Government double-talk a slap in the face

Government double-talk a slap in the face by Claudette Lacombe, August 9, 2006, Farm Business Communications
Rural Albertans clearly have a high level of mistrust of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) and a series of public information sessions in June only made it worse. If the Rockyford session is any indication of how these went, the sessions firmly convinced attendees that the EUB and Alberta Environment (AENV) take the stance that they know what’s really going on and rural Albertans are uninformed hicks chasing shadows and ghosts. At the Rockyford installment of the Groundwater and Coal Bed Methane Development public information session, I took a seat as close to the front as I could get and ended up right beside the microphone set up for the public to ask questions. For me, the presentations offered no new information (anybody surprized by that?). The interesting information came from the floor after the presentations. The first thing I learned was that these sessions were an opportunity for the presenters to talk to rural Albertans like children. Although I went to observe only, I couldn’t help but get a little angry at the way the facilitator treated the individuals that approached the microphone. I know the first man who stepped up to the microphone and I could clearly see the anger mounting in his body language as the facilitator interrupted every sentence and told him to get to his question. It reminded me of a child found guilty by a parent with no opportunity to explain. The gentleman had several questions, but the facilitator would allow only one. Another landowner stepped up that I know to be a wise, quiet and rarely agitated man. I saw him agitated that evening. I sat there in amazed silence watching people step up to the microphone one after another to ask questions, only to walk away clearly angry with a group of presenters who refused to acknowledge these people have a high level of knowledge and genuine concerns they wanted addressed. The second thing I learned is that these sessions came fortified with extra experts in the audience who started popping up to answer questions the panel couldn’t. These “experts” were, of course, back-up members of the EUB and AENV. This gave the impression of an orchestrated frontal attack on anyone who may bring up those nasty little questions the organizations would rather we didn’t talk about. Some questions included, “What are the fracing chemicals in use for coal bed methane extraction?” Apparently, that’s a secret and the EUB and AENV are okay with that. “What makes it impossible that gas migrates underground and enters water wells?” The answer: that happens in extremely rare cases, takes decades and certainly isn’t a major concern. One of the audience members said he became concerned about just that possibility when his children started coming out of the tub with rashes that look like burns. Could he please have a list of possible chemicals to test for in his water? According to AENV, the problem likely stems from improper maintenance of his well.

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