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Environment, Ontario Politics

Opposition Bill Wants Ontario to Ban Fracking

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns speaking with reporters at Queen's Park. (CBC News Image.)

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns speaking with reporters at Queen’s Park. (CBC News Image.)

New Democratic MPP Peter Tabuns introduced a private member’s bill Wednesday encouraging the Liberals to adopt a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the province.

Tabuns, a former executive director of Greenpeace Canada and his party’s Environment and Climate Change critic, said the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne should follow the lead of Ontario’s neighbours, many of whom — Quebec and New York state, in addition to the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — have already outlawed the disputed oil and gas extraction procedure.

“There is no need for Ontario to risk environmental damage and lawsuits by leaving the door open for this controversial business,” Tabuns said in a release. “Let’s learn from the hard experiences of others and act now.”

In his 2012-2013 Annual Report, Ontario’s environmental watchdog argued the province’s history oil and gas removal has left it with adequate rules and regulations to govern traditional resource extraction methods. But the process of blasting pressurized water and undisclosed chemicals underground to break up rock to release oil and gas from subterranean deposits, known as “fracking”, remains unregulated.

“There is no policy or regulation that specifically addresses the unique concerns related to fracking,” Commissioner Gord Miller wrote. “Sufficient regulation is necessary for safeguarding properties, citizens and the environment.”

No licences have been issued in Ontario for fracking to date, but Tabuns notes “there are rumours” of interest from gas developers to explore and potentially exploit shale gas deposits in the province.

The lack of actual fracking activity or applications is good news for now, in that the government has an opportunity to get ahead of the game and put rules in place, Miller notes. There are “serious environmental concerns” related to fracking, including land rehabilitation and methane release. But none are larger than fears over excessive water use and groundwater contamination.

“If hydraulic fracturing were to take place in Ontario for shale gas extraction, the government must ensure that water takings and the generated wastewater are managed properly,” Miller wrote. “As the regulators, it is [the government’s] role to set appropriate standards for this developing process, and establish/ensure suitable inspection and enforcement provisions.”

Tabuns, meanwhile, would rather the “appropriate standard” advocated by Miller be an absolute ban. We’ll see in April when the bill is debated at Queen’s Park whether Wynne and Environment Minister Glen Murray agree the province can do without fracking.

Earlier today, left-leaning advocacy group Council of Canadians (CoC) issued a release praising the proposed ban as a crucial step in protecting the health of the Great Lakes.

“If passed, this bill would signal the continuing wave of moratoria on fracking that we are seeing in Eastern Canada,” said CoC water campaigner Emma Lui.

The Liberals have already signalled their interest in furthering fracking in the province, the Council writes. The Ministry of Natural Resources released an aerial survey of shale formations in 2010 “with the purpose of assisting gas companies in exploration,” they note, in addition to a 2012 study from the Ontario Geological Survey on shale gas potential.

“A ban on fracking is needed to prevent the public health risks associated with fracking chemicals … and combat declining water sources,” Lui wrote. “We need to stop fracking to protect the waters of the Great Lakes once and for all.”

Todd Lane, spokesperson for Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Bill Mauro, told Reeves Report in an emailed statement there are no active explorations occurring in Ontario at this time, nor are there any applications to do so before the ministry.

“Legislative or regulatory changes to the Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Act would be required before fracking could be allowed in the province of Ontario,” Lane said. “At this time, Ontario will not approve any shale activities. Should a proposal for shale development come forward, we would consult with stakeholders, Aboriginal communities and the public on next steps.”

But Tabuns believes any advancement on shale gas would undermine the Liberal’s commitments to fight climate change.

“The Premier has made it clear that climate change demands urgent action,” Tabuns wrote. “She has a chance to avoid a significant new source of greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario and hopefully will take it.”

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