Gas industry anxious for fracking regulations
Oil and gas companies are anxious to get a look at New Brunswick's upcoming hydro-fracking regulations and hope to have some input, according to an advocacy group for the industry.
The provincial government has promised to introduce strict new rules this spring to protect the environment, but still allow for shale gas exploration and development.
Earlier this week, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers released its own set of voluntary guidelines, which include companies conducting pre-testing of well water, and disclosing the chemicals used in the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking.
"As it sits right now, there aren't any expectations or requirements. And I think the public has expressed concerns around our industry and its performance," said David Pryce, the association's vice-president of operations.
"All we're saying is these measures, these operating practices that we're talking about are intended to speak to those concerns."
Fracking is a process used to get natural gas out of shale deposits.
Companies inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals through a well to crack the rock below and extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.
Opponents of the shale gas industry have raised concerns about water contamination and the industrialization of rural areas.
"One of the most important things people are saying is 'We want to know what's in the frack fluid. We're concerned about those constituents…and the implications that they may have on groundwater and on health,'" said Pryce.
"If through transition, the province sees merit in some of the things we're putting forward, we'd certainly support it, but right now, there is a gap that we're trying to fill."
Premier David Alward has said he wants to impose the continent’s toughest shale gas regulations on companies working in the province.
He has committed to introducing an environmental protection plan this year that would cover industrial developments, including hydro-fracking.
Pryce said the industry has not had any input so far in developing the new government regulations, as far he knows.
But he hopes the province will consider adopting the association's measures as part of the new regulation scheme.
The industry is open to additional requirements, he added.
David Coon, of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, doesn't think the province should rely on the association's guidelines.
"There's a difference between developing the content for regulations based on providing for the common good, serving the public interest and voluntary measures that are designed from an industry's perspective, whatever the industry" he said.
There are better places to look for help in creating regulations, he said, citing the existing rules in the state of New York as an example.
Meanwhile, Pryce said the industry is waiting to find out about technical requirements and royalty rates to decide whether projects in New Brunswick could be commercially viable.
The premier has said the province needs to embrace the shale gas industry as part of a new approach to boosting the economy. The industry could provide huge economic benefits for the province, which is facing a debt of more than $10 billion and high unemployment, Alward has said.