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Right group given wrong oil and gas question, says BC MLA

The Fraser Basin Council is a good choice to investigate health risks from oil and gas development, but the government has assigned the group the wrong question, says independent Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson.

"They've got lots of creds on sustainability," Simpson said after the British Columbia government announced this morning the non-profit group won a $100,000 contract to conduct the first phase of the assessment. "They're a reputable group. They'll do a good job of the contract."

The contract is to organize public and stakeholder engagement to "identify concerns" with oil and gas development in the north eastern part of the province, according to a government release.

"What I've heard loud and clear from people in the Peace is that's the wrong starting point," said Simpson. Many people are already convinced the industry has a large impact on air pollution, lung health and water quality, he said. They want a full public inquiry into the industry's impacts, he said.

The Dawson Creek Daily News reported in May, 2011, that the Northern Health Authority's medical health officer Charl Badenhorst, was among those pressing the province to look at health issues related to the oil and gas industry.

The contract announced this morning allows Premier Christy Clark and Health Minister Mike de Jong to say they are fulfilling a promise, but it's not the kind of rethinking of development that's needed, said Simpson. "It's a bit of a smokescreen and an avoidance strategy."

Clark's much touted jobs strategy depends on aggressive expansion of the oil and gas sector, a better indication of the government's thinking on the industry, he said.

The FBC is a partnership of federal, provincial, local and first nation governments. Its 38 directors include the province's Environment Deputy Minister Cairine MacDonald and Forests, Lands and natural Resource Operations Deputy Minister Doug Konkin.

The chair is Charles Jago, the former president of the University of Northern British Columbia. Elections BC records show he personally contributed $1,000 to the BC Liberal Party in payments made in 2007 and 2010.

"Phase one will help the Province better understand the human health concerns that some have expressed about oil and gas development in B.C., and will help develop recommendations for future action," the province's announcement said.

The first phase is to be completed by March 31. The second and third phases of the project will include assessing human health risks, reviewing scientific evidence and reporting on the findings.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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