Opponents of the drilling project that had been proposed for west Lethbridge are celebrating Goldenkey Oil Inc.’s decision to withdraw its planned Penny Project.
It’s a battle won for the folks from No Drilling Lethbridge and their supporters. But it’s important to remember that the war is far from over.
In a guest column in The Herald in February, Alberta Energy Minister Diana McQueen wrote, “Development in urban areas is not new in Alberta, it’s happening in communities like Medicine Hat, Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie.”
And who’s to say it can’t still happen in Lethbridge? As Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman noted at an information session on the urban drilling issue Feb. 24 at the Yates, “Right now it’s Goldenkey Oil but it might be somebody else next time.”
There could be a next time. As it now stands, Lethbridge, or any municipality, doesn’t have the power to say no to an oil company looking to search for oil or gas within urban boundaries. That power rests with the Alberta Energy Regulator. Part of Lethbridge’s fight to oppose the Goldenkey Oil proposal involved a desire for the city and its citizens to have some say in deciding whether energy development takes place within city limits.
In a visit to Lethbridge in February, Liberal MLA Kent Hehr said Fort McMurray and Calgary, among other cities, have opposed drilling within their jurisdictions, but without a clear direction from the provincial government, the result will continue to be protests and public campaigning against the practice.
“We need to put a provincial ban on drilling inside cities. It’s what Albertans want,” said Hehr.
Not only did a large number of Lethbridge residents make it clear they oppose drilling taking place in city limits, but there are still unanswered questions about the process of hydraulic fracturing. In a new report from the Council of Canadian Academies, a panel of top Canadian scientists advocate a go-slow approach to natural gas fracking.
The report says there’s much that remains unknown about the long-term impacts of extracting gas via the fracking process. While Canada has vast potential deposits of shale gas, the report found significant uncertainty regarding risks to the environment and human health, including the possibility of groundwater contamination.
Alberta’s economy is largely based on the oil and gas industry, and certainly such resource developments are important to the province. But Alberta is a big province — is it really necessary to target urban areas for these types of developments?
We need a healthy oil and gas industry, but at the end of the day, Albertans’ health, safety and quality of life need to be the prime considerations. Caring for those priorities suggests that urban areas are not the place for energy developments.