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Fracking resistance strategic meeting held in Saskatoon

Environmental group needs more information
Saskatchewan Eco Network

Regina, Saskatoon – On Feb. 28 approximately 35 people gathered in Saskatoon for a “fracking resistance strategic meeting.”

The event was organized by the Saskatchewan Eco Network (SEN), an umbrella group for several non-profit environmental organizations within the province. Later that day SEN held its annual general meeting.
Rick Morrell, executive director of SEN, spoke to Pipeline News by phone on March 19 from his organic food grocery store in Regina called Eat Healthy Foods. Morrell also has an organic mixed farm near Regina.
Pipeline News had asked to attend the meeting in Saskatoon, but was informed the media would be excluded by a decision of the board from this organizational meeting.

The meeting was called for by two of SEN’s member organizations, but Morrell would not say which ones. When an issue comes to the fore, SEN will form a working group among its membership to address it.
“There was an assumption, going into the meeting, we were talking about fracking for gas. The nature of the meeting changed and goals of the meeting changed immediately that we saw the issues were different,” Morrell said. “I think the other biggest thing is there’s a lot of research to do. Clearly, the legislation that’s in place we don’t feel is adequate to ensure things are done properly, but we don’t have enough data, yet, to state policy positions or a strategy we can explain. We need to keep on collecting data to see where we need more research to make decisions.”

“In Saskatchewan it’s a little different. In most jurisdictions they’re fracking for natural gas, which there’s some fairly spectacular side effects to that in terms of water quality and health. In Saskathchewan it’s fracking for oil, so it’s a little bit different. The effects aren’t so spectacular, but there’s still impacts on the soil around certain wells,” he said. “There’s still the potential for fairly serious contamination of water if fracking fluids aren’t disposed of properly.”
Morrell brought up the issue of salinity from salt water spills.

The agenda of the meeting included two speakers. One was Dr. Emily Eaton, an associate professor of geography at the University of Saskatchewan. Pipeline News featured her in a story in our August 2014 edition, detailing her research into the impact of oil in Saskatchewan. Eaton spoke on “Fracking for oil in Saskatchewan: risks, impacts and the potential for resistance.”

The other speaker was Regina lawyer Larry Kowalchuk. He represented New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance in opposition to proposed fracking in that province. New Brunswick has since enacted a moratorium on shale gas development. Kowalchuk’s presentation was on “Fracking resistance in New Brunswick, and the potential for litigation to achieve a moratorium on fracking in Saskatchewan.”
Several farmers also spoke about surface rights issues, according to Morrell. Some farmers don’t want fracking to occur on their land.

There were also concerns raised by landowners about their inability to stop oil and gas activity on their land if they do not own the mineral rights on it.

“There are farmers that feel like they don’t want this stuff on their land, and they don’t have a choice. They either sign the contract or they get expropriated. They feel that if it’s your land, it’s your land. You should have the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”

Morrell added those farmers felt bullied as a result.

“The meeting went on for some hours, and quite a bit was discussed. I think where we ended up was talking about fracking and oil in general.”

“We need to leave 80 per cent of the oil in the ground if we’re not going to see the temperature increases that creates severe danger for our future,” Morrell said, noting there is “consensus out there,” about the need to leave 80 per cent of known reserves in the ground, as well as any additional reserves.

Potentially contaminating water for a resource “that needs to stay in the ground is problematic for us,” he said.

“Even if you only take the oil that’s easy to get at, we still need to leave a bunch of that in the ground. Tar sands makes no sense to us at all, and luckily right now it doesn’t make financial sense either. Anything that’s a more difficult-to-get-at source of oil, there’s really no point, if we want to be responsible to the future.”

Morrell added, “There needs to be a whole bunch more research done on where the fluids are going and what’s happening to soil around wells that are fracked.”
He spoke of farmers who had damage from “salt seepage.”

“Any kind of extractive industry, whether it’s oil or anything else, if you can’t do it without messing up the ecosystem, and messing up people’s health, you shouldn’t be doing it, period. This isn’t the Eco Network, this is my own perspective.”

Of the approximately 35 people in attendance throughout the day, about two-thirds were from urban centres – Regina and Saskatoon, and one third from rural. About six to eight people came from oil-producing areas, he said.
“One thing we didn’t have was First Nations representation. There was one person, but we expected a lot more,” he said, noting that providing a travel allowance would have helped. That would be resolved in a follow-up meetings on March 20-22 called “Land and Community: Responses to Resource Extraction in Saskatchewan.”

That weekend would be a much broader-based discussion.

Its March 20 agenda noted, “An evening panel open to the public featuring Candyce Paul from the Committee for Future Generations, Myranda Lemaigre from the Northern Trappers Alliance, and other guests TBA.”
The following day would feature “A workshop designed to bring together a diverse group of people including Indigenous land defenders, environmental activists, and landowners affected by resource extraction (oil, uranium, potash, etc.) in Saskatchewan. This workshop aims to develop strategic responses to the growing social and environmental impacts of extraction and increase our capacity for collective action.”

Finally, March 21 would have “An Indigenous-led workshop addressing the unique challenges that face Indigenous communities affected by resource extraction. The goal of this workshop is to provide a space for those impacted by resource extraction to share experiences and develop a network of solidarity. Participants will also receive training in non-violent direct action and in communicating with the media and allies.”

Dr. Eaton was listed as one of the contacts for the event.

As for the Feb. 28 meeting, when asked why the fracking resistance strategic meeting was held roughly a four-hour drive from the nearest fracked well, and not someplace like Carlyle where people are directly affected, Morrell responded, “That’s a really good question. It was also our AGM (annual general meeting.) Most of our member groups are around Saskatoon. Some are around Prince Albert, some are in Meadow Lake. But Saskatoon is pretty central to our member groups.”

“I would say a next step would make sense to start having meetings in those areas. This was to see if our member groups wanted to prioritize this and whether they wanted to put staff time into it and go with it.”
They “got to a certain place” with the initial meeting, and he expected more to occur during the March 20-22 meetings.

Asked what the consensus was at the end of the first meeting, Morrell said it was more about stopping climate change.

“I think there needs to be more analysis about how much land is being affected and how much land is being salinized by fracking, how much water is being affected by either improper disposal or the fracking itself.”

There wasn’t a decision to focus on coming against deep-well oil fracking. “There wasn’t a decision to have a bunch of meetings to organize to mobilize to go to Carlyle to ban fracking. That decision wasn’t made.”
“The discussion isn’t concluded.”

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