HALIFAX - A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge will hear an appeal on Wednesday of a decision by the province's environment minister to grant an exploratory drilling permit for oil and gas near a Cape Breton lake.
Members of the Margaree Environmental Association told a news conference on Tuesday that the judicial appeal would contend the minister erred in approving the permit near Lake Ainslie. The citizens' group wants to quash the decision that allows Toronto-based Petroworth Resources Inc. to drill a conventional oil and gas test well in the area.
Group co-chairman Neal Livingston said the legal argument would centre on environmental restrictions that prohibit drilling within 100 metres of a water course.
Livingston alleges there is a brook within 46 metres of the drill site that the government has classified as a drainage ditch.
"This kind of permit that the government has given out is a tremendous precedent that we think needs to be stopped because it's effectively saying that anywhere is OK," said Livingston.
Environment Department spokeswoman Karen White said the department would not comment ahead of the hearing in court.
However, she said its position hasn't changed since a statement issued last December when Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau rejected an appeal by the Margaree group under the provincial Environment Act. The statement said the province had responded to public input and it believed it had set the necessary conditions to protect the environment and public health.
Livingston contends the drilling project is too close to homes and poses a threat to an ecologically sensitive area. He said the well would be 100 metres from one home and about 600 metres from the lake.
"If this permit had been given out two kilometres away from where anybody lives or any water course you might not have found us sitting here today because we may have not had the legal grounds to challenge this in the same way we are."
Association member Brian Peters said the group was cautiously optimistic about its chances ahead of the court hearing.
"We are hoping this action will be a prod to encourage the development of proper laws and regulations controlling such development," said Peters.
Petroworth applied to drill a 1,200-metre well in September 2010 and received provincial approval last July.