A coalition calling itself “Fracking Action North” launched a petition last week calling for the territorial government to use its regulatory authority to refer all future fracking applications to a full environmental assessment, including public hearings.
The NWT chapter of the Council of Canadians, Alternatives North and Ecology North posted their online petition on Feb. 7, asking all concerned residents of the NWT to sign the request to have the GNWT invoke its authority under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA).
The petition will collect signatures until Mar. 7. Once closed, it will be presented to the Legislative Assembly in hopes that government will commit to referring all future fracking applications to the assessment stage.
“Such huge decisions of this nature should never happen without a full, comprehensive public environmental assessment,” said Lois Little, co-chair of the NWT Council of Canadians. “That is the process that we have to table all of the information and to allow people to have a voice and question various practices. In one way, that’s really a validation that people’s concerns are important; people who have to live with the consequences of this should never have decisions made without them being involved in it.”
The petition was created in response to the approval of the territory’s first and only existing horizontal hydraulic fracturing project in the Sahtu. Last summer, the Sahtu Land and Water Board allowed the application by oil company ConocoPhillips to bypass the environmental assessment process and go straight to the permitting phase.
Despite public outcry in the region and elsewhere across the territory, ConocoPhillips is currently fracking its first exploratory shale oil wells this winter near Norman Wells.
“The fact that the previous one went ahead without environmental assessment left people with a lot of questions,” said Christine Wenman of Ecology North. “And there seems to be a lot of potential in the area, so we’re anticipating a couple more (applications) soon, and perhaps more after that. So those issues should have been looked at previously, but it’s certainly not too late to look at them now.”
Husky Oil, which holds leases in the Sahtu region, is rumoured to be bringing forth a fracking application within the next month.
Wenman said a full environmental assessment is important, not just for allowing people to voice concerns and have questions answered, but to open up a dialogue on the cumulative effects of industry.
“Unless there’s a broader environmental review, then the opportunity to really look at cumulative impacts isn’t there. Because the potential in this one region is so high and so many leases are out there, we expect the cumulative impacts to be significant. So that, I would say, is one of the more pressing concerns,” she said.
Both Wenman and Little believe support for the petition is going to be huge, taking into consideration local petitions in the Sahtu requesting a ban on fracking received 200 signatures in Tulita and 900 more in Fort Good Hope, alone.
The petition had just over 200 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
“People in the Sahtu region and throughout the Northwest Territories seem to have a lot of questions and they’re trying to figure out the right avenues to have those questions answered. So this just seems like a good next step because the regulatory system is there to make sure public concern is addressed and environmental concerns are mitigated,” Wenman said.
Though the focus is on the next move of the Legislative Assembly, Little said the petition will also give a heads-up to regulators and other public bodies capable of triggering an environmental assessment that doing so is in the public’s will.
“There obviously will be hundreds if not thousands of names on this petition, and that’s going to cause all orders of governments to really take a look at what their authority is with respect to this,” she said.
The petition is available online at http://epetition.lant.public-i.tv/epetition_core/community/petition/26141 comment