New Brunswick

Health officer rejects joining shale gas advisory group

New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health has turned down an invitation to join the provincial government's advisory body on shale gas.

Dr. Eilish Cleary says Energy Institute's scientific focus not a good fit with her health impact work

New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health has turned down an invitation to join the provincial government's advisory body on shale gas.

Dr. Eilish Cleary says her work on the public health effects of developing the industry in the province is better done without a connection to the New Brunswick Energy Institute.

"The makeup of the table was not conducive yet to having good conversations about health," she told CBC News.

Cleary contends the institute's focus — primarily geophysical research on the impact of shale gas development — is too narrow and not a good fit with the work she wants to do.

"They will only be able to probably choose a few research projects at any one time, because, well, everybody has to look at what it can reasonably achieve given time and resources. So I didn't see a natural connect at this time."

Cleary is working on ways to mitigate the broader public health impacts of possible shale gas development, including on aboriginal people.

"The energy institute, you know, if you look at its website, it says it will look at the science leading up to a decision," she said.

"Well, in health we've already done that. We've already come forward with recommendations. And now what we have to do is translate those recommendations into operational plans."

Energy Minister Craig Leonard was not available to comment on Cleary's decision.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant questioned whether Cleary is frustrated the Alward government has not embraced her recommendations from last year.

"So I can understand that there'd be potentially some frustration there. Not to speak on her behalf, but I could understand that," he said.

In a report released in October 2012, Cleary said the Alward government needs to take "targeted and strategic actions" to prevent and mitigate any negative health impacts associated with the development of the shale gas industry.

She recommended requiring a health impact assessment and monitoring the health of the population on an ongoing basis to detect adverse impacts.

Some of her concerns include the chemicals used in the hydro-fracking process, air quality, noise, and vibration.

The government cannot depend on the environmental impact assessment process to protect the health of citizens because it focuses on environmental sources of disease, such as pollution levels, while public health is more complicated, Cleary has said.

Controversy played role in decision

The Energy Institute was set up by the Alward government last year to conduct independent scientific research on the impact of shale gas development and serve as an advisory body.

Cleary says controversy surrounding the institute shortly after its debut was also a factor in her decision to decline the offer to join its round tables.

"I suppose to a certain extent it would be hard to deny that it did," she said.

The group's founding chairman, Louis LaPierre, resigned last fall after it was revealed he exaggerated his scientific credentials.

For years, the prominent Université de Moncton professor's biography had claimed he held a PhD in ecology from the University of Maine. But after a Radio-Canada report raised questions about his academic history, LaPierre said there was a mix up.

He said the PhD was in association with the University of Maine and Walden University. Officials later confirmed the PhD is in education, not science.

The only First Nations member of the Energy Institute also resigned in November, saying he was not comfortable with the level of intervention by the provincial government in the supposedly independent body.

Fred Metallic, a member of the Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation in Quebec, near Campbellton, said the institute was too preoccupied with how the Alward government wanted it to respond to shale gas development.

The organization was taking for granted that shale gas development should happen, he had said.

Dr. David Besner is serving as interim chair of the institute. Cecelia Brooks, of St. Mary's First Nation, is the new Aboriginal representative.