The N.W.T. government says it won`t push through proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing before the Nov. 23 territorial election, as it had originally hoped.
The government had planned to finalize the regulations after a series of public engagements and get the regulations approved by cabinet by the fall.
But in a press release issued Thursday afternoon, Dave Ramsay, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, said "it is clear that N.W.T. residents want to discuss this issue further."
Ramsay's announcement comes after the government held public engagement sessions in 12 communities across the North during the spring and summer. At several of those meetings, the debate quickly turned from the proposed regulations to the question of whether fracking should happen at all, with some calling for an all-out ban.
In June, Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins led an unsuccessful motion asking for a plebiscite on the matter. On Thursday, shortly after Ramsay's press release, Hawkins wrote on Facebook that "the pressure created by northerners has finally gotten this government to start listening."
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Nancy Vail, a member of the Fracking Action North coalition, says she felt mixed about the news.
"It gives people more time to talk about this and figure out how they feel about this. People are coming back after their summer hiatus."
But Vail fears Ramsay's announcement is just a preemptive election move by cabinet members who don't want the fracking issue to taint their chances of reelection
"I'm sure there's a few candidates who do not want to be dealing with this issue as we move into an election. They know that this is a hot issue."
The government's decision to halt the regulations doesn't mean the issue will go away, she adds.
"I think people will be making them figure into this debate. In the view of many people, this election is about caretaking of the environment."
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In his release Thursday, Ramsay said the government recognized that people want more time to think about how resources are managed and developed in the territory.
"We have heard this message and will take the time needed to ensure we make the necessary preparations to sustainably and safely manage oil and gas development in the Northwest Territories."
As currently drafted, the government's regulations would, among other things, require a company to state up front if it is willing to publicly disclose information like which chemicals it will use in fracking fluids. But the regulations stop short of requiring that information to be publicly available.
Some companies are already posting that information online.