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P.E.I. Water Act passes with amendment to prohibit fracking

Environment Minister Robert Mitchell speaks with Liberal MLA Alan McIsaac in the P.E.I. legislature in this file photo.
Environment Minister Robert Mitchell speaks with Liberal MLA Alan McIsaac in the P.E.I. legislature in this file photo.

Fracking for oil and natural gas is now effectively banned in P.E.I.

A ban on hydraulic fracturing was included during the passing of the Water Act during Wednesday’s sitting of legislature, with the province removing two clauses Opposition members described as “loopholes” that gave cabinet the authority to approve fracking projects at its discretion.

Environment Minister Robert Mitchell said the intention was always to prohibit fracking, and the cabinet clauses were there in case a more environmental method or technology was discovered in the future.

Ultimately, Mitchell said it was a good to remove those clauses.

“And just move forward with a straight prohibition on fracking,” said Mitchell. “Essentially the prohibition still remains and there are no further clauses to it.”

Related: Long-awaited Water Act tabled in P.E.I. legislature remains silent on deep-water wells

The amendment, which was introduced by the province, was similar to one that was introduced by Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker last week.

Mitchell said he already had his amendment prepared at that time.

“I would have laid (the changes) had the act come to (the) floor sooner,” said Mitchell. “My opportunity to allow my amendment to move forward was today.”

During question period earlier in the afternoon, Opposition Leader James Aylward raised concern about the act’s working on fracking, saying it contained “no teeth and no true protection for Island ground water.”

Even with the full ban, the act does not go far enough for some members.

Bevan-Baker said he felt the law was inadequate and introduced a motion, which ultimately failed, to send the bill back to the house for further debate.

Bevan-Baker said fracking and high-capacity wells were the two fundamental concerns he heard during public consultations.

While he appreciated the fracking ban, he also wanted to see an amendment that would require a water management plan in place for areas with proposed high-capacity wells.

“I do not think the bill as it stands now adequately reflects the concerns of Islanders I have spoken to,” he said.

Related: Some see big gaps, others positive with P.E.I.’s new Water Act

An Opposition amendment did also pass to ensure any substantial changes to regulations would be sent to a standing committee to examine at least 90 days in advance.

Brad Trivers, the only PC MLA to vote in favour of the act, said there were a number of other changes he would have liked to see adopted.

However, he believes it is more important to put in place protection for Island water and expressed hope the act could be further strengthened through regulations.

“It is missing some key information, but a lot of that will be addressed in regulations, we can make sure it is… don’t be surprised if I come forward with a package of amendments,” he said.

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