intent that was signed.
“They were shocked and appalled and I was ashamed,” he said. “I am not ashamed of who I am ... but I was ashamed for that moment of who I was.
“ ... Come on Qalipu. Where are you? I agree you have to be progressive and you have to do what you can to get people educated and working, but not at this risk.”
If he had not been called away by a friend, Bennett said, he would have been there when the violence ignited. If physical protests are required to stop fracking in this area, he said he will be there too.
“Us as human beings, where did we ever get the right, or the gall, or the ego to put ourselves above the animals, above the environment, above the air, above the fish,” he said. “Where did we ever get that idea that we are superior to anything else that is a part of life. My goodness, where did we go wrong?”
It was a similar message expressed by others following the presentations. Keith Cormier, a Qalipu band member and Corner Brook councillor, said the technology people must rely on in determining the best course of action is their brain.
“If we need to get this stuff out of the ground, we are capable of finding a way to get it out safely,” he said.
Matthew Connolly, president of the Greater Corner Brook Board of Trade, reiterated that statement and a stance he has made before. He said the board believes in responsible economic development.
“If you can prove to me that you can do it right — and you have the safe policies, procedures and practices in place — I will help you dig that hole,” he said. “If you can’t, I am in the line stopping you from coming in there.”
Israel Hann was the only person at the meeting to speak against the notion of anti-fracking. He referred to people in opposition as “tree huggers,” and that they were fighting economic development pertaining to resources regardless of the impacts.
“We have I’d say 50,000 Newfoundland people who have to leave this island for employment in order to feed their families and themselves, and they can’t come back because there is nothing to come back to,” he said. “Every time we try to create an industry in this province, or on the west coast, there is a crowd of tree huggers who fight against everything that is positive in trying to creat employment.”
Corner Brook ward councillor for the Qalipu band, Brendan Mitchell, speaks at a town hall meeting on fracking on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013.