At 2pm on April 7th about 400 hundred people showed up to take part in a public forum on Shoal Point Energy’s proposal to conduct horizontal slickwater fracturing (fracking) on the West Coast of Newfoundland. Several presentations were given on the subject ranging from an overview of the Province’s existing and environmental assessment process (which appears to contain the potential of producing a biased assessment), to the threat of environmental damage from fracking. Several representatives of government were present, including Tom Marshall, as well as representatives of the Department of Natural Resources and the Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. However no representatives of Shoal Point Energy appeared to be in attendance.
Of particular note was Sylvain Archambault’s talk, which received a standing ovation from the crowd. His presentation focused on describing real examples, in Quebec and elsewhere, of how hydraulic fracturing had caused not only significant environmental damage, but also severe health and social devastation. He also elaborated on the issue of the job creation in NL as a result of fracking, showing not only that the majority of jobs created would most likely go to specialists brought in to the province from elsewhere (mostly Alberta and not NL citizens), but that the amount of long-term employment created by fracking would be minimal.
By contrast government spokesmen were hard pressed to show any real benefits to fracking (and avoided discussing the significant threats it represents to the environment and to important industries like tourism); their views often verged on denial. Indeed when Tom Marshall was asked, during a question period, if he would be willing to place a moratorium on fracking until further information on the process in known (including the in-depth health studies of it that are currently under way and should be available by 2014), the crowd once again burst into applause and turned to Mr. Marshall hoping at least for some assurance that a moratorium was on the table. Mr. Marshall however made it clear that the Provincial Government is “pro-development,” and that a moratorium was not even a possibility.
When Tom Marshall was asked later if he would at least be willing to meet with people who had suffered from the negative health effects elsewhere to hear their stories Mr. Marshall refused outright, and once again recited his dogmatic mantra of environmental mitigation (after the fact) with “development” his foremost word. We have been informed that when talking to the media afterwards, however, he changed his tune on this matter considerably. Worse, he seemed to accuse the crowd of having conspired against him, and having already ‘made their minds up’ (though he has already clearly stated in the Legislature his government is in support of Shoal Point Energy). Had it perhaps crossed his mind that when 400 people take an issue so seriously it is his job as a government official to listen to them?
The MHA for the Port au Port, Tony Cornect, seemed laughably ignorant of the full impact when he said there would be (without his doing any research on the matter) no impact on tourism as a result of fracking; only to be proven wrong when examples of the destruction, from trucking impact and flare illumination alone in Quebec and elsewhere were shown by Mr. Archambault.
Throughout the talk concerns were raised on how little response the government had given to emails of concern from the public about Fracking. This morning the 4OW received word that a PDF document, signed by Mr. Marshall, is being sent to at least some concerned members of the public (e.g. those who wrote to him expressing their concerns). The document states:
“The Department of Natural Resources is working with our partners and stakeholders, including the Department of Environment and Conservation and the C-NLOPB, to ensure that any programs that propose using hydraulic fracturing are properly assessed to determine whether specific terms should be attached to any approval to drill a well.”
“Specific terms” attached to any approval to drill a well? Can we therefore assume that the Department of Natural resources considers fracking to be a question of “when” and not “if.” There is no talk of a moratorium, no talk even of the possibility that fracking may be rejected as a process simply too dangerous to undertake (something indicated by the information at the forum). Has the Minister already made his mind up? Are we also likely to end up with the same situation in the Port au Port that is being considered right now for Colchester County in Nova Scotia, where there are applications by AIS to dump millions of litres of contaminated fracking water (one problematic by-product of the process) through the sewers directly into the Bay of Fundy?
Further the document states: “These developments in the onshore and offshore areas have proceeded in accordance with stringent regulations and rules that guide all aspects of petroleum drilling and production” – an interesting statement as those regulations have not been updated since 1996. Thus the regulations were, in fact, developed long-before fracking’s toxic residue and toxic flare emissions came into existence and are NOT comprehensive or “stringent.”
A CBC article posted on the Forum, which seems to underestimate the number of people in attendance, sums up the crowd’s sentiment with a telling quote:"I didn't hear one person in any way get up at this mic today and support plans for fracking, and most people are disappointed in the way government is dealing with this." – Bob Diamond (CBC News, Fracking plan draws little support at Port au Port meeting, April 8, 2013 8:05 AM NT)
So overall we might consider the Forum to be a remarkable success: it pointed to the ignorance of government on the issues and made it clear that fracking is not going to be undertaken in the province without monumental public outrage.