Alberta MLA confident in NB shale gas rules3/12/2013
Despite public demonstrations and criticisms, the MLA for Albert said he thinks government’s regulations on the shale gas industry are the “toughest in North America” and should help allay citizen concerns over the industry.
“There are some people there with an issue about shale gas and of course we’ve listened to them and I always say they certainly have a right to protest or do whatever they wish,” said Wayne Steeves. “As an MLA we take all these things seriously, we have a lot of things that we have to look at when it comes to development and that sort of thing and I respect their rights to protest … At the present time, we’ve put in very stringent regulations and when you’re against something you’re against it (regardless of rules).”
Steeves said he has heard pretty split opinions on the divisive matter in his constituency.
“Some are for it and some are saying ‘look, Albert County has been producing oil and gas since the turn of the century, my grandfather worked in it or my uncle worked in it and my aunt and it was a good industry and they put bread on our table with that.’ I have a lot of different views in my riding,” he said. “Some people are concerned, one lady said that the jobs were only going to be maybe 100 jobs and they would only be good for five years and they would be minimum wage jobs. Somebody said there are going to be trucks on the road. They all have different issues. My issue is that whatever we do, we do it to the best of our ability and put regulations in to make it as safe as possible.”
Whether it’s a minority or a majority of residents is up for debate, but a vocal contingent of Albert County residents continue to band together to try to stop the industry from developing in the region.
Last night, a Walk the Block rally was staged to show objection to oil and gas developments in Albert County. The event followed last week’s protest against fracking in Hillsborough, which saw 200 people in attendance — an unprecedented event in a community of 1,300 people, according to an organizer.
“The overall goal is to ensure that people all down along Route 114 have a good idea of what’s happening and have a good idea of the development that is going to take place in Albert County this summer,” said Deborah Carr, the co-chair of the group Water and Environmental Protection for Albert County. “It’s obvious by the turnouts how people feel about the issue. What is also obvious is that they are not getting a really balanced view of what they can expect from it.”
Despite Steeves’ claims that residents’ opinions are split over shale and oil gas development in the region, Carr said those opposed to the development of the industry represent “an overwhelming majority” from what she’s seen.
“I think that it’s fairly obvious by the turnout that we’ve had for our own public meetings as well as the march, how people feel,” she said. “If you look at the number of people in a community and compare that to how many have actually walked out on the street or come out to meetings, especially in a small rural community, you don’t get that much participation unless there’s a real keen interest in finding out what’s going on.
“We’ve been really surprised to see so many people out and I guess that just goes to show from our own perspective there’s the evidence right there. People are really worried. We want to protect the lifestyle we have down here. We want to protect the environment. There’s certainly a lot of health issues that nobody is aware of.”
Carr said last week’s walk was a success, as it led to Hillsborough’s municipal council passing a resolution to call upon the Government of New Brunswick to stop all approved gas and oil activities, withdraw its approval of licenses to undertake the oil and gas exploration and development and not renew existing licenses within four kilometres of village limits and within four kilometres village water wells, both above and below ground.
Yesterday’s walks took participants past the Riverside-Albert Recreation Centre, where that council held its monthly meeting, with the goal of getting them to support Hillsborough’s resolution.
“Our small group has done the best we can to provide people with peer-reviewed research studies that show how this industry can affect their health and well-being, as well as actual studies that show the after-effects of industry on rural areas,” Carr said. “We have done so in a reasonable and responsible manner and asked people to make up their own mind. People recognize that we are delivering information from the perspective of community folk who have absolutely nothing personal to gain. There is no financial gain, no claim to fame. And certainly no salary.
“So, when I see 200 people out on the streets in a small rural community, I think it sends a pretty clear message about majority and about the feelings of the community that will bear the weight and repercussions of decisions made in the boardrooms of Fredericton.”
A request was made for comment with the provincial Department of Energy and Mines, but it was not returned by press time.
For his part, Steeves said he wouldn’t be attending any of the public rallies, but he is more than happy to meet individually with any constituents who have concerns.
“I’ve met with the executive of (WEPAC) … I’ll meet with individuals, my office is always open. I talk to my constituents, I talk to those who are for it, I talk to those who are against it,” he said. “I’m always concerned about everything but I mean I have to look at both sides of the fence … I always say there’s their story, my story and the real story. That’s the issue I guess.”
(Times and Transcript)