New West Partnership Includes CAPP Lobbyists in Fracking Policy Development

The British Columbia Ministry of Energy was designated a "lead agency" in a backroom collaboration with Alberta and Saskatchewan to address water concerns for the province's rapidly expanding shale gas industry. The New West Partnership, an undisclosed collaboration between Canada's three western provinces to expedite shale gas extraction, has held four secret meetings since July 2011 to discuss water issues related to fracking, according to a leaked briefing note, released today by the BC Tap Water Alliance (BCTWA).

The leaked document, including an attached directive, outlines the group's strategies to streamline gas production across the West while minimizing public and stakeholder involvement. The partnership project, which is aimed to design streamlined policy regarding gas extraction including the controversial technique fracking, is also posed to curtail public concern with "proactive" public relations campaigns that will respond to the "ill-informed campaigns" of environmental NGOs, public media and local communities.

The Project Charter outlines the New West Partnership's intentions to manage public opinion with 'consistent messages' regarding environmental concerns which are "potentially problematic" for shale gas development. Despite the group's pretense to stakeholder transparency and "enhanced communication," the only external body consulted so far is Canada's largest oil and gas lobby, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). According to the BCTWA press release, the internal meetings held by provincial regulators and government officials included three unregistered lobbyists representing CAPP, prompting a complaint from the Alberta Federation of Labour.

After receiving a copy of the leaked documents the Alberta Federation of Labour filed an official complaint with Alberta's Ethics Commissioner citing a "possible contravention of the Lobbyist Act." Although CAPP is a registered lobby body, the Federation conceded, none of the present lobbyists were registered to lobby on behalf of CAPP. The in-house meetings, where government officials hosted government and public relations consultants from Encana Corporation, Canadian Natural Resources Limited and Shell Canada, caused some disquiet for the Federation, causing them to state: "it is our belief that the public interest has been undermined in this case."

Shale gas extraction and fracking, although occurring at accelerating rates across the three provinces, have escaped much of the public approval process. In British Columbia especially, calls for an independent investigation into the process have gone largely unheeded. Similar demands in Alberta pose no exception.

"The leaked documents from Alberta are fundamentally disturbing, and challenge the core principles of our democracy" says BCTWA coordinator Will Koop. "The elected leaders and executive energy administrators of western Canada are caving into the petroleum industry, and are excluding public stakeholders from the fracking table."

"If CAPP gets its way, not only will the public suffer from an ill-natured public relations scheme thrust upon it by its own government, but it will have to fund it as well."

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Koop went on to say, "I know from experience that the government has been ignoring our calls, calls from other groups, and from independent MLAs to investigate the process. This document and the information that is being leaked is going to help the public understand where the politics are going."

Part of the problem, says Koop, is that shale gas development tends to occur in remote areas. "I think in part the lack of public engagement has to do with where the fracking is occurring - its quite far removed from where the general public lives and there hasn't been enough critical coverage in the media over a period of a number of years to deal with these concerns."

"British Columbia is kind of being captured by the politics of Alberta and the issue of fracking hasn't really gotten the proper attention, evaluation and analysis by British Columbians." The government agencies in BC, continues Koop, are keeping their distance from the issue. The Ministry of Forests, he says, has not completed a thorough analysis of the lands being used and sold through the leasing process run by the BC Oil and Gas Commission. And the Commission itself is dropping the ball. "What we need is a comprehensive evaluation of what is going on and it isn't there. The Oil and Gas Commission is not doing it and they are the ones with the mandate to do so."

The 2011 BC Oil and Gas Conference, slated to begin tomorrow, is meant to be hosted in the spirit of "Communities Leading Change," yet the lack of community participation to date suggests that unconventional gas development is meant to occur with or without public consent. Like other jurisdictions, Canada's western provinces need to find the community voice necessary to join the discussion and to ensure that more than just industry lobbyists are at the table., Tues Sept 6 2011
Carol Linnitt

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