Gros Morne fracking issue causing significant reaction
Tourism industry stakeholders, area residents and anti-fracking groups are weighing in on plans for controversial oil exploration near Gros Morne National Park.
Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador CEO Carol Ann Gilliard said Gros Morne attracts tourists from all over the world and she's afraid the industry will take a big hit if the park loses its UNESCO world heritage site status.
"Gros Morne National Park is a world-renowned site and it is one of the biggest demand generators," said Gilliard.
Black Spruce Exploration wants to use hydraulic fracturing – a controversial process of injecting chemicals into rock to flush out oil and gas. The exploration would be done just a few kilometres outside the park's boundaries.
UNESCO said that kind of activity could jeopardize the park's status.
Gilliard echoes that sentiment.
"There's been forty years of strategic tourism investment made by the private industry and by private interests to build it up as a sacred place for tourism. We want to make sure that this crossroads [that] we're on is based on evidence and research —and there's a comprehensive analysis on what all the positive and negative impacts will be."
Gilliard said there is still a lot to be determined about how fracking could impact the park, adding a detailed analysis must be done before any decisions are made.
"There are a lot of concerns about air pollution, noise pollution, the traffic volumes, the impact on the brand ... and it is really worrisome."
Meanwhile, residents who live near the park agree that UNESCO's world heritage designation is key to tourism and hype for the area.
Karole Pittman is a member of several anti-fracking groups and spends most of her time researching the side effects of the practice from her home in Rocky Harbour.
She's glad UNESCO finally spoke out.
"Hopefully people will come out and find out what's going on," Pittman said.
Pittman believes just the talk that UNESCO might de-list the site means tourism will suffer.
"Right now it's a quarter of the annual tourism income for the whole province here on the west coast — that's a lot of money."
Jackie Hunter owns Java Jack's restaurant in Rocky Harbour, and she also has concerns.
"This is my 14th season, and every year is busier," said Hunter.
"I think the long-term economic benefits of having a beautiful, protected area far outweighs what little oil they're going to find."
Hunter believes losing UNESCO's stamp would change the area completely.
"It would be a tragedy to lose a world heritage designation in my opinion. Let's hope that something good will come of the number of people that are quite verbally opposing fracking in Gros Morne."