All 16 candidates running for Sackville Town Council have declared their firm opposition to hydraulic fracturing as well as their support for either continuing the provincial moratorium on the extraction of shale gas or banning fracking altogether.
However, the hot-button issue caused a stir earlier in the municipal campaign when Brad Walters, a Mount Allison environmental studies professor circulated an e-mail outlining the voting records of the two former town councillors who are vying for the Sackville mayoralty.
Those records showed that Virgil Hammock consistently voted against exploring or drilling for shale gas while his opponent, John Higham introduced a motion in 2010 calling on council to approve a seismic testing proposal from the Toronto-based company Petroworth Resources Inc. In 2011, Higham also voted against Hammock’s motion calling on the province to ban fracking.
Higham cried foul when Walters’s e-mail said he had consistently voted in favour of fracking.
“Whatever is circulating,” he said in an interview, “is consistently wrong and does not reflect facts and is quite frankly, I would take it as a personal smear.”
Higham pointed out that he had also supported motions calling for strict conditions on testing and eventually urging the province to impose a moratorium on fracking.
Sackville misled on fracking
So why was he in favour of testing when the issue first arose in 2010?
“We were hoodwinked by the province and by the developers,” Higham says. “When they came in, they told us this is seismic (testing), this is a seismic exercise, all you have to do is approve a seismic approach.”
Higham says he didn’t realize at the time that if his motion for testing had been approved, the town would have lost any later opportunity to stop fracking within its boundaries.
“No one had told us any of this. We (council) then provided a moratorium resolution, which I did vote for,” he says adding that he also supported a second resolution calling for a provincial moratorium on fracking.
Higham acknowledges he voted against Hammock’s 2011 resolution urging the province to ban fracking. He says he thought it was more important to get the law changed so that municipalities would have more say on resource development.
“The moment we asked for a ban, it’s a symbolic motion that placates a few, but took away all our credibility that we were trying to find a practical solution,” he says.
“I was consistently protecting the town,” he adds. “We tried real hard to make the legal change that would allow towns to have the proper role in resource management that impacted them.”
For his part, Virgil Hammock points out that he opposed fracking right from the start.
“I see no economic gain in fracking.” he says.
“My views on it are well established. I’m totally opposed to the process. Even if it were proved safe, the environmental problems and infrastructure problems that it creates and the social problems it creates are not worth it.”
Hammock adds that he finds it ludicrous to believe that a small town could stand up to the oil and gas industry if testing were to show reserves of shale gas.
Meantime, fracking came up again Tuesday during an all-candidates’ meeting in Sackville. The audience cheered and applauded when every candidate who attended the meeting expressed opposition to fracking and support for the moratorium or a legislated ban.
John Higham was not at that meeting, but said later he also opposes shale gas development and supports the moratorium.
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He was the first producer of The House, a Saturday morning program on national politics. He currently resides in Sackville where he publishes Warktimes.
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