Shale gas opponents take fight to ombudsman

The Office of the Ombudsman is being inundated by complaints from citizens concerned about shale gas exploration in the province.

Charles Murray was appointed the new ombudsman on Friday

The Office of the Ombudsman is being inundated by complaints from citizens concerned about shale gas exploration in the province.

For months, the independent office has been seeing a flood of letters of complaints against the provincial government’s handling of the shale gas file.

Chris Rendell, a Hampton resident, sent a three-page letter to the ombudsman, saying the provincial government is refusing to address the concerns of citizens about the shale gas industry.

Opponents to the shale gas industry packed into meetings held by Louis Lapierre last year to discuss their concerns about the industry. (CBC)

"Regardless of how much opposition, regardless of the fact that new information appears weekly and daily that refutes the claims and arguments of the ministers of the government, yet nothing seems to alter them from this course," Rendell said.

Rendell said he wants the ombudsman to review the way the provincial government has gone about studying the impacts of shale gas.

"Citizens of New Brunswick have not been given an opportunity to be heard. We feel the entire process was unfair and deserves some examination," he said.

"Allowing the exploration companies full latitude to come and do what they like and paying little attention to the voters and the citizens of this province. And we're asking the ombudsman to look at some of the specific issues regarding their behaviour in that regard."

The acting ombudsman said the letters have been coming in for months and the office is trying to wade through all of them.

A new ombudsman, Charles Murray, was appointed on Friday. Murray is a civil servant and former political assistant to one-time Saint John Tory MP Elsie Wayne and to former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Brad Green.

The New Brunswick government hired Louis Lapierre, a professor emeritus in biology at the University of Moncton, to lead a series of public meetings about its oil and gas regulations.

Lapierre’s report, which was released in October 2012, said the provincial government must tackle "very serious concerns" about shale gas development in the province. But the report recommended against a moratorium on the industry.

Opponents to the shale gas industry came out in large numbers to Lapierre’s nine public meetings.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as 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 to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

Premier David Alward has said the province's new rules governing the oil and gas industry are among the strictest in North America.

Kent County protests

SWN Resources Canada has started seismic testing in Kent County in the last two weeks to see if there is viable gas industry in the area.

The RCMP arrested 12 people at a shale gas protest near Harcourt on Friday. (CBC)

The company has been met by a series of protests, including about 100 demonstrators on Saturday.

The RCMP arrested 12 anti-shale gas protesters on Route 126 near Harcourt on Friday morning.

Michel DesNeiges, a lawyer with the New Brunswick Environmental Law Society, said environmentalists and police are clashing and part of the problem is the provincial government has been far too quiet.

"I believe government hasn't been straightforward with New Brunswick citizens all of the time," DesNeiges said.

"And that creates suspicion on the part of citizens and I can understand that suspicion. So the government has to step in, change its approach and be present in what's going on."