Fracking plan draws little support at Port au Port meeting
Natural resources minister says he will collect more evidence before making a decision on oil plan
There were plenty of questions and criticism Sunday evening for a company's plans to find oil in western Newfoundland through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
About 300 people crowded into a hall in Port au Port East to hear details — and voice their concerns — about Shoal Point Energy's proposal to use fracking at three sites along Newfoundland's west coast, including on the Port au Port Peninsula.
Five MHAs, including Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall, attended the meeting, which featured experts with different points of view making presentations.
Resident Don Dunphy said he wants government to proceed very cautiously with the fracking plan. If approved, Shoal Point would inject water, sand and chemicals into the ground to explore for oil.
"I would welcome a much-needed economic boost to the area and the resulting contribution to the entire province in the way of royalties," said Dunphy.
"But I do not want to see this happen at any cost, especially at the expense of our environment. I would rather see it stay in the ground," he said.
Calvin White, an elder from the Mi'kmaq community of Flat Bay, said government should have started its community consultations years ago — especially in 2004, when the government let a fracking operation happen in his community.
"It's going to be tough to be able to come out and talk about the positive things that can happen from this kind of undertaking," White told the meeting.
"You have to be honest. You should have started it in 2004," he added.
Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall responded to many of the questions from the public, and got fired up during one exchange.
"I don't care what anybody in this room says to me, I'm going to do the right thing," said Marshall, who said he will gather evidence before he makes his own decision.
"We are going to do the right thing for the people of this province, based on evidence, not on raw emotion," he said.
Environmental assessment will be required
Shoal Point Energy has yet to formally submit a proposal to the government, and an environmental assessment will be required before any fracking happens.
But some residents do not want the plan to go even that far.
"As you can see today, I think it's almost unanimous that most people here today are really concerned about that," said Bob Diamond.
"I didn't hear one person in any way get up at this mic today and support plans for fracking, and most people are disappointed in the way government is dealing with this."
Emili Martin said fracking will not mix with the tourism industry, particularly in such areas as Gros Morne National Park, which is near one of Shoal Point's proposed sites.
"We have all these potential wells that could occur, there's [potential problems with] water, there's all these trucks going up and down — how could that not affect tourism?" she said.
"We're selling a destination. It's like, you wouldn't sell sour milk — you're not going to sell sour water," said Martin.
With files from Jeremy Eaton