Council opposes oil & gas drilling in city

Council opposes oil & gas drilling in city by Dave Mabell, November 14, 2012, Front Page Lethbridge Herald
Alberta is undoubtedly “oil country.” But city council moved Tuesday to keep oilfield and natural gas operations outside city limits. Without debate, council adopted a policy resolution from Councillor Faron Ellis, who pointed out several Alberta communities are already facing issues triggered by drilling or production in urban areas. “Council is taking this position on urban drilling because we see this as an ongoing issue in Alberta,” he said. “There have already been a number of cases elsewhere in our province involving drilling rights being sought and awarded within urban boundaries.” The resolution doesn’t mean Lethbridge is opposed to oil and gas exploration, Ellis added. But drilling or production within city or town limits poses safety issues, as well as subtracting land suitable for residential development – and adding to the costs of civic operations. Jeff Greene, the city’s director of planning and development, recommended council make its position clear. “Southern Alberta has had fairly limited exposure to oil and gas well drilling activity,” he said in a written recommendation. “That may be about to change as a result of changing drilling technologies as well as higher oil prices.”

Energy resources in the huge Bakken formation beneath Montana, southern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta can also be found below Lethbridge, he pointed out. “As the commercial viability of drilling increases, the degree to which the City of Lethbridge will have to address the land use implications of this activity will also increase.” The “Alberta basin” part of the Bakken formation is expected to become the next big light-oil “play” in Western Canada, Greene reported. The city is centred in an area known as the Penny Field, he added. “Since about 2010 land prices have risen dramatically, and millions are being spent on land sales and leases,” Greene reported. City officials have also heard from companies looking at locating facilities here. “As a possible economic driver, this could bring some very positive economic benefits to southern Alberta and specifically the city.” But oilwells and gasfields within the city would not be a positive development, Greene said. They’d prove costly to taxpayers, he warned. Issues around emergency evacuation procedures and routes would become the city’s responsibility, he said, and that would require more resources for public safety, emergency planning and longer-term municipal response. City planning efforts would also be thwarted, because large areas could suddenly be ruled out of bounds for safety reasons. [Emphasis added]

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