North

Norman Wells has its say on draft fracking regulations

Calls for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing mixed with calls for further oil and gas development at the latest public meeting on proposed rules for fracking, held in Norman Wells Wednesday.

Last of sessions planned for Sahtu region in Tulita Wednesday night

Attendees of a Tulita public engagement session on draft rules for fracking in the N.W.T. started by reciting the Lord's Prayer Wednesday night. (Peter Sheldon/CBC)

Calls for a moratorium on fracking mixed with calls for further oil and gas development at a session in Norman Wells to discuss the N.W.T. government's planned regulations for hydraulic fracturing. 

A group of about 25 people attended the session at Norman Wells' Legion Hall early Wednesday afternoon, with tensions sometimes running high.

Heidi Hodgson-Deschene, a board member representing the Norman Wells Land Corporation, says the government's engagement sessions on proposed fracking rules aren't sufficient. (Peter Sheldon/CBC)

The meeting began with Heidi Hodgson-Deschene, a board member representing the Norman Wells Land Corporation, reading a prepared statement saying that the sessions being hosted by the territorial government aren't sufficient — a concern voiced by residents in Fort Good Hope during a session held earlier this week. 

Deborah Archibald, the government's assistant deputy minister of mineral and petroleum resources, told the audience in Norman Wells that David Ramsay, the minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, will hold separate sessions to consult aboriginal groups.

"This is not consultation. This is public engagement," said Archibald.

'Canoeists...ain't gonna cut it'

Later, Todd McCauley, the president of the Tulita District Land Corporation and the owner of a company seeking to offer telecommunications services to oil and gas companies with projects south of Norman Wells, spoke in favour of further development.

"This town needs economy," he said. "Canoeists coming down the river ain't gonna cut it."

Another local business owner, Chris Buist, told CBC he couldn't attend the session because it was happening at lunch hour, a bad time for businesspeople, he said. 

N.W.T. government staff answered questions from the public after the engagement session wrapped up Wednesday afternoon in Norman Wells. (Peter Sheldon/CBC)

No fracking happening

There are currently no companies conducting hydraulic fracturing in combination with horizontal drilling in the N.W.T. ConocoPhillips fracked two wells south of Norman Wells in early 2014, but has since said it has no plans to return to the wells "in the forseeable future" to do further exploration work. Husky Energy, another player in the Sahtu region's Canol shale oil play, has said it has no plans to drill next year.

Fracking and the work that accompanies it is seen by some as a way of injecting new life into Norman Wells' oil and gas economy, which for years has been anchored by Imperial Oil's Norman Wells production field.

Though production at that field has been in decline for years, Imperial Oil said at a hearing last summer that production at the field is expected to continue until 2025 or 2030.

The last fracking engagement session scheduled for the Sahtu region, in Tulita, takes place Wednesday night at the community centre starting at 6 p.m.

The session had been previously scheduled for 7 p.m.

Follow Peter Sheldon's tweets here or on Twitter at @pasheldon.

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