'Stall' shale gas industry, top public health officer says
Dr. Eilish Cleary avoids calling for a moratorium because of its political sensitivities
The New Brunswick government should stall the development of the shale gas industry and wait for more research to be completed, according to the province’s chief medical officer of health.
Dr. Eilish Cleary told CBC’s Information Morning Fredericton that she believes it is important to stall the industry in light of a new report
The report, which was commissioned by Environment Canada and released last week, said there is little information about the effects of shale gas development on the environment. The report by a panel of 14 international experts concludes "data about potential environmental impacts are neither sufficient nor conclusive."
Cleary said she feels the report “reflects industry in a pretty negative light.”
The province’s chief medical officer of health attempted to sidestep the controversial discussion on whether a moratorium on shale gas development should be imposed in the province.
If I am asked what I think is sensible, I think that yes, we should wait and see and wait until we are really ready and had time to digest, we’ve put the pieces in place to do it properly and then see. We will know a lot more and we can learn from mistakes that other people are making.- Dr. Eilish Cleary
"I have been very careful to try and not get into the moratorium conversation. I think I am often accused of skirting the issue. But I have done that for a reason. One, because it is a very inflammatory word. And one of the problems with this debate is people are cast into one side or another and once you have used that word, then ears start to close and public health cannot afford for people to stop listening irrespective of what side they are on," she said.
"The other important reason is because it has become political. In my position of chief medical officer of health, I do not get into political debates. So using the word 'moratorium' then sides you with one political party or another. Having said that, I do agree that to suggest that we stall, there is very little difference between that and saying there should be a moratorium.
"If I am asked what I think is sensible, I think that yes, we should wait and see and wait until we are really ready and had time to digest, we’ve put the pieces in place to do it properly and then see. We will know a lot more and we can learn from mistakes that other people are making."
The Progressive Conservative government favours shale gas development. Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard said last week the government is addressing some of the concerns raised in the report.
The Liberals have backed a moratorium on the shale gas industry.
Cleary released report in 2012
Cleary’s office released its own report in 2012 on the potential health risks associated with the shale gas industry.
"There are social and community health risks from this industry," Cleary stated in her 82-page report, released in October 2012.
The Alward government has since moved forward with a series of regulatory reforms and other measures, such as the creation of an energy institute, aimed at dealing with concerns raised about the shale gas industry.
On Tuesday, Cleary was asked about how seriously she feels health concerns she has raised are being taken with regard to government policy over the contentious industry.
"I do not think the health pieces are being adequately addressed, even within the current rules for the industry, and the processes do not enable us to look at the impacts either in the short term, medium term or long term," she said.
"So I do not think the process is currently adequate."
The chief medical officer of health pointed to comments made by Dr. Bernard Goldstein. a professor emeritus of environmental and occupational health and former dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. He was recently in New Brunswick and is a member of the New Brunswick Energy Institute’s scientific council.
"He was saying that if he had one piece of advice for New Brunswick, it would be to stall. He said, 'What is the rush?'" said Cleary.
"He said there is not really any advantage in rushing forward now and getting the gas out of the ground because there is a limited amount anyway. So if we start now and get it out sooner, there is no inherent advantage over waiting and starting in three years or five years time, which would give us the time to prepare properly and to understand better and to make sure we decrease the risks."
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.