Yellowknifers speaking at Monday’s fracking public engagement session all but unanimously rejected the territorial government’s position.
The GNWT has been touring Northern communities to seek public input on its proposed fracking regulations, and demonstrate that regulatory framework’s viability as an approach to the controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing.
Yellowknife is the latest, and last, stop on that tour. On Monday evening, up to 150 people inside the Multiplex’s DND Gymnasium listened to more than an hour of presentations from five territorial officials.
Representatives of various territorial departments sought to explain the NWT’s proposed fracking regulations, offer background, and reassure residents that government proposals would balance fracking’s economic potential with the North’s environmental health.
Read: Motion to give territory public vote on fracking is defeated
In full: GNWT’s presentation at fracking public engagements (pdf)
Deborah Archibald, assistant deputy minister of mineral and petroleum resources, told the audience the GNWT’s regulations would strengthen the current federal requirements.
“We’ve taken those filing requirements and strengthened then by turning them into regulation. We’ve also added additional requirements in the area of public disclosure and measures to address air quality that weren’t there in the original filing requirements,” said Archibald.
“Disclosure and reporting is important to Northerners. The regulatory regime we have is public and transparent.”
Menzie McEachern, the territory’s director of petroleum resources, said he believes the regulations are strong enough to deliver a thorough examination of companies’ future plans.
“It’s really a heck of a lot of information companies will be expected to submit if these regulations are adopted,” he said. “We fully expect pushback from the industry.”
Read: ‘Staggering’ NWT oil reserve revealed – but it’ll need fracking
But while pushback from the industry may be some way off, pushback in Yellowknife came in waves.
Eighty minutes into the evening, the floor was turned over to the public – and a succession of dissenting views ensued.
The government panel members were decried as ‘puppets’, in industry minister David Ramsay’s absence, while several speakers said the advertised public engagement appeared devoid of genuine dialogue.
Echoing a commonly expressed view in recent months, some residents felt the government had jumped the gun by proceeding straight to a discussion of regulations, without first asking if the territory’s residents wished to pursue fracking at all.
Two voices did advocate fracking from the floor: Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya and Sahtu contractor Danny McNeely.
Both spoke in succession to promote the economic benefits of fracking to the area.
“Learn about the regulations. Learn about the land. I’m not seeing too many people come from outside,” noted Yakeleya. “The Sahtu wants ownership. The Sahtu wants control.”
Read: Fracking: Is the territory asking the right question?
McNeely added: “I think we’ve got a system that’s working. Now we’re making some changes, we’re going to inherit the old system and make it in the north, designed by northerners.”
However, a later speaker claiming to hail from the Sahtu region opposed the use of fracking, claiming Yakeleya did not speak in her name.
The proposed fracking regulations do not need the assent of regular MLAs, nor the electorate, to become law. They must simply be approved by the Cabinet.
The territory says it will take some time to digest feedback from these territory-wide public engagement sessions before the GNWT reaches that stage.