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Newfoundland Enacts Fracking Moratorium, Protests Continue in Neighboring New Brunswick

Fracking

By Andy Rowell 

As First Nations continue to fight fracking in New Brunswick, the neighboring provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador has halted the controversial drilling technique.

The government is arguing that more research is needed to see if it is safe for both people and the environment.

Gros Morne National Park is a world heritage site located on the west coast of Newfoundland. The tourist destination lies above Western Newfoundland's shale oil reserves.

Western Newfoundland’s shale-oil deposits have been described as a potentially vast, but the region includes the Gros Morne National Park, which is a world heritage site and huge tourist attraction.

Exploration licenses had already been granted in the Green Point shale near the Park.

But UNESCO had recently indicated that the Park’s heritage status could be at risk if fracking is allowed to proceed near its boundaries.

“Our government will not be accepting applications for onshore and onshore to offshore petroleum exploration using hydraulic fracturing,” said Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley in the State’s House of Assembly on Monday.

“Our first consideration is the health and safety of our people," Dalley added. “In making this decision, our government is acting responsibly and respecting the balance between economic development and environmental protection.”

Dalley said that the moratorium would allow the province to undertake a review of regulations, rules and guidelines in other jurisdictions. It would also involve public consultation.

Opposition politicians approved the move. One New Democratic Party member, George Murphy, said: “It seemed like it was very rash, it seemed like it was very unconcerning the way they wanted to proceed with development.”

So did local anti-fracking groups: one member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fracking Awareness NetworkAngie Payne, said: “I think this is a really, really wise thing to do. It’s great the government is listening to us.”

A Mi'kmaq protester raises a symbolic feather in efforts to fracking on what used to be her tribe's land. Photo credit: Twitter/ OCongres

The decision was said to have come as a surprise to Black Spruce Exploration and its partner Shoal Point energy, which wanted to frack in the west of the province.

Meanwhile the anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick are continuing. The Mi’kmaq Warrior Society, along with members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, are planning to light a “sacred fire” blockade to impede SWN Resources Canada from conducting testing in the province this week.

“We are here to save our water and land, and to protect our animals and people.” Louis Jerome, a Mi’kmaq sun dancer, said on Monday.

"There will be no fracking at all," Jerome continued. “We are putting a sacred fire here, and it must be respected.”

And yesterday, up to 650 people protested in front of the provincial legislature in Fredericton, demonstrating against fracking in the province.

“They go into the community to exploit the people of the community,” said protester Charles Richard. “Once they exploit them, take everything, they pack their bags and they go. That’s why they call them carpetbaggers.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

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Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

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The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."