Public forum planned by city council on Lethbridge oil drilling; council worries about health impacts and drilling sterilizing land designated for home developments

Public forum planned on city oil drilling by Dave Mabell, January 7, 2014, Lethbridge Herald
Lethbridge residents want to know why oil wells may be drilled in the city’s fast-growing westside. So city council will hold a public forum, inviting provincial officials and representatives of an oil company to speak, along with concerned citizens. Goldenkey Oil has given notice it’s seeking provincial approval of its plans to drill three exploratory wells southwest of the large Copperwood neighbourhood. “Many people in our community have serious concerns about the prospect of new oil wells being drilled within sight of some of our citizens’ back yards,” Mayor Chris Spearman said Monday, “People want to know what’s going on, and what they can do about it.”

Council, meeting as the city’s community issues committee, will ask representatives of Alberta Energy and Goldenkey to take part in the meeting and answer citizens’ questions. It doesn’t pass resolutions or reach decisions during CIC meetings. Time and place of the evening forum – to be held at a large westside location – have not yet been decided. Council has repeatedly gone on record in opposition to any oil or gas drilling inside city limits. After a similar proposal was made in Calgary, residents there mounted strong protests which led to the company abandoning its plans. Apart from posing possible health risks, Lethbridge city council members have pointed out drilling could also “sterilize” land which has already been included in plans for new westside developments.

Council has no legal authority to halt Goldenkey’s proposal, Spearman says. Alberta’s energy regulation bureaucrats are allowed to override city zoning bylaws. But the city could refuse to sell Goldenkey the water it needs for the drilling process, he adds. Or it could ban drilling equipment from city streets. “The city is exploring all of the options it has available to address concerns with drilling within our municipal boundaries,” city manager Garth Sherman stressed Monday in a report to council. But under Alberta law, the city “has very little ability to regulate these activities.” The provincial government and its appointed boards have the final say, he said. “Citizens should direct their concerns to those entities that do make these decisions and have the ability to regulate.” As well as voicing their concerns with Lethbridge MLAs Greg Weadick and Bridget Pastoor, he suggested, they could also get in contact with Premier Alison Redford and her new energy minister, Diana McQueen. [Emphasis added]

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