Oil/gas review panel hears from islanders

  • Jan. 23, 2004 4:00 p.m.

Members of the federal oil and gas moratorium review panel were on the islands Thursday (Jan. 22) to introduce themselves and explain the public hearings they will hold in March or April.
The panel spent the early afternoon in Masset, where the five members of the public who showed up were easily outnumbered by the three panel members – chair Roland Priddle, lawyer Diana Valiela, and former Prince Rupert mayor Don Scott – and their staff of four.
“We’re here to tell people about what we’re doing and how we’re going to do that,” Mr. Priddle said. “We’re looking for people’s ideas on the process.”
Project manager Scott Gedak gave a presentation about the offshore oil and gas question, including background on the moratorium (imposed by the federal government in 1972), and the process the federal government is following before it decides whether to lift this moratorium. The public review panel chaired by Mr. Priddle is just one part of this process, which also includes a science review (this report is supposed to be released next month) and a separate consultation with First Nations.
The Council of the Haida Nation has already announced it won’t be taking part in the review process.
Port Clements resident Jack Miller told the panel that people need more information so they can contribute informed opinion, not just emotional statements.
“The big difficulty the public faces in exercises such as this is knowing what the issues are,” he said.
Mr. Gedak said some sources of information will be made available in the communities and electronically. Transcripts of the public hearings will also be available on the internet so people living on the islands, for example, can read what Prince Rupert residents tell the panel. People will be able to contribute their opinions by letter or e-mail as well as by speaking directly to the panel when it returns in the spring.
Masset resident Peter Hamel told the panel that the small turnout indicated many islanders’ belief that sharing their opinions won’t affect the outcome of this process, and that the government has already made up its mind.
“People are very jaundiced today,” he said. “They say, what’s the use, we don’t have any influence on what they do anyway.”
Mr. Hamel – who participated in a similar process in 1986 – said he also doubted that government experts would share relevant data.
About a dozen people turned out to the panel’s meeting in Queen Charlotte Thursday evening. Panel members and staff went through a presentation much the same as in Masset in the afternoon, then opened the floor to questions and discussion.
Rolf Bettner argued that no one is considering the long term effects of oil and gas exploration. “It is going to get worse and worse and worse the more fossil fuels are burned”, he said, and noted that concerns about fisheries, oil spills, waste from drilling and local benefits in the region are “are all common sense concerns but they don’t look into the future”.
Kevin Gibson asked if the government was paying attention to global warming, acid rain and ozone depletion. “All three are aggravated by the sort of fossil fuel burning we are doing now,” he said. He also said the political climate is not keeping pace with scientific knowledge of global warming.
“Not all Queen Charlotte is in agreement with Rolf”, said Dave Younger , “A lot of people would like to listen to the facts and make up their own minds. With the proper safeguards in place, I would like to see this go ahead.”
Don Plumb confused the panel with another that in his view had not offered enough lead time for input. “It is a sham what you are presenting. It is a total sham. The process is clearly flawed,” he said.
Several others attending addressed themselves to the question of the public process which the panel wanted to discuss during this round of meetings. It heard ideas about where to hold the public hearings, how long after the release of the scientific report those meetings should be held, and what’s the best way to let islanders know when and where the hearings will be held.
Islanders wanting to communicate with the panel can send an email to project manager Scott Gedak at sgedak@nrcan.gc.ca or fax him at 604-666-3755 or call 1-866-386-1323