Communities should send clear ‘no fracking’ message

Manitoulin Island has gone through—is still going through, in fact—the divisive social fallout related to the McLean’s Mountain wind farm to the extent that an outspoken Manitoulin professional must answer to some complaints before a disciplinary committee of his peers.

The point is, people take these kind of changes, that some feel have been thrust upon the community, very seriously to the extent that some families have been divided on the issue, possibly irreparably.

Since The Expositor introduced the possibility of shale gas extraction, a process commonly called fracking, on Manitoulin, no-one has come forward to say that Manitoulin Island and its known deep-rock natural gas reserves are not on the radar for exploration by businesses bent on wresting every last litre of this form of energy from wherever it’s hidden.

We predict that, based on the wind turbine controversy and the level of concern already expressed in the possibility of fracking on Manitoulin, that the active, industrial pursuit of natural gas by this means on Manitoulin will lead to enormous social division and upheaval.

That is why this paper posed the question it did last week to the candidates seeking election to the office of MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin this Thursday, June 12.

What we hoped to tease out of the candidates was their own parties’ positions on the appropriateness of this method of natural gas mining in Ontario and so the paper used Quebec as a benchmark because in that neighbouring province, at least for now, legislators have taken the position that there will be no fracking in la belle province.

The candidates were given this information and asked to comment on whether their own particular parties might consider the Quebec model in light of health hazards and the possibility of the contamination of aquifers, both issues that have been associated with fracking, particularly in some areas of the western United States.

The Libertarian candidate was fully in favour of the practice and suggested that the process is safe when conducted properly. He suggested that Island residents, if fracking was to take place here, would have recourse to the courts where the onus would be on them to prove, scientifically, in court that their water had been negatively effected. At that point, and if found guilty, his party would support requiring the offending company to provide redress.

The Conservative candidate suggested that Ontario should purchase power, rather than continuing to attempt to be self-sufficient on the issue, from New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania where it is produced by the vast amounts of natural gas reserves this region has. He suggested that this would be preferable and more efficient than exploiting the limited amounts of natural gas Ontario holds.

The New Democratic Party candidate stated that his party is concerned about the negative environmental impacts associated with fracking, particularly its potential for the contamination of drinking water and cited environmental experts including Dr. David Suzuki and Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller as sharing these concerns.

The NDP candidate went on to state that, were his party to form the government, fracking should not proceed until environmental concerns have been addressed and, presumably, either laid to rest (as the Libertarian candidate believes they already have been) or deemed to outweigh any benefits fracking could offer Ontarians.

The Liberal candidate was more aggressive in his stance against fracking and stated that he felt the industry would, on Manitoulin, pose a threat to the agricultural and aquaculture industries here and that these sustainable industries were far more important to protect, implying that these would be sacrificed for short-term gains associated with fracking, at least on the Island.

He did, however, use Manitoulin as an example for the entire province when he declared that if he were to be elected, he would introduce a private member’s bill which would emulate the Quebec position on the fracking industry and would prohibit it.

Presumably all of the candidates, when they publicly answer questions during the election campaign period, have their answers carefully scrutinized by the policy people within their particular parties so that the candidates’ positions mirror those of their party’s platform and so can be defended by the party leader.

People who are concerned about the impact fracking would have on Manitoulin Island can be optimistic that the Liberal candidate’s stated promise to introduce a private member’s bill which would ban this particular practice in Ontario (at least until presumably, it could be demonstrated that it offered no health and environmental drawbacks) would enjoy the support of the Liberal caucus.

It should also be supported by the NDP caucus, based on that party’s candidate’s stated position of concern about fracking.

As another measure of support for the health and well-being of the community, Manitoulin’s municipal and First Nations councils should consider introducing, for each of their jurisdictions, bylaws and band council resolutions stating that they are “not a willing host” to the practice of fracking within their boundaries.

If we have an MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, backed by their party, that advocates against this technology in Ontario and if Manitoulin Island, through its locally elected municipal and band councillors, makes its own united statement about how fracking is not wanted here, this sends a loud message to Queen’s Park, to Ottawa and to the fracking industry that it is a method of resource extraction that this area has deemed to be, in the long run, unbeneficial.

Hopefully, this is a movement that could start in the Algoma-Manitoulin riding and the District of Manitoulin and be picked up and carried across this province in order to eliminate, before they have a chance to happen, the possibility of the health and environmental dangers that other jurisdictions, notably in the US, have and are experiencing.

These are issues that Manitoulin voters may want to have front of mind when they vote provincially this week and, in the fall, when they are considering the municipal representatives who will best represent their best interests on the fracking issue.