Group ends call for hydro-fracking moratorium

A citizens group has dropped its call for a moratorium on shale gas exploration and taken a shot at the province's best-known environmental watchdog.

11 community groups oppose decision of Citizens for Responsible Resource Development

Bethany Thorne-Dykstra was at a news conference with Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup on Wednesday to say her group no longer supports a moratorium on hydro-fracking. (Courtesy of the Government of New Brunswick)

A citizens group has dropped its call for a moratorium on shale gas exploration and taken a shot at the province's best-known environmental watchdog.

For months, environmental groups and community associations from around New Brunswick have protested against the contentious mining practice known as hydraulic-fracturing or hydro-fracking.

The Citizens for Responsible Resource Development was among the groups lobbying for a moratorium on the practice.

Those calls were silenced on Wednesday when Bethany Thorne-Dykstra, the president of the group, held a joint news conference with Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup.

Thorne-Dykstra endorsed the Progressive Conservative government's regulatory changes   for shale gas exploration in the province.

"We are willing to meet the government half-way by dropping our request for a moratorium," she said.

Now that Thorne-Dykstra's group has dropped its call for a moratorium, it is counting on being part of the steering committee that helps come up with an action plan for the industry's future development.

Thorne-Dykstra's group claims to have 650 members and 600 names on a petition calling for a ban on shale gas development. The group's page on the social networking site Facebook has nine people listed on it.

The provincial government's new rules surrounding hydro-fracking last month were announced in front of an invitation-only meeting of industry and community groups.

The provincial government will require baseline testing around potential mining sites, full disclosure of fluids and chemicals that may be used in the process and a security bond must be posted to protect nearby property owners from potential accidents.

Thorne-Dykstra told the news conference that she's satisfied with new rules for baseline water tests, disclosure of chemicals used in the mining practice, and security bonds to cover accidents.

"To hear that the government now is saying, 'OK, we need to have some pieces in place even before we hit production level, and we are recognizing there needs to be proper protections in place, there needs to be a monitoring of this industry in order to make people better about this activity happening in their province'. That is significant. And it really is what we've been asking for all along," she said.

Thorne-Dykstra is known around political circles. The Salisbury-area dairy farmer ran for the Liberals in the 2003 provincial election and then she switched to the Green Party to run in the 2010 provincial election.

Before organizing citizens against hydro-fracking, Thorne-Dykstra rallied people against the former Liberal government's failed plan to sell parts of NB Power to Hydro-Québec.

Conservation Council controversy

Thorne-Dykstra used the platform given to her during the news conference to take a swipe at anti-fracking groups, including the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

David Coon, the executive director of the Conservation Council, dismissed allegations that his group is fear-mongering over the issue of hydro-fracking. ((CBC))
She said the province's leading environmental group has been fear-mongering by organizing screenings of the controversial film Gasland.

"There are many special interest and environmental groups in the province who have sensationalized this issue and only work on the emotional side," she said.

"The Conservation Council of New Brunswick has been going around the province showing the movie Gasland to highlight the totally negative side and negative image of the shale gas industry, using American-style fear tactics."

David Coon, the council's executive director, said he had no plans to "get down in the gutter and sling mud."

But he said he remains convinced that natural gas cannot be safely mined out of shale rock.

"And like many New Brunswickers, we believe it's just wrong to be pumping hazardous chemicals into the earth and putting the well-being and quality of life in our rural communities at serious risk," Coon said.

While one group may have been satisified with the provincial government's latest proposal on hydro-fracking, the same cannot be said for other citizens associations.

A spokesperson for Taymouth Community Association says the mining industry and the provincial government have a growing credibility gap.

A spokesperson for that association said a public meeting, where people were invited to ask questions of officials about the mining practice, drew 200 people on the evening of the final game of the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup playoffs.

Carl Wolpin, a member of Hampton Water First, said he had never heard of Thorne-Dykstra's group until Wednesday.

He said the decision made by the Citizens for Responsible Resource Development does not represent him or the 10 other community groups that were a part of a conference call on Wednesday night.

The groups sent out an email saying they will continue their work to convince the provincial government to put a moratorium on shale gas exploration.

"The question would be, did she go back to [the] 600 people and ask them if they weren't asking for a moratorium and got their permission or if she just took it upon herself and said, 'This is fine,'" Wolpin said.

Wolpin said there is a possibility that all of the community groups in New Brunswick could form a coaltion to speak for the anti-natural gas development movement.