“Opening up the secrecy that surrounds this industry is most definitely a step in the right direction,” said Lois Hill, a resident of Farmington. “Now that we’re going to know what the chemicals are, at least we will have a hope of tracing where pollution comes from if we find those particular chemicals in our groundwater or otherwise contaminating the environment. We will know where they came from.”
Hill was referring to the announcement made by Premier Christy Clark at the Oil and Gas Conference in Fort Nelson that an online database will be created that will list locations where fracking is taking place, and details about the practices and additives used in the process.
Hill said knowing the volumes of water and the toxic chemicals that are being used will probably make the public more skeptical about the practice. She said while she is doubtful that would lead to moratorium on fracking – as has been done in Quebec until researchers there complete an environmental review of the practice – she is hopeful the government and industry regulator will use the information to make “wiser decisions” about industry’s water usage.
“Fresh water is probably in shorter supply these days than natural gas in North America,” she added.
However, PESTS has been pushing for much more comprehensive measures to be implemented to ensure public safety in regards to oil and gas activity, including a full public inquiry under the Health Act into the health implications of that activity. Hill brought that request forward to Minister of Health Michael de Jong at a town hall meeting hosted by the Premier and several of her cabinet ministers in Fort St. John back in March, but said she has been disappointed by the response so far. She said the ministry has only stated they plan on reviewing the potential impacts, and have yet to form a terms of reference for that review.
“The fact of the matter is, we have neighbours – we have more than a two-page list – of residents who have been gassed, who have been exposed to toxic gas,” said Hill. “We’re not talking about a potential health risk, we’re talking about a very real and current health risk, and we haven’t had any satisfaction from the government that they even acknowledge there are health implications.”
She added they have not been invited to provide input on the terms of reference for that review as they were assured in the beginning.
Hill said they have also gotten nowhere on the push to have a more comprehensive air monitoring system set up in the region, which was also a commitment made by the government during that town hall meeting.
PESTS also supports the call that continues to be made by the Peace River Regional District for the government to reinstate the Northeast Energy and Mines Advisory Committee (NEEMAC), a liaison group between industry, government and local residents that was disbanded last year. She said in her own conversations with Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman he has indicated a lack of funding as the issue for not reforming that committee.
Hill said she believes it is absurd that government offers royalty credits to companies to build access roads and pipelines but does not have funding for safety measures such as an air monitoring system, and PESTS would like to see the government offer royalty credits to industry for contributions to safety measures.
“More and more, local residents feel as if we are on our own as far as safety and protecting our health, and I really don’t know what the next step is for us because we are not getting any action from government, we’re getting lip-service,” she said. “They say they are committed to doing something, but it is very vague.”
A call has been made to the Ministry of Energy and Mines to confirm the status of NEEMAC, but that information is not available at this time.