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Thursday, 09 June 2011 12:29

Court decision denies appeal; Shell can drill in Castle River region

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By Susan Quinlan
Pincher Creek
An appeal from Beaver mines area resident and outfitter, Mike Judd, was recently denied by the Alberta Court of Appeals, requesting an ERCB decision allowing Shell Canada to drill a sour gas well in the Castle region be repealed.


“The reason we appealed the decision is regarding the number of endangered species the actual site has … limber pine, white bark pine and several plant communities, and the grizzly bear,” said Judd.

“We had excellent testimony at the hearing, why you want those plants and the status of the whitebark and limber pine, and what it means to have the grizzly bear habitat protected.”

However, Judd said the conservation expert retained by the individuals and environmental groups for the hearing was late in filing documents supporting conservation concerns, and the ERCB subsequently disallowed that particular information to be submitted for consideration.

“I’ve been at hearings where the board has accepted evidence (from Shell) while the hearing was actually underway.

“We have a captive regulatory agency here. They have us beat. We have the façade of a public forum to present our arguments and reasons as to why or why not drilling should proceed, but it’s just a façade.”

In Decision 2011-007, the ERCB stated it had heard “… a number of objections from landowners, residents, traditional land users, recreational users and a community group concerned about public safety, the environment, personal impacts, the location of the proposed well and Shell’s operational history…”

Following the required hearing, the ERCB approved the application and later, Superior Court Judge Carole Conrad, from the Alberta Court of Appeals, overruled Judd’s request that the ERCB decision be rescinded. With specific regard to grizzly bear habitat, Conrad stated the well’s opponents did not present any persuasive evidence drilling would endanger the

bears.

The provincial government recently identified the grizzly bear as a threatened species, Judd said.

It also identified the Castle River area as a “prime recovery area” for the grizzly bear population, which has dwindled significantly due to loss of habitat.

“That’s something that should be taken seriously,” added Judd.

Along with Judd, various conservation groups have vocalized concerns over perceived negligence and disregard for the environment by the ERCB, in allowing drilling to continue in the Castle.

In a recent joint press release, The Sierra Club Canada, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Castle Crown Wilderness Association stated recent opinion polls report 80 per cent of local residents support the establishment of the Castle area as a Wildland Park, with legislative protection from development; 73 per cent oppose new oil and gas development in that same area and 78 per cent

as well, oppose clear-cut logging of the Castle.   

Gordon Petersen, president of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition, said, “The local people have spoken and stated what they would like to see happen for the Castle Special Place. For years now, the Government of Alberta and the local MLA have said  local opposition to a protected area was the reason the Castle hadn’t been protected. Now what is their excuse? It’s time for government to listen to its constituents and legislate the Castle as a Wildland Park.”

The conservation coalition further stated more than a year ago, a local multi-stakeholder, citizen-led group put forward a conceptual proposal for protection of the Castle Special Place as a combination Wildland and Provincial Park. That proposal remains with the Alberta Government, but no action has taken place.

“The ERCB is supposed to look after the public interest, but with its onerous, cumbersome and legalistic approach, it couldn’t be more public-unfriendly, Rather than being set up to truly weigh the public interest, the ERCB is more about window dressing. This is a classic case,” stated Petersen.

 “Everyone, including Shell and the ERCB, is aware of a grizzly bear den in the area, and that the proposed sour gas well will impact grizzly bears. Instead of having an honest discussion about the issues, Shell tied itself into knots to keep the information out of the public record and the ERCB went along with it. It’s high time for serious changes to the ERCB, so that it actually deals with real and significant matters of the public interest,” Petersen added.


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