Liberal party members in the Northwest Territories took their concerns about hydraulic fracturing to the national level late last month, passing a resolution to have the party seek out a country-wide strategic environmental assessment on the controversial oil and gas extraction process.
The Western Arctic Liberal Association (WALA) put forward the resolution at the national convention on Feb. 22, where it passed “overwhelmingly,” according to its author Chuck Blyth, a Liberal party member from Fort Simpson.
A strategic national environmental assessment would look at mitigating negative environmental effects, taking into consideration cumulative impacts, implement a sustainable development strategy for the industry, illuminate potential liabilities and ultimately streamline project-level assessments by contributing to an established policy framework.
“We want to get certainty for how fracking is going to work in Canada, which is good for industry, and we want to get fact-based policy happening,” Blyth said. “We want to have it dealt with overall so that individual, small communities aren’t getting forced to reinvent the wheel every time in the environmental assessment business, or not having an environmental assessment.”
Fracking has become a concern for many residents in the Northwest Territories following the approval of the first exploratory project in the Sahtu region undertaken by ConocoPhillips, which went forward without an environmental assessment.
A recent petition to the territorial government asking that all future fracking applications go through the assessment process, including public hearings, received close to 400 signatures.
While he said action could be taken locally, Blyth said policy development on fracking needs to be done at the national level, led by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and with the input of stakeholders and experts.
“We want to have fracking dealt with consistently across the country and look at the bigger issues,” he said, “because some provinces don’t do it all, some provinces do it wide open.”
Blyth said the new Liberal policy will not be for or against fracking.
“Environmental assessment is not about stopping projects; it’s about making things better. The Liberal party is in favour of development, but we want to make sure that we do it in a way that protects the environment,” he said.
Kieron Testart, president of WALA, said the move to make the resolution a priority from the NWT riding emerged from local concerns, which he said have been largely ignored at the federal level.
“What people were telling us was that this issue of fracking was very important to them and their sense of security in the North, and that cuts both ways. There were people very concerned about their futures and opportunities for work, and on the other side we had people very concerned about the environmental health of the land and the sustainability of fracking in the Northwest Territories,” Testart said.
Having such a polarized debate requires a fact-based policy building approach, he said.
“What we’re doing is creating certainty for both sides of the equation,” he said.
The resolution will now become an embedded policy of the Liberal Party that will become part of its platform during the next federal election.