New Brunswick

Ex-oil worker blasts shale gas industry

A former oil and gas worker has converted into an outspoken critic of the shale gas industry and is now warning New Brunswickers about allowing the sector to grow.

Ex-oil worker's concerns

11 years ago
Duration 4:46
Maxime Daigle worked in the oil industry for seven years but is now protesting against further development of the shale gas sector

Maxime Daigle worked on oil and gas rigs for seven years before quitting to devote his life to protesting what he believes are the perils of shale gas drilling.

Daigle spent his career in the oil and gas sector working in operations located in Alberta, British Columbia and across the United States.

He started as a roughneck and worked his way up to drilling foreman.

But he soon concluded the world's dependency on oil was killing the planet and he left the industry.

"We all have our hands dirty on it. It's just an awakening I went through that made me realize what I was doing was wrong and that I needed to try and make a difference," he said.

So Daigle moved back home to New Brunswick and went back to school to study electrical engineering with a focus on renewable energy.

Daigle is one of the many citizens that are speaking out over fears about the shale gas industry.

There are nine companies that currently have 71 different leases to explore for shale gas. While the industry is in its infancy, it has turned into a high-profile political issue for Premier David Alward's government.

The Progressive Conservative government ushered in a new set of regulations in the summer that were intended to quiet the growing chorus of criticism against the industry.

Instead, there were more protests and some mining companies faced blockades from citizens unhappy with their presence.

The Alward government has promised that it will bring in a new Environmental Protection Plan in the spring. And Alward has committed, that if the shale gas industry is to have a future in New Brunswick, the provincial government will ensure it enforces the strictest regulations on the continent.

Regulations are not enough

But tough regulations are going to help save rural landscapes from mining problems, according to Daigle.

"Some rig managers will make you contain contamination and pick up everything at the surface. But I've seen many times where you're told just to cover it with dirt, fresh dirt so nobody sees it," he said.

The former oil and gas worker said he saw the negative impact that drilling was having on the environment as he moved higher up the corporate ladder.

"I've seen enough that I know a fair amount of what can and can't be done right with regulations," he said.

Daigle also tells a story about a time when a crew he was working with hit an abnormally large gas pocket that nearly blew up the well.

He said the crew pumped thousands of barrels of toxic drilling fluid down the well in an effort to contain it. However, that fluid found its way back to the surface through an unforeseen fracture.

"After four or five days of doing this, these farmers came on location. And they asked what was that black stuff that was coming into the river," Daigle said.

"And when we were wondering why we couldn't regain circulation of that well, this was the reason. Everything was going up into the river."

Environmental concerns

Daigle’s concerns aren’t new. Many opponents to shale gas wells have often pointed to high-profile problems in the United States where local water wells were contaminated or there was an upward spike in air pollution.

Those criticisms aren’t being met without resistance from the natural gas industry.

Adrian Park, a University of New Brunswick geologist, said there should not be any problems with shale gas mining if it is done the right way. (CBC)
Three shale gas executives and one industry official wrote in separate opinion articles this week for CBC News that protecting the environment is a top priority for them.

Two companies – Corridor Resources and Contact Exploration – have track records of working in New Brunswick.

And SWN Resources Canada, which is currently examining results from recent seismic tests, has said it will not attempt to extract shale gas if it cannot protect the environment.

Some in the scientific community have also downplayed some of the concerns raised by the anti-shale gas protesters.

Adrian Park, a geologist at the University of New Brunswick, has said problems won't come about if shale gas mining is done the right way.

Park said he believes the industry can mine for shale gas and protect the environment, if the proper regulations are in place.

"Once you go more than 200 metres down, the pressure caused by the weight of overlying rock actually seals natural fissures and fractures and if you're hydro-fracking deeper than that, then that natural permeable barrier should protect your surface water," he said.