Gros Morne oil fracking plan leads UNESCO to seek buffer zone

UNESCO is urging Canada to impose a buffer zone around the boundaries of Gros Morne National Park to protect it from resource exploration

The international body that made Newfoundland's Gros Morne National Park a world heritage site could strip the designation if the park isn't better protected from oil exploration.

UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural arm, is recommending Canada put in place a buffer zone around the park. The move comes following a so-far failed attempt to use the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, near Gros Morne.

The UN group wants a specific buffer zone around the park's boundaries that would close it off to all natural resource extraction.

That's what the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (C-PAWS) has been calling for. "We really think a carefully designed buffer zone would be a huge step towards making the park well protected from industrialization in the long term," said Alison Woodley, director of parks with C-PAWS.

Gros Morne, on Newfoundland's west coast, has been a world heritage site for more than 25 years because of its beauty and unique geological features, which have contributed to better global understanding of plate tectonics.

But last year, UNESCO expressed fears about plans for fracking a few hundred metres from the park's boundary.

In November, the provincial government instituted a moratorium on all fracking after some study, and a public outcry.

Still, there were local people who wanted to see some resource development in the area — not just tourism.

Sue Rendell, with GrosMorne Adventures and the NLFracking Awareness Network, is not one of them. The veteran outfitter says UNESCO is showing leadership with its formal recommendation.

"You know, it is a great little success story in a rural area in Canada, and there's not a lot of rural areas in Canada, unfortunately, that have similar success stories," said Rendell.

The buffer zone recommended by UNESCO is now automatic in all new world heritage sites.

"I'm certainly really happy to hear that news," she said, adding she hopes Canada will follow suit as soon as possible.

UNESCO, meanwhile, is recommending its world heritage committee adopt the recommendation for a buffer zone when the committee meets in Doha, Qatar next month.