Months of listening and responding to community concerns were key to bypassing an environmental review of plans to conduct hydraulic fracturing on two exploratory horizontal wells near Tulita, according to the company.
“We put in a lot of hard work talking to the land corporations and local beneficiaries,” Eric Hanson, supervisor of operations in the Central Mackenzie for ConocoPhillips Canada, said last week after the Sahtu Land and Water Board (SLWB) gave the company the green light.
ConocoPhillips must get approval from the National Energy Board and post $1.5 million in performance bonds with the federal and territorial governments. It has five years to complete the wells and will start work this summer on baseline environmental studies, Hanson said.
Paul Dixon, executive director, Sahtu Land and Water Board (SLWB), said the board concluded that the mitigation proposed by ConocoPhillips answered concerns raised about water use, fracking and cumulative impacts.
The company must report the existence of any geologic faults in the area. If they present a risk in relation to hydraulic fracturing, the company will not be allowed to proceed without approved plans for prevention and mitigation of seismic events.
It also helped that ConocoPhillips’ application was preceded by one from MGM Energy, which the board referred to the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board.
“ConocoPhillips benefited from that,” Dixon said. “It informed ConocoPhillips where it needed to do advance work. There was no significant expression of public concern as seen with the MGM application.”
MGM Energy withdrew its application and suspended operations after its application to drill an exploratory well was sent to environmental assessment, prompting fears of an economic downturn in Norman Wells if ConocoPhillips took the same course. The business community sent a volley of letters to the SLWB, urging it not to order a review. Last week they applauded the board’s decision.
“I don’t see anything wrong with letting the board know what the public is thinking,” said Norman Wells Mayor Harold McGregor, who called the board’s decision “far-sighted.”
“I believe that there are safeguards that will protect the land and environment,” McGregor said.
Chris Buist, president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, said it “sends a positive message to industry and will promote exploration and provide significant economic and employment opportunities” in the Sahtu.
The board ignored Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, who reminded them that they sent the MGM plan to a review because it was the first to propose use of hydraulic fracturing, which caused concern among community members.
The Fort Good Hope Renewable Resource Council withdrew a letter urging a full environmental review, but Norman Wells resident Ruby McDonald, writing on behalf of several family members, did not.
In a letter to the board, McDonald said her family was concerned about the company’s plans to use water from two small lakes where they fished.
“It seems that water is free for anyone and everyone to use without any consequences,” she wrote. “This needs to change.”