Environmentalists could undermine shale-gas plans, Alberta cabinet documents suggest

EDMONTON — Leaked Alberta cabinet documents suggest the province is worried environmental groups will undermine public support for shale gas development by spreading "misinformation" about health and environmental effects of chemical fracking.

The records show the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers or CAPP has offered to work with the government to "enhance" public relations efforts. CAPP, a powerful industry lobby group, is the only non-governmental organization that will be consulted during inter-governmental talks.

"Shale gas environmental concerns in the media ... are potentially problematic for energy development and environmental management in Alberta," an Aug. 3 briefing note says. "Several initiatives are underway by different groups within government and industry ... to address emerging issues and public interest concerns."

The documents were leaked to the NDP on Thursday, one week after federal documents obtained under access to information laws revealed CAPP helped organize the Alberta government's public relations strategy to polish the image of the oilsands.

A draft project outline attached to the briefing note elaborates on government concerns, saying the public is being exposed to a "mixed package" of information and may not be able to come to an informed decision.

"Environmental non-government organization are supporting an ill-informed campaign on hydraulic fracturing and water-related issues in British Columbia and this is expected to grow as shale gas development expands into Alberta and Saskatchewan," the outline says.

"The New West Partnership lacks a cohesive inter-governmental and inter-agency strategy to address growing public concern in the rapid expansion of shale gas development."

NDP environment critic Rachel Notley called on the government to launch an independent investigation into the safety of hydraulic fracking.

"The Conservative government has already made its decision around the safety and the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing of shale gas," Notley said.

"Having made that decision, they are now proceeding to simply find ways to enable industry to access it as quickly as possible."

She said the documents show the government was"colluding" with other government and industry to manipulate public opinion.

"The Conservative government is working behind closed doors with industry without any kind of public participation," she added.

The briefing note was prepared by environmental policy officials and says "the Ministry of Energy is seeking the support of Alberta Environment for this project."

Energy department spokesman Jay O'Neill said the project outline is a draft document and has not been formally adopted by Alberta. "There were still changes being made to it as late as last week," O'Neill said of the document.

The government has not decided whether to collaborate with CAPP regarding public relations, he said, and he is unaware of any plans to conduct and independent or scientific review of fracking safety.

The leaked document also prompted the Alberta Federation of Labour to call on Alberta's lobbyist registrar to investigate the possibility that CAPP has failed to register to lobby the government on shale gas messaging.

"None of the individuals lobbying the government on behalf of CAPP are registered as CAPP lobbyists," the letter says.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, shoots a mix of water, chemicals and sand deep into the earth to break up shale rock and releases oil or natural gas.

The practice is controversial, as critics fear the chemicals will leak into the water supply.

In May, Duke University published the first peer-reviewed scientific study linking fracking activity with drinking water that has become so contaminated it can be lit on fire.

Jessica Ernst, an Albertan from Rosebud, has long claimed her water can be lit on fire due to fire due to fracking activity nearby.

Earlier this month the New York Times published a story revealing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found drinking water contaminated by fracking as far back as 1987.

Edmonton Journal, Thurs Aug 18 2011
Byline: Karen Kleiss

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.