Opposition to drilling in Lethbridge strong by Dave Mabell, February 20, 2014, Lethbridge Herald
The numbers tell the story. In Lethbridge, more than three-quarters of the population is against oil or gas drilling inside city limits. And more than 60 per cent of those polled say they’re “strongly opposed” to wells anywhere in the city. Those survey results, from the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College, were released hours ahead of a top-level political debate on the issue, this evening at the University of Lethbridge.
On the city’s westside, where a Calgary-based company has announced plans to drill, more than 81 per cent of those responding were against drilling – including 63 per cent who said they’re “strongly opposed.”
Political scientist Faron Ellis, who’s been directing twice-yearly surveys for many years, says the random telephone poll – completed earlier this month – shows an unusually high number of people with strong feelings on the issue. “Clearly, the vast majority of Lethbridge residents are opposed to oil and gas drilling within the city limits,” he says. “West Lethbridge residents are most opposed,” understandably.
The foreign-owned oil company had not yet applied for permission to drill, when the survey was conducted, and Ellis pointed out Lethbridge citizens have yet to see whether the government-appointed energy “regulator” will allow drilling to begin. “But I think no matter what, the politicians of all stripes have noticed” how vocally Lethbridge citizens are against drilling.
Energy critics from the Wildrose, Liberal and NDP are in Lethbridge this evening, to speak at an all-party forum on drilling that’s been arranged by a grassroots citizen group. But organizers say neither Diana McQueen, the energy minister, nor local Conservative MLAs have accepted an invitation to speak. Analysis of the SCRL survey results, Ellis says, shows Lethbridge citizens who normally vote Conservative federally or provincially are less likely to be opposed than those who vote Liberal or NDP. But a majority of them still disagree with drilling.
Lethbridge women (81.1 per cent) and university graduates (86.2 per cent) are more strongly opposed than others, Ellis reports. Ellis says the weighted sample of voting-age residents has a four per cent margin of error, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.
Considering the number of groups on record against drilling – including both school boards, city council and the real estate industry – Ellis says some residents may be surprised opposition levels aren’t closer to 100 per cent. “General wisdom would suggest everybody would be opposed,” he suggests. “But on all issues, you’re going to see a diversity of opinions.”
In this survey, for example, Lethbridge young people (age 18-29) were most supportive of drilling proposal, at 38.5 per cent. People in the 45-64 age group were least likely (15.9 per cent) to favour drilling. “And there are some people who have a vested interest in the oil and gas industry.” The survey questions did not include the contentious word “fracking” or mention the westside drilling locations, Ellis said. [Emphasis added]
No Drilling Lethbridge table at the February 20, 2014 South Western Alberta Teachers’ Convention Association (Teacher’s from Calgary south) in Lethbridge: