Government commissioning independent review of fracking

Gary Kean gkean@thewesternstar.com
Published on August 11, 2014
Derrick Dalley — Telegram file photo

One of the issues candidates in the upcoming byelection in St. George’s-Stephenville East will have to take a position on will be hydraulic fracturing.

On Monday, Progressive Conservative candidate Wally Childs found out what his party’s next steps are going to be in dealing with the controversial issue.

Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley was in Stephenville and, during his visit, announced the provincial government is commissioning an independent external review of the controversial method of fracturing underground rock to facilitate the extraction of oil and gas resources.

Last November, the province effectively instituted a moratorium on the practice commonly referred to as fracking by not accepting any proposals to do such projects.

At the time, Dalley also announced his department would do an internal review of fracking as it impacts the geology of the province and review how other jurisdictions have been handling the issue.

That wasn’t good enough for opponents of fracking, including the Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness Network, a coalition of 20 different organizations that collectively demanded an independent, external review.

Before making his announcement Monday, Dalley met with the network which he said welcomed the news.

Government is going to appoint between three and five experts who will constitute a panel that will carry out the external review. Dalley could not give a timeframe for when the panel will be appointed or when it will begin its work, noting government is still early in the process of drawing up the terms of reference for the panel.

“Sooner, rather than later would be my preference,” said Dalley. “What’s important here is that we find the right people and the right balance for the panel and have the right approach to the issue.”

That balance, said Dalley, must involve weighing the health, safety and environmental concerns raised about fracking, the science involved in the process and the potential economic impact fracking could have.

The review, said Dalley, will be done from a Newfoundland and Labrador perspective, with a specific focus on western Newfoundland where fracking is likely to occur if ever permitted.

“First and foremost will be the health and safety of the people from the region,” said the minister.

The review will also include continued consultations with other jurisdictions that have also went through their own independent review process.

With the byelection looming, Dalley said government and the PC party felt it important to let Childs and the electorate know government’s direction when it comes to the touchy subject.

“(The fracking awareness group) are engaged in the byelection over here and want the candidates to clarify their positions,” said Dalley.

Earlier version:

The provincial government is going to commission an independent review of hydraulic fracturing.

Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley made the announcement during a visit to Stephenville Monday.

Dalley gave local media short notice that he was going to make an announcement of some sort Monday afternoon and no media outlets were actually in attendance to hear what he had to say.

In a telephone interview, the minister confirmed there will be an independent review of the controversial oil and gas extraction method, commonly known as fracking. Dalley said the review will be done by a three- to five-person panel that government has yet to appoint.

He could not give a timeframe on when the panel will be appointed and will start its work, noting government is still in the process of developing the terms of reference for the review.

He did say the review will focus on the impact fracking might have on Newfoundland and Labrador and western Newfoundland in particular.

The provincial government recently completed its own internal review of fracking and, last November, instituted a moratorium on the hydraulic fracturing of underground rock to facilitate extraction of oil and gas resources.

This spring, a group called the Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness Network was formed and insisted government also do an independent review.

Dalley said the panel that will carry out the independent review will focus on the science behind the process, the environmental and health concerns raised by its opponents and the economic impacts fracking could have.