New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health is sidestepping questions over whether the provincial government should impose a moratorium on developing the shale gas industry.

Dr. Eilish Cleary spoke with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, a day after she released a report outlining her concerns over the potential shale gas industry in New Brunswick.

Cleary’s 82-page report recommends requiring a health impact assessment and monitoring the health of the population on an ongoing basis to detect adverse impacts.

But the health officer’s report does not call for a moratorium on the industry, which has been requested by opposition politicians and other anti-shale gas groups.

Cleary told reporters the question of a moratorium on the industry is moot because the provincial government has said there is plenty of time to regulate the industry.

She said she approached the study from the point of view of, if the industry were to happen, then what steps would need to be taken to protect citizens.

Another report on the shale gas industry that was released on Monday also did not call for a moratorium.

In fact, Louis LaPierre, a professor emeritus in biology from the University of Moncton, said a moratorium should not be implemented. He said, in his view, the only way to assess the impact of the shale gas industry was to let it progress and then study it.

Costs of implementation

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Dr. Eilish Cleary's report did not call for a moratorium on the shale gas industry.

The cost of funding her recommendations has not yet been determined, but they "will not be insubstantial," Cleary said in her report.

The province's chief public health officer said her ideas may seem expensive but they are necessary to protect the health of people in the province.

"It's not a question of having costs or no costs. It's a question of how can we more appropriately spend money to prevent problems? Because the money will be spent anyway, if we have problems and have to fix problems," she told reporters.

"If we can put the money to offset problems, it's invariably cheaper to do it up front."

She said the industry could absorb some of the costs of implementing the recommendations in her report.

Cleary's report says existing laws and regulations aren't adequate to meet public health needs.

Among her recommendations:

  • Require disclosure of all chemicals used
  • Monitor air, water and drinking water quality, including baseline measurements pre-development
  • Prevent hydraulic fracturing in sensitive areas, including wet fields
  • Require setbacks, noise/vibration standards, emergency response training

Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard said on Tuesday he plans to study Cleary's report.

The Alward government initially would not commit to releasing the contents of Cleary's report, but it was released in full.

Opponents to the shale gas industry say the hydro-fracking process can cause water and air pollution.

Hydro-fracking is a process where exploration companies inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations. That process allows companies to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

In May, the provincial government introduced 116 proposed changes to the regulatory framework that oversees the oil and gas industry.

The new provincial regulations will set out stricter rules on protecting the environment, according to the provincial government.