Environmental justice for Lake Ainslie

Environmental justice for Lake Ainslie by John Bennett and Cate May Burton, August 15, 201, The Chronicle Herald
The judiciary process prevented MEA from bringing forward new evidence regarding the waterway in question because this issue arose at the appeal stage. Thanks to the MEA’s efforts in court, there is growing concern that the drilling licence for PetroWorth Resources Inc. to drill near Lake Ainslie runs roughshod over local resources and people. The exploratory well would open the door to any number of oil wells for both traditional drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Though fracking isn’t on the lips of the government or the oil corporation yet, PetroWorth president Neal Mednick indirectly argued in favour of its use in Nova Scotia; he was quoted in October 2010 in the media as saying people need to “understand what the truth is, as opposed to all of the unfounded fears.” We can only presume he knows better than the Environment Canada Chemicals Management Plan, which found over half of the chemicals in fracking fluid to be of potential harm to human health. PetroWorth’s agenda is to make the discovery and sell the lease to a partner corporation. If that partner decides on fracking, there will be a permit request for fracking. Heaven knows we don’t trust the environment minister to protect us from that possibility. The court’s ruling on Aug. 3 rested on the inadequacy of our existing laws. Since Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau had no strict regulations to follow, the decision to grant the permit was up to his discretion. Belliveau’s counsel argued that the Environment Act mandates protection of the environment in the context of diverse goals, including those of economic development: “Many interests arise and must be balanced in the context of each decision of the minister or his delegate.” The court ruling grants this, which means that the sole point of contention in court was the “watercourse.” On this count, the ruling states, “The minister’s interpretation of the definition of ‘watercourse’ would survive on a standard of reasonableness or a standard of correctness.” The onus to make a specific demarcation of “watercourse” rested with the appellant, and the Environment Act contained no strict provision to back up MEA’s reasonable belief that a brook running through the drilling site and leading to Lake Ainslie is indeed a watercourse. The communities around Lake Ainslie and the Margaree River oppose the oil well on compelling ground. Local resident Robert Parkins lives less than 200 metres from the drilling site. The brook through the drilling site carries water from a wetland to Lake Ainslie. The adjacent Margaree River is a heritage river, providing recreational fishing that attracts many visitors to the region. The Margaree Salmon Association, the Lake Aislie and Judique Development Associations and First Nations have all expressed opposition to the oil permit. Even if one were to find sufficient benefit in the PetroWorth proposal to justify the potential environmental, economic and cultural harm, how is it that Nova Scotia can abide by such ineffective environmental regulations? If the government is willing to compromise our natural systems, our cultural heritage and our input in decision-making, we need to make the case for laws that constrain these brutal political affronts. Let’s start right now with an Environment Act that protects the environment before profits, and specifies adequate setbacks of all industrial processes from homes, waterways and vital resources. The act should include requirements for meaningful public participation so that community groups aren’t left stranded in uphill legal battles when they have criticisms of the government’s plans. … We need an Environment Act that acts like one.

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