New Brunswick

Full shale gas health report to be released

The full shale gas health report will be made public on Oct. 15, Environment Minister Bruce Fitch announced on Thursday.
Environment Minister Bruce Fitch says he disagrees with some elements of the report by the province's chief medical officer of health. (CBC)

The full shale gas health report written by the province's chief medical officer of health will be made public on Oct. 15, Environment Minister Bruce Fitch announced on Thursday.

Earlier this week, the Alward government would not commit to releasing the report by Dr. Eilish Cleary on the potential health impacts of the shale gas industry.

Then on Wednesday, Fitch had said that parts of Cleary's would eventually be released, but he couldn't say how much or when.

But Fitch committed to releasing the whole report during a hastily arranged press conference on Thursday afternoon.

Fitch said there are elements of Cleary's report he disagrees with, but he's willing to have that discussion publicly.

He said some of the health concerns she cites are out of date due to new technology and some of her recommendations go beyond health, dealing with areas such as royalties.

When Cleary undertook the review in May, she said she would make recommendations on how to minimize the negative effects of the shale gas industry on people's health.

She said at the time such measures would be costly, but that shale gas revenues could help.

Shouldn't be political

A former public health official in Alberta, who was fired for political reasons, contends New Brunswickers have a right to see the report.

Dr. David Swann, who is now a Liberal MLA, says public health officers must be completely free of political influence.

The Alward government's previous refusal to release Cleary's report didn't live up to that principle, he said.

"Vested interests, political interests, economic interests — short-term thinking interfering with and blocking the development of good healthy public policy," said Swann.

Ten years ago, Swann was removed from his job as the public health officer for a regional health authority in Alberta when he publicly supported the Kyoto treaty.

After a public outcry, he was offered his job back.

He sees parallels between his own case and that of Cleary, he said.

Independence only in health emergencies

Health Minister Madeleine Dubé says the chief medical officer of health has independence if there is an imminent health risk. (CBC)

Health Minister Madeleine Dubé says Cleary has independence in health emergencies, such as a pandemic, but not when she's giving advice.

"It's always confidential, advice to minister, and [to] go through the normal process that we're going through right now," Dubé said.

"Her role, independent, it would be if there were an imminent risk, like tomorrow someone would be at risk."

Earlier this week, government officials said at least part of Cleary's report would eventually be made public.

But they said any part of the report that overlaps with other shale gas studies underway might not be released.

Opponents of the shale gas industry say the hydro-fracking process can cause water and air pollution.

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. That process allows companies to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.