03/31/2014 06:46 EDT | Updated 03/31/2014 06:59 EDT

Bill 4 B.C. Parks Law Petition Attracts Viral Support

An online petition asking the British Columbia government to repeal a law that critics say will open protected park areas to pipelines and drilling has attracted hundreds of thousands of supporters in just a few days.

Bill 4, also known as the Park Amendment Act, quietly became law last week. It was introduced in February as a way to clarify recreation, tourism, commercial filming, and "activities related to research" in B.C. parks, reported The Globe and Mail.

No one objected to scientific studies or showcasing the province's beautiful parks in movies. But the definition of "research" has critics raising the possibility that Bill 4 paves the way for industrial activity including energy extraction and pipeline construction.

"Keep B.C.’s parks free of industrial activity!" says the petition, hosted by political advocacy site Sum of Us. "Revoke the Park Amendment Act immediately."

A different online petition, by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, also asks the government to reverse Bill 4 and has collected more than 10,000 signatures and letters.

"Bill 4 allows for industry (and others) to carry out 'research' in provincial parks related to pipelines, transmission lines, roads and other industrial activities that might require park land," wrote Andrew Gage, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law. "It also reduces legal protection for smaller parks."

He points out that preliminary "research" carried out by mining company Taseko to prepare for an environmental assessment of its now-rejected Prosperity Mine included the drilling of 59 test pits, eight drill holes 50 to 75 metres in depth, and 10 holes roughly 250 metres in depth to collect metallurgical samples. The tests also led to the creation of 23.5 kilometres of exploratory trails.

In the bill's second reading, according to The Globe, B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said: "Let me be clear. These proposed amendments do not allow, promote, or otherwise enable industrial projects in parks and protected areas."

But the reassurance has not calmed the fears of thousands of Canadians who have been sharing the petitions through their social networks.

On Saturday, Polak tried to douse those burning concerns, telling The Vancouver Sun that the act is being misinterpreted.

"Our parks are not open for mining, for pipelines or drilling," she told the newspaper. "The portions of the Park Act that protect against that have not been changed. The only thing that has been changed is to ensure we have the statutory authority to grant park use permits."

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