North

MLAs grill N.W.T. Industry minister David Ramsay over fracking

Northwest Territories MLAs grilled Industry Minister David Ramsay yesterday about his department’s approach to fracking, with one MLA later calling for a plebiscite on whether to allow the controversial oil and gas drilling process within the territory.

Yellowknife MLA Robert Hawkins calls for territory-wide plebiscite on controversial practice

Industry Minister David Ramsay grew visibly annoyed as N.W.T. MLAs grilled him on his department’s approach to fracking, with one MLA later calling for a plebiscite on whether to allow the controversial oil and gas drilling process within the territory. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

Northwest Territories MLAs grilled Industry Minister David RamsayThursday about his department's approach to fracking, with one MLA later calling for a plebiscite on whether to allow the controversial oil and gas drilling process within the territory.

Ramsay's department has been seeking the public's input on proposed, made-in-the-N.W.T. regulations for hydraulic fracturing. Some residents have called for a ban.

Yellowknife MLA Robert Hawkins says Ramsay's department should be asking people whether they want fracking to occur in the first place before seeking input on regulations.

"This is like putting icing on a cake and we never asked them if they like cake and we're serving it to them," said Hawkins.

"The Yukon did it. Why is the minister avoiding doing that in our territory?" echoed fellow Yellowknife MLA Wendy Bisaro.

Later Hawkins took to his Facebook page to call for a plebiscite on fracking during this November's territorial election. He said it would give "clear direction to the N.W.T.'s politicians." His early analysis puts the cost of a vote at about $17,000.

Public does have a venue, says minister

Ramsay grew visibly annoyed as the exchanges in the legislative assembly grew increasingly heated.

"We are not going to use the process of hydraulic fracturing at any cost. I've never said that in this house, and I've never said that in the public. So I take offense to that."

Ramsay also defended his department's approach to the fracking issue.

He said his department wants to ensure there are strict rules for fracking in place before any development occurs.

And he said public hearings held by the territory's regulators will provide residents with a venue for weighing in on projects.

"Members on that side of the house seem to want to preempt that entire process… Let us finish the work that we've started. Then we can ask that question."

Later, Ramsay added, "Leadership is not taking a world-class opportunity that we have in the territory and putting it on the sideline."

Last week, the National Energy Board and the territorial government released a study suggesting there are 200 billion barrels of unconventional oil in the Sahtu region, though the recoverable amount of oil was not estimated.

Ramsay says his department is extending the public engagement process on the regulations by another two months, to the end of August — or longer, if necessary.

The government says the exact timing of when the regulations are brought into force depends on the results of the engagement.

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