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NL fracking consultations: Rocky Harbour / Gros Morne, night 1

The long-awaited fracking public consultations started last night (Tuesday, 13October2015) in Rocky Harbour, one of the small communities in an enclave of (completely surrounded by) Gros Morne National Park. The Newfoundland and Labrador Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel (NLHFRP) members were all in attendance and although scheduled for 4-7pm, the session went until almost 8:30pm.

There were about 12 scheduled presentations, all given 10minutes to present and an additional 10minutes to respond to any questions from the panel members. It is a very strict process and although they allow for ‘walk-ins’ to sign up to speak before the presentations begin, they seem to frown upon people just wanting to speak at the end. 

All presenters were opposed to fracking, with some going beyond just fracking to talk about the overall oil and gas industry and climate change impacts. Many presenters raised issues around impacts to tourism and the fisheries, as well as concerns about the lack of diversity on the panel (it is made up of five Caucasian, mostly older men, so no women, no indigenous representation) and the intimidation many felt around the process (presenting/public speaking in front of five academic men who are strangers with their back to community members, but also written submissions, formal presentation, etc.). Concerns were raised around the unique ecosystem that is the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the unique geology of the shale play.

Overall it was very calm and polite, with a couple of people speaking up at the end to say they were really too nervous to present but they opposed fracking, including a young mother and a fisherman (many had expressed in their presentations that they had wished they could get the fishermen to participate in this process; overall my impression of the response from fishermen was that they don’t want to think about it and although they know it would negatively affect their livelihood, they couldn’t be bothered to engage in yet another process on yet another industry that could destroy the fishery. And the timing for their industry wasn’t great either.).

I should also mention there was a pattern of the questions coming from the panel, mostly from Dr. Ray Gosine (who is the chair of the panel). Questions were mostly around:

–          Clarification on whether the presenter opposed just fracking, or oil and gas / large-scale developments overall

–          Clarification on the presenters definition of social license / precautionary principle / acceptable risk / buffer zone (which CPAWS and local residents are demanding for the UNESCO world heritage site that is Gros Morne National Park)

–          Clarification on whether, if certain conditions were met, that the presenter might then be ok with fracking (if for example they mentioned the lack of economic benefits, then the panel would ask, “if it were determined that fracking had economic benefits, would you then be ok with fracking?”)

There were still almost 40 people in the room when the session wrapped up, despite the length and also the fact that the session was over the supper hour and they didn’t even provide snacks (I’m told that people on the West Coast eat at 5pm on the dot.). For such a small network of communities, this number of people was quite impressive.

Equally impressive to me was the long-term vision that almost every speaker seemed to have: raising concerns about future generations; the need for alternative and viable, sustainable, long-term solutions to the local economy. There is a strong desire to revitalize the community, to attract more youth to come / stay, and to change tack in a more serious way. No more business as usual; time for outside-the-box thinking.

Perhaps instead of this independent review process, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador should have invested their money in an interactive community consultation about the future of rural areas of the province, which could have resulted in vibrant local economies (instead of being back to where they started before fracking was even a possibility).

On to Stephenville!

(Did I mention I got to do a little hike in Gros Morne while in town?! Breathtaking!!)