N.W.T. MLAs extinguish hopes for fracking ban, plebiscite

Northwest Territories MLAs voted down two separate motions on Thursday - one from MLA Bob Bromley that called for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, and another that called for a plebiscite on the controversial process.

Motions for moratorium, plebiscite on hydraulic fracturing voted down in legislature Thursday

MLAs in the Northwest Territories legislature voted Thursday against a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the territory. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

Should Yellowknife residents be allowed to decide if fracking happens in the N.W.T.'s Sahtu region?

That was a key point of debate last night before MLAs ultimately nixed calls for both a temporary ban on fracking as well as a territory-wide plebiscite on whether the much-debated extraction method should be allowed at all.

The twin motions — put forward by Yellowknife MLAs Bob Bromley and Robert Hawkins, respectively — did not receive unanimous support from regular MLAs. All of cabinet, meanwhile, voted against both motions

"We're going to get thousands of people here in Yellowknife that are going to vote against the small community of Norman Wells, the small region of the Sahtu," said Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Alfred Moses of a plebiscite.

"It's not fair to the small communities."

MLA Bob Bromley's motion called for a moratorium lasting either two years or until a public review of the risks and benefits of fracking was completed. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)
Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya, who, like Moses, cast two nay votes, said that if fracking projects, criticized for the amount of water they require, get placed under a moratorium, then so should the Yellowknife-area diamond mines, which have drained several lakes.

"We in the Sahtu never interfered, because we know the benefits down here. We have never said we want a plebiscite on if there should be mining here," said Yakeleya.

"We will not tell you how to do your business in Yellowknife."

Hawkins, after it became clear his motion would not get the support it needed, said: "I was actually quite upset when I heard colleagues suggest this was about region against region.

"Yellowknife is not against any region."

Yellowknife coalition formed in wake of Sahtu death threats

Lois Little poses during an anti-fracking rally in Yellowknife Tuesday. (CBC)
Bromley's motion called for a moratorium lasting either two years or until a public review of the risks and benefits of fracking (akin to the review done in the Yukon) was completed. It echoed a petition, signed by more than 1,100 N.W.T. residents, that was delivered to Bromley on Tuesday by a group of around 40 anti-fracking protesters in Yellowknife.

Nancy Vail, a member of the Fraction Action North coalition, whose group members include Yellowknife-based Ecology North and Alternatives North, disagreed with the suggestion that the anti-fracking movement is largely rooted in Yellowknife, where no fracking, let alone any oil and gas work, is being proposed.

"It was actually people from Norman Wells who approached us a couple years ago and said: 'Will you please help us? We're in trouble,'" said Vail. "That was from people who were getting death threats because they were standing up and saying: 'We don't like this fracking thing.'"

A bad message to companies

Regional tensions were not entirely to blame for why the motions were defeated.

MLAs Robert Bouchard (Hay River North) and Daryl Dolynny (Yellowknife's Range Lake riding) said they objected to the moratorium because they felt it would go against the work already being done to develop territorial regulations on fracking.

Bouchard added that a ban would send a bad message to the oil and gas industry.

"It says to the industry: 'We're shut down for business. We don't want the business here,'" said Bouchard.  

"We know that any kind of holdup, through the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, can have a holdup for 20 years."

Wendy Bisaro, MLA for Yellowknife's Frame Lake riding, voted in support of the moratorium but abstained in the vote on the plebiscite, saying the latter motion came up too late for her to properly consider it.

It says to the industry: we're shut down for business.- Robert Bouchard, MLA, Hay River North

Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake, who seconded Bromley's moratorium motion, abstained from voting on the plebiscite, citing the need for more time for people to understand how fracking works.

MLAs Jane Groenewegen (Hay River South) and Kevin Menicoche (Nahendeh) were not present for the debates and votes.

Timeline for regulations unclear

Dave Ramsay, the minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, has extended the public engagement process on the regulations to the end of August.

It remains unclear, however, if cabinet still intends to approve the regulations by the fall, as originally hoped.

Ramsay's department says that even with the extended engagement, that timetable is still achievable.

The legislative assembly is not expected to be back in session for its last sitting until Sept. 29.


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