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Environmentalists Call For Public Hearings on Shale in BC

Several environmental groups are asking the government of British Columbia to follow the example of Quebec in conducting an environmental assessment of shale gas production.

"Given the growing concerns associated with contaminated waterways and dangerous migrations of deadly gas associated with shale gas developments, the time has come for the province of British Columbia to conduct a full public inquiry into the environmental and social impacts of the shale gas industry," Will Koop, spokesman for the BC Tap Water Alliance (BCTWA), said Thursday.

BCTWA and other groups sent a letter to Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman and other provincial officials on Wednesday, petitioning for public hearings on shale gas similar to those held by Quebec from September to November 2010 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 23, 2010; Oct. 6, 2010; and Daily GPI, Sept. 1, 2010). Those hearings led the Quebec government to announce on March 8 that it would conduct a two-year environmental assessment, during which hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) could continue for exploration purposes only (see Shale Daily, March 10).

"I am very concerned about the impact of [hydrofracking] on human health," said Ben West, spokesman for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC), another group that signed Wednesday's letter. "To make things worse, increasingly it seems that some of these projects are meant to provide natural gas to the tar sands to facilitate increased extraction of dirty oil. These [hydrofracking] projects should be stopped until we take a long, hard look at them."

Coleman told an audience in late March that hydrofracking would be allowed to continue unabated in British Columbia despite the developments in Quebec. Both he and a ministry spokesman cited the province's decades-long experience in the industry and strict regulation by the BC Oil & Gas Commission (see Shale Daily, April 4).

But that stance has infuriated environmentalists.

"We are concerned with the province's indifference to this issue," Koop said, accusing the government of ignoring recommendations from the Ministry of Environment since 1991 to conduct an assessment, especially in the northeastern part of the province. "We believe the government should immediately implement a rational public review and planning approach to energy developments in BC."

On Thursday BCTWA claimed that another province, Nova Scotia, "has signaled its intention to hold a similar inquiry process" to Quebec, but it did not elaborate. The natural resources minister for New Brunswick, which borders Quebec, announced on March 14 that a moratorium would not be implemented there (see Shale Daily, March 14).

According to BCTWA and WCWC, Wednesday's letter was sent to Coleman, Environment Minister Terry Lake, and Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson. The letter was signed by BCTWA, WCWC, the Council of Canadians, Sierra Club of BC, Georgia Strait Alliance, and Dogwood Initiative.

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