‘This is about money’ by Dave Mabell, January 28, 2014, Lethbridge Herald
There’s no reason the Alberta government should even consider allowing oil or gas drilling in urban areas. Its negative health and environmental impacts are well-documented, Dr. David Swann said here Monday. Health critic for the Alberta Liberals, Swann cited long-term effects as well as high-danger emergencies when wells are sunk too close to homes and schools. When there’s so much opposition to plans for drilling in west Lethbridge, he said there’s no justification for letting oil companies proceed. “This is about money,” the Calgary MLA told reporters. “It’s about big business, and a government that doesn’t listen to concerns about what’s in the public interest.”
City council, two school boards and other organizations are publicly opposing the Goldenkey Oil project, while hundreds of Lethbridge-area people have attended rallies and signed petitions. “This is clearly a tipping point for many Albertans, when the government ignores the public interest,” he said.
Later, after visiting the westside areas where drilling is proposed, Swann spoke at the Lethbridge Lodge during the latest in a series of rallies organized to mobilize citizen action. Swann, a physician, warned of the effects of hydrogen sulphide and other chemicals created or used at producing wells. When its impacts can include death, he said it’s the government’s responsibility to keep wells away from urban areas. “Putting people at risk is not acceptable.”
Pointing to the Conservative government’s decision to cancel drilling permits in the Fort McMurray area – and return the oil company’s payments – Swann said that shows it has the power to act when it realizes it’s made a serious mistake. Now it’s time the government decides to protect Lethbridge citizens’ well-being too, he said.
Swann noted the Goldenkey project, now disclosed to cover 23 square kilometres of city land, not just three drilling sites, has surfaced while Albertans await word on the government’s plan to strike a policy on drilling in urban areas. “The energy minister promised more than 12 months ago to create a policy,” but so far the Conservatives have failed to deliver.
“Since he hasn’t done his work, I am going to do some of mine.” Possibly adding to the delay, a cabinet shuffle saw Diana McQueen take over the energy portfolio since the policy direction was first promised. With the Alberta government taking no leadership on the issue, Swann said ordinary Albertans are moving to take responsibility for the safety of their families and communities.
“The Idle No More movement was a lot about this,” he said. In southern Alberta, native and non-native women have already come together to speak out about dangers created by the fracking and drilling processes. Many more Albertans share those concerns, Swann added. “In an ironic way, the First Nations people are showing us what democracy is all about,” he said. When enough people raise their voices, he predicted, governments will listen. “Lethbridge could be at the epicentre of this.” [Emphasis added]