May 15, 2014
A province-wide network of organizations is calling for the provincial government to commission an independent review of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technology proposed for use in oil exploration on Newfoundland’s west coast. The groups outlined their concerns at a news conference in Corner Brook today, citing examples from two recent reports.
“The recent report by the Council of Canadian Academies clearly shows major gaps in scientific knowledge of hydraulic fracturing.This federally commissioned report recommends we move slowly. Unfortunately, we have received the opposite view from the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board who has concluded that oil exploration including hydraulic fracturing can proceed as usual, despite the scientific gaps that exist around that technology, ” said Simon Jansen, spokesperson for the Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness Network.
In November of 2013 the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced that they would not accept any applications for oil exploration that involved hydraulic fracturing (fracking) until they completed an internal review.
On May 1, the Council of Canadian Academies released their report on the Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada. The Council is a not-for- profit organization that supports independent, science-based, authoritative expert assessments. The report notes that few peer-reviewed articles on the environmental impacts of shale gas development have been published. They stress that society’s understanding of the potential environmental impacts has not kept pace with development, resulting in gaps in scientific knowledge about these impacts. The expert panel also states that the health and social impacts of shale gas development have not been well studied.
The latest Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for oil and gas exploration in Western Newfoundland released May 5 by the Canada – Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) does not assess the environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing.
In reaction to these reports an unprecedented number of organizations including labour, tourism, health, fishery, religion, conservation and environment have united to demand that the planned review of hydraulic fracturing for this province be external, independent and science-based.
The groups echo the concern over the gap in scientific knowledge when it comes to the degradation of the quality of groundwater and surface water (including the safe disposal of large volumes of wastewater); the risk of increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; disruptive effects on communities and land; and adverse effects on human health.
“I am pleased that the Council of Canadian Academies is letting the federal and provincial governments know that the concerns of their constituents are backed up by peer-reviewed science. Unfortunately, even though they commissioned this scientific study, they are not showing the leadership necessary to protect residents and communities. This leaves it to our provincial governments to take leadership on this issue,” notes Gretchen Fitzgerald from the Sierra Club.
The board of directors of Go Western Newfoundland, an organization representing more than 600 registered tourism operators along the west coast of Newfoundland, are asking for a hold until “an independent, science- based, comprehensive assessment of all aspects of the project be conducted.”
“In light of the lack of scientific knowledge outlined by the Council of Canadian Academies, we have serious concerns about hydraulic fracturing and its potential impact on workers’ health and safety as well as our drinking water,” says Jeannie Baldwin, Atlantic regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
“We want a commitment from government for an external, public, independent review. The public deserves nothing less,” said Wayne Hounsell of the Port au Port/Bay St. George Fracking Awareness Group. “The government is currently conducting a number of public reviews, for example on power outages and Bill-29. Surely public concern over fracking and the future of the west coast of Newfoundland are just as important. Premier Marshall has asked for the public to give him feedback. That is what these sixteen groups are doing,” he adds.