Shale gas report sees wide range of interpretation
New Brunswick Tories and Liberals both claim document supports their opposing positions on industry
New Brunswick's two main political parties both say a new shale gas report commissioned by Environment Canada supports their opposing positions on developing the industry in the province.
The Progressive Conservative government of Premier David Alward says it has put in place many of the recommendations in the report by a panel of 14 international experts.
The report, which reviewed the existing research on shale gas, found "data about potential environmental impacts are neither sufficient nor conclusive."
But it offered neither a red light nor a green light on development.
Energy Minister Craig Leonard says the province is reviewing and addressing the concerns raised. Many of the ideas in the report, such as gathering baseline data on water and monitoring, are already part of the New Brunswick plan, he said.
"Those are all things we've incorporated in our rules, which as Deloitte points out last year, are some of the strongest and most restrictive in North America," said Leonard.
"We've got time to ensure we're doing the research, doing the baseline data and doing the proper monitoring of the environment. So if we do move forward and actually have the resource that can be extracted economically, then we've got all that information at our hands just like the panel says is needed," he said.
"People talk about New Brunswick slowing down. I have to always point out that we haven't drilled a well or hydraulically fracked a well."
However, the report also concluded there are "undetermined" risks in some areas.
It says hydraulic facturing, also known as fracking, poses a threat to underground water in Canada.
That gas can leak into underground drinking water, and it's not being properly monitored, the report says.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant says that's why his party will continue to demand a moratorium on development.
"You can't properly mitigate, you can't properly regulate, and you can't properly enforce any of the regulations if we don't fully understand what those risks are," he said.
Green Party Leader David Coon says the report means shale gas development is likely to become even more of an election campaign issue this summer.
"It changes everything in New Brunswick," said Coon. "This is a tremendous validation of the concerns that so many New Brunswickers have had about fracking in this province. And the efforts of our own government to marginalize those concerns — even demonize or vilify them at times — have been swept away by this report which clearly says these concerns are valid."
They've got to stop saying that New Brunswickers who are concerned about shale gas and the risks involved in fracking are misinformed or fear mongering because they're going to have to suggest that Environment Canada and the scholars who work for them are doing the same thing.- Green Party Leader David Coon
"They're going to have to change their message track," he said. "They've got to stop saying that New Brunswickers who are concerned about shale gas and the risks involved in fracking are misinformed or fear mongering because they're going to have to suggest that Environment Canada and the scholars who work for them are doing the same thing."
Stephanie Merrill, the freshwater program director for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says the report contradicts statements by the provincial government.
"Claims that water contamination can happen at depth have been repeatedly dismissed by government and industry and this report actually highlights how methane migration, particularly, can happen through fractures, natural fractures, in the existing geology," she said.
David Besner, chair of the New Brunswick Energy Institute, is pleased that the report encourages more research.
"It very much expresses the same issues and the rationale, in effect, for why the Energy Institute has been formed in New Brunswick," he said.
The Energy Institute was created as an independent body by the provincial government with a mandate to examine the science surrounding emerging energy possibilities, including the possible development of a shale gas industry in New Brunswick.
"Whether it's an institute like ours, somebody has to do the science proactively."
SWN Resources Canada intends to drill four exploratory wells in the next phase of its exploration program for potential shale gas development in New Brunswick.
Two of the exploratory wells are planned for Kent County, in Saint-Charles and Galloway. The other two are planned for Queens County, in the vicinity of Bronston Settlement Road and the Pangburn area.
The prospect of shale gas development has sparked protests across the province.
Last fall, a protest in Rexton ended in a violent clash between protesters and RCMP officers. Six RCMP vehicles were set on fire and about 40 protesters were arrested, setting off a wave of sympathy protests across the country.
Former federal environment minister Peter Kent requested the report in response to ongoing concerns about fracking in Canada.