MLA calls Sahtu fracking info ‘one-sided’

MLA calls Sahtu fracking info ‘one-sided’
A double flare site burns excess natural gas on the Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, one of many contributing to approximately $1-billion of natural gas burned and sent into the atmosphere each year. A well blowout on the reserve in February released 1,500 barrels of oil and fracking brine into a nearby lake. MLA Bob Bromley complained that there was no mention of the blowout during the NWT delegation’s trip to the Bakken earlier this month.Photo: Bob Bromley

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley questioned the neutrality of the third-party organization leading informational sessions on hydraulic fracturing in the Sahtu last week, claiming the talks organized by the department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) were “one-sided.”

The Indian Resource Council (IRC) visited Fort Good Hope, Norman Wells, Tulita and Deline last week, with folks from Colville Lake being flown in, to combat misinformation on fracking at the behest of the communities, ITI Minister David Ramsay said in legislature last week.

“It is not a sales pitch by industry. It is being carried out by a third party, a neutral third party,” he said. “The more education we can do on the hydraulic fracturing here in the Northwest Territories, the better off we will be.”

While Bromley said he supports having a multitude of community meetings on the subject of unconventional oil and gas development in the Sahtu, he challenged the notion that last week’s events – sponsored in part by oil and gas company ConocoPhillips, which has plans to frac in the region this winter – were neutral.

“The Indian Resource Council is a group that represents oil-producing First Nations. It is not likely that we will get a balanced view from them,” Bromley said. “I totally agree that it is important for the people of the Sahtu to learn more about what is being planned for their region. It is their land and communities that will be most affected. But looking at the agenda and speakers, I see that the one-sided tour that we had in North Dakota is continuing in the Sahtu.”

The IRC, founded in 1987 by chiefs of oil and gas producing First Nations, works to support First Nations in attaining greater control over their petroleum resources.

Norman Wells resident and contractor Rick Muyres, who attended the session in his community last Monday night, said it touched upon the technical side of fracking, but was mostly a session by Aboriginal leaders from Alberta instructing First Nations in the area on how to benefit economically from the fracking industry.

“I’m not meaning to be critical, but it was an infomercial,” he said. “The time wasn’t spent on fracking…The first two hours and by far the majority of the last hour and a half or so was informercial stuff – the benefits of what you can get from it…It was salesmanship.”

Muyres said he would like to see more information coming from a closer jurisdiction like northern British Columbia, rather than North Dakota or southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and with more of a focus on the technical and environmental challenges.

“Why did they go to North Dakota? Why didn’t they go to Fort Nelson? Why are we going there when there’s something going on for 10 years in our backyard, the Horn River play in Nelson?…Definitely whatever’s going to go on here is going to be a lot closer to the environment in Fort Nelson,” Muyres said.

“The difficulties we’re going to have over here are scientific; that’s what’s gotta be dealt with. None of that’s being presented, I don’t think. I don’t know what the safeguards are, but we’ve got to develop them.”

Trip to Bakken shale play also biased: Bromley

Bromley complained earlier in Legislature last week that the NWT delegation’s visit to the Bakken shale play in southern Saskatchewan and North Dakota at the beginning of the month, though informative, also showed only one side of the story.

“Our tour was busy and informative, with meetings from morning until night with industry, regulators, legislators and First Nations. It was also very one-sided, with little on the environmental and social side,” he said.

He complained that the delegation did not visit one of the more than 800 waste water pits in North Dakota or learn of the 25 per cent that overflowed from high rainfall last spring, and that there was no mention of the well blowout on the Berthold Indian Reservation last winter, which leaked unknown fracking chemicals into Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River.

“Local media and even inspectors covered that one up. Nobody wanted to get in the way of the oil companies who are making billions, but also paying the reservation $25 million per month and climbing,” Bromley said.

“Finally, while on our tour, one of the largest ever oil spills on US soil was happening in the area and no one mentioned a thing about it,” he said, regarding the pipeline rupture that leaked 20,600 barrels of oil onto the countryside, first detected at the end of September.

He requested additional educational sessions be done in coordination with the department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Ramsay said he would be open to the possibility.

“We would certainly look at getting the information out there and if it is hosting another community education symposium or workshop, call it what you will, that is what we want to see happen. We need to continue to get the misinformation off of the table and the real facts put squarely on the table,” the minister said.

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