Tuesday, 4 June 2013

MLA Bob Bromley on fracking activities in the Northwest Territories

The Fourth Session of the 17th Legislative Assembly


MR. BROMLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Final comments are due today as the Sahtu Land and Water Board decide whether to refer to environmental assessment the proposal by ConocoPhillips to test horizontal, multistage fracking. I'm urging the board to issue direction for a review.

Only last year the board issued a decision referring a similar proposal by MGM to environmental review. In issuing that decision, the board noted that because this is the first proposal of horizontal fracturing in the NWT, significant public concerns have been identified. There is concern regarding the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing given the controversy elsewhere, and given the potential risks to surface and groundwater, referral to environmental review was warranted. All of these concerns are just as valid and pressing with the ConocoPhillips proposal.

Most importantly, we have yet to set limits and thresholds based on publicly set goals in relation to cumulative impacts. Regulatory mechanisms do not exist to actually enforce those targets, and monitoring enforcement and adaptive management processes on which to base permits and management of unconventional oil and gas exploration and development have not been developed.

More specifically, there are no plans for detailed monitoring or mitigation of greenhouse gas impacts including those directly related to the ConocoPhillips application, ongoing project activities or resulting from combustion of any oil or gas that eventually may be produced. Given the comprehensive and daunting understanding that humankind simply cannot afford to burn 80 percent of the already proven global reserves of hydrocarbons, this is surprising.

Public concern remains high in the Sahtu, territorially and beyond. Several jurisdictions in Canada and globally are realizing greater impacts than predicted and moving to restrict or even ban fracking. Questions remain about financial liability from environmental damage of extractive operations. The public is already paying enough to clean up or stabilize the toxic consequences left behind after inadequate reviews.

Our Ministers of Environment and development repeatedly purport to be environmental stewards. In recognition of the hazards of premature fracking and testing prior to establishing limits and thresholds with plans to limit cumulative impacts, and the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms needed to assure this, have the Ministers urged the board to remain consistent and refer the ConocoPhillips to environmental assessment to protect our people?

I will be asking questions.

MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr. Bromley.[...]

[…] Page 24
MR. SPEAKER: […] The honourable Member for Weledeh, Mr. Bromley.


MR. BROMLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions are a follow-up to my Member's statement earlier to the Minister of ENR regarding fracking activities in the Sahtu and the permitting process.  This Assembly has approached this new and
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controversial form of development, both sides of the House, to achieve better understanding of what fracking means for the NWT. ADI's (sic) recommendations report clearly indicated the need for development of policy and regulatory framework, assembly of data, having thorough information and control before potentially damaging decisions are made.

Is the Minister committed to heeding this advice, living up to his own statements that fracking must be environmentally sustainable in ensuring vital monitoring and management plans are in place before fracking goes ahead? Mahsi.

MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr. Bromley. The honourable Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Mr. Miltenberger.

HON. MICHAEL MILTENBERGER: Mr. Speaker, the Government is hard at work, along with working with community members, on the whole issue to do with fracking. We have been doing work now for the last six months or so. We have come up with a draft. It is a best practices policy paper which is being shared within governments and is being shared with the regulators. It is going to come back and be shared with committee. It identifies a lot of the critical best practices across industry. We believe that if they are complied with and they are clear, unequivocal and understandable, we will be able to manage and protect the interests and the balance of economic development of this particular practice. Thank you.
MR. BROMLEY: Thank you to the Minister for that response. I am happy to hear that things are progressing on that front, and hopefully they will be coming to committee soon. I guess it won't be until the fall, but it will be after these decisions are being made.

Last fall the Sahtu Land and Water Board referred an MGM Energy proposal for a fracking test well program to environmental review, citing significant outstanding concerns meriting detailed resolution before work went ahead. Today the board is receiving final submissions on whether that same, still valid logic should be applied to the proposal by ConocoPhillips. The Minister has said repeatedly that fracking must be sustainable and based on sound environmental information and regulatory controls.

Does the Minister support the ConocoPhillips application to environmental review and has he communicated his position to the board?

HON. MICHAEL MILTENBERGER: Mr. Speaker, I think we should make the distinction between the two applications. The MGM Energy one and the ConocoPhillips one. The ConocoPhillips application is very comprehensive. It covers a whole host of areas, which is one of the reasons there was a different decision made by the Sahtu Land and Water Board when they looked at the MGM Energy proposal. It didn't have the same depth and level of comprehensiveness as the ConocoPhillips one does.

The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources has coordinated a response to the Government of the Northwest Territories and there has been review by all of the appropriate departments, Education, Social Services, Health, and Environment and Natural Resources.

Mr. Speaker, when we look at the best practices that we are using as our guide, when we look at what ConocoPhillips has put in their application, there is a great linkage there. We are of the opinion that if in fact ConocoPhillips complies with everything that
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they promised plus the extensive list of mitigating measures put forward by the Government of the Northwest Territories, that this project could proceed, in our mind, without any further requirements, other than meeting those commitments by ConocoPhillips and addressing the concerns raised, that we have supplied to the Sahtu Land and Water Board. Thank you.

MR. BROMLEY: I will take that as a no, despite our Minister reporting being environmentally responsible, and that we do not have policies in place and that we have no decisions made on monitoring and follow-up.

There is nothing in their application on greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation management. We are going to support that, going ahead without review. I am very disappointed to hear that.

As I pointed out, we have yet to set goals and limits on cumulative environmental impacts and thresholds. Regulatory mechanisms don't exist. Unfortunately, adaptive management processes on which to base permits and management have not been developed, and there are no plans for detailed monitoring or mitigation of the greenhouse gas aspect of the proposal.

In keeping with his stated commitment, will the Minister recommit to these requirements and the recommendations of the fracking report as minimum first steps before any exploratory or test permit application is approved? Please reconsider.

HON. MICHAEL MILTENBERGER: Mr. Speaker, as a government, we have to balance many things, and we need to balance the environment and economic development and resource development. We have taken the appropriate steps to ensure we have the policy base that work is underway. We are, at the same time, recognizing that the world is not going to stand still and we need to maintain that balance as we catch up with our policy work. We are going to do that. We have looked very carefully, very thoroughly at the ConocoPhillips application and we are, once again, confident of what ConocoPhillips have put in their application in terms of commitments and if they address the concerns, extensive concerns we've put forward to the land and water board that this project is safe to proceed, recognizing that there is still work to be done, that this is a whole area that is new and we are doing a lot of the further detailed work to catch up that is going to allow them to more effectively address some of the concerns the Member has raised.

MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr. Miltenberger. Final, short supplementary, Mr. Bromley.

MR. BROMLEY: I guess I'll just leave it at this. This government is obviously open for business at any cost. We are always in favour of development and we always fail to protect our people and our land. I think that's a pretty consistent record. So maybe I could just get the Minister to define for me what he sees as balance. Mahsi.

HON. MICHAEL MILTENBERGER: The Member has made a harsh condemnation of the House and, by extension, the Legislature. He's made some sweeping, universal condemnation of this government and the position we take on the balance, the priorities of the 17th Legislative Assembly, the balance between protecting the environment and at the same time balancing that with the need to be able to look at having an economy that is resource-based in this case.

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We are doing that. When you look at the work we're doing across the board as a government on water, on the tools devolution will give us, when you look at the work we're doing on wildlife, on dealing with caribou, when you look at the work we're doing on developing comprehensive policies for tracking that I believe we have demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate our commitment. Alternate energy, the Greenhouse Gas Strategy, we are thoroughly committed and this has been imbedded in our approach as a government. So there is that quest for balance. It's a constant quest, but the Member's sweeping condemnation is harsh. A sweeping condemnation of the government I think is clearly unwarranted. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr. Miltenberger. …"

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