Networking ideas: Anti-fracking network in western Newfoundland insists on independent review of process

Gary Kean gkean@thewesternstar.com
Published on May 15, 2014
Members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness Network, including, from left, Kenny Bennett, Ed English, Bill O'Gorman and Wayne Hounsell, discuss their concerns about the controversial practice at a news conference in Corner Brook Thursday morning.
Star photo by Gary Kean

Kenny Bennett tries to always be positive in his personal ife, so he doesn’t consider himself as being against a whole lot of things.

What the Mi’kmaq cultural leader from Stephenville Crossing does support is a clean, healthy environment.

If hydraulic fracturing threatens that in any way, then he believes it needs a good hard look at before the oil and gas industry is allowed to use the controversial extraction process.

Bennett represents one of 20 organizations that have come together to form the Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness Network. The network’s representatives held a news conference in Corner Brook Thursday morning to jointly call on the provincial government to commission an independent review of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking as it is commonly called — and the potential impacts the practice could have in western Newfoundland and off its shores. Bennett was humbled to see so many voices come together to promote not only a healthy environment, but to also promote the right to speak up and to be heard by government.

“It can’t be ignored when you get so many groups together with a common voice asking for this review,” said Bennett.

The organizations that make up the network represent various sectors throughout western Newfoundland, including environmental and social justice movements, the medical community, property owners, the fishery and the tourism industry.

In outlining their concerns about fracking, the network said there are “major gaps in scientific knowledge” around the oil and gas extraction process. The Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board has stated it does not agree with recent reports recommending the oil and gas industry move slowly when it comes to using the fracking process because of those gaps in scientific knowledge.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced in November 2013 it would not be accepting any applications for oil exploration that involved fracking until it had completed an internal review. The network wants more assurance than that.

“We want a commitment from government for an external, public, independent review,” said Wayne Hounsell of the Port au Port/Bay St. George Fracking Awareness Group, one of the member organizations in the network.

Tourism operator Ed English was there to speak on behalf of Go Western Newfoundland, the destination management organization that represents some 600 tourism operations in western Newfoundland. He said the provincial government needs to know for sure if fracking could jeopardize the tourism sector the province is trying to grow.

“We are concerned that, if this doesn’t get a proper review, then decisions could be made that could affect tourism,” said English. “Gros Morne is the flagship for drawing attention to that, but it’s not just that area. It’s all up and down the west coast with tourism operations stretching all along the coastline.”

Ann Marceau, representing the Gros Morne Coastal Alliance, said the area’s residents that make up that organization are also concerned about the unknown impacts of using fracking. She said it doesn’t make sense to risk the growing tourism industry to find oil and gas that may or may not even be feasible to retrieve. She said to expose the success of the tourism industry to such risk “betrays” the understanding of the good thing that is already there.

“(Tourism) may not be the absolute salvation of the community, but it is a long-term viable future that governments, the private sector and the communities have embraced and are actively pursuing,” she said.

“To risk that for something that has unknown risks, that has documented cases of negative consequences ... just doesn’t seem like a wise move.”