Shale gas rules won't fix uphill legal issues: opponents

Environmentalists say the new shale gas rules in New Brunswick won't solve what they're calling David and Goliath problems.
Shale gas trucks in Hampton, N.B. (CBC)

Environmentalists say the new shale gas rules in New Brunswick won't solve what they're calling "David and Goliath" legal problems.

The first draft of the rules suggested that fracking companies would have to prove they haven't damaged private land. But the final version, released Friday, has changed that.

Last year Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup said residents of Penobsquis "went through hell and back again" during a water dispute with a mining company over whether the mine ruined their wells.

Residents complained they couldn't afford lawyers to take on the large corporation.

The first draft of the shale gas rules said companies would have to prove they did not damage the property. Without such proof, the company would have to compensate landowners.

The new provincial conditions, unveiled on Friday, lay out how the David Alward government plans to protect the environment. They cover areas including:

  • Protecting surface and groundwater during seismic testing
  • Preventing potential contaminants from escaping the well bore
  • Managing waste
  • Addressing air emissions

The final version eliminates that. Instead, if there are fracking problems the government will compensate people and then pursue the companies for the cost.

"We'll be the ones to move in, address the issue and then if there needs to be a fight with Goliath, we'll fight with them," said Environment Minister Bruce Fitch.

Environmentalist Stephanie Merrill said that puts the province in a conflict of interest. She said the province might be reluctant to take on job-creating companies.

"Can they play that objective role in helping communities defend themselves in times of need?" she asked.

Merrill said the province should create a public intervener role, who would be independent of government and defend citizens.

The New Brunswick government argues its new rules governing the oil and gas industry will be among the strictest in North America.