N.W.T. group calls for fracking moratorium, review

Fracking Action North, an N.W.T. group opposed to hydraulic fracturing, is rallying support for a moratorium in the territory until all of the controversial practice's potential impacts are reviewed.

Fracking Action North says potential impacts need to be reviewed

Two exploratory horizontal fracturing wells were drilled by ConocoPhillips near Norman Wells, N.W.T., last winter. (CBC)

An N.W.T. group opposed to hydraulic fracturing is rallying support for a moratorium in the territory until all of the controversial practice's potential impacts are reviewed.

Fracking Action North, a coalition of residents affiliated with the N.W.T. Chapter of the Council of Canadians, Ecology North, and Alternatives North, is asking for people to sign a petition supporting a moratorium and comprehensive review under the territory's Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.

To date, according to lead signatory Eugene Boulanger, the petition has about 100 signatures.

"There's a number of reasons why we're calling for something like this," says Boulanger.

"One, horizontal hydraulic fracturing is new to the N.W.T., and it's clearly controversial because of how much resistance there is to projects very similar across the country, all across the continent, and across the world.

"But also, there's just so many impacts...there's just so many risks, that show fracking and its associated materials are directly related to human health and environmental applications. So it seems to us that we have to push this issue for review so that we can come up with our own position as northerners."

2 wells drilled in Sahtu

ConocoPhillips was the first company to drill and frack two wells in the N.W.T.'s Sahtu region last winter. In August, it submitted an application to drill 10 more exploratory wells in the territory over the next five years. 

In May, a study commissioned by Environment Canada concluded research around hydraulic fracturing is neither detailed enough nor conclusive. After the study was released, the territorial government said they would not change their approach to fracking. ConocoPhillips' exploration project was allowed to proceed after being submitted to the minimum environmental review required by law.

Boulanger says Fracking Action North is not necessarily entirely against the practice, but believes opposition will mount as a result of a comprehensive review.

"We're trying to keep an open mind," he says. "We want to have an open dialogue, a frank discussion among northerners, and industry, and government.

"But we're fairly confident that once all the facts come in, and we see scientific data... I'm confident that northerners will come to the decision themselves that we don't want this."

He says that during his travels through the territory's communities, people are reporting changes in the environment.

"In the Sahtu region, the elders are already saying things like: 'we can't predict things properly, like we used to,'" he says.

"Like when the birds are going to fly up in the spring, or when the ice is going to start thawing. And these things are very dangerous for people who are active land users." 

Fracking Action North's petition is available both online and in most communities, according to Boulanger. He says people have until March 15 to sign.

Last June, the N.W.T. government announced it would hold consultations to draft regulations governing hydraulic fracturing in the territory.