New Brunswick's Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing is calling for public submissions on whether the conditions to lift the province's moratorium on shale gas development can be met.


The members of New Brunswick's Hydraulic Fracturing Commission are, from left, Marc Leger, Cheryl Robertson and John McLaughlin. (N.B. Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing)

Premier Brian Gallant imposed the moratorium on the controversial method of extracting shale gas from the earth after being elected in September 2014. The conditions to be met before the moratorium can be lifted are:

  • There is a "social licence" to proceed.
  • There is clear information about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on public health, the environment and water, enabling the government to develop a regulatory regime.
  • Plans to mitigate impacts on public infrastructure and deal with issues such as waste water disposal are in place.
  • The province has established a process that allows it to meet its duty to consult with First Nations.
  • A "proper" royalty structure is developed, with a mechanism in place to ensure New Brunswickers the the maximum benefits from shale gas extraction.

Gallant asked former University of New Brunswick president John McLaughlin, former clerk of the executive council, Marc Léger, and former New Brunswick Community College chair Cheryl Robertson to sit on the commission.

The commission has issued a call for submissions as it tries to determine whether the government's five conditions can be met.

"What we will not do is state whether the New Brunswick government should or should not lift its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing," state the commissioners in outlining the commission's opening perspective.

"That is a decision that rightfully belongs with the government of New Brunswick, informed by its values and priorities."

The commissions note the debate about hydraulic fracturing has become increasingly polarized in the province in recent years.

"There is anger, frustration and a strong sense of weariness on all sides," states the commission.

'There is anger, frustration and a strong sense of weariness on all sides.' - N.B. Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing

"Our goal is to move past the polarizing rhetoric and engage in a conversation with our fellow New Brunswickers about the potential benefits, risks, opportunities and challenges shale gas represents and the options for our shared future."

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand into the earth at high pressure to fracture rock formations at release trapped natural gas that is not otherwise attainable.

Opponents fear the process will cause damage to the environment, contaminate groundwater supplies or trigger seismic activity.

Stephanie Merrill, of the New Brunswick Conservation Council, says the debate is "pretty much the same" as before the Gallant government established a moratorium, "except that we've seen these major reports and major findings that really underpin the risks to the environment and to public health."

Merrill is referring to a US Environmental Protection Agency report that she says was not as favourable to fracking as it appeared.

"They issued their report with a big caveat, that there's a lot of evidence missing, there's a lot of information missing, that the industry hasn't been forthright in helping them collect the data they'd wanted to have a look at to make their conclusions."

The commission has established a website to communicate to citizens and post submissions from groups and individuals. As of Monday, submissions by Corridor Resources, the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick are among the six submissions posted.

Steve Moran, Corridor Resources CEO, says some of the issues raised in other jurisdictions are not an issue in NB because the geology is different here:

"As opposed to a sort of a global or North American question of the practice of hydraulic fracturing, if we can break it down to a New Brunswick question, we think it'd be helpful for the people involved in the debate."

The commission's deadline to complete its work is March 31, 2016.