Potential health risks cited in report on shale gas industry
New Brunswick's chief medical health officer recommends ongoing monitoring
New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health says 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 in the province.
"There are social and community health risks from this industry," Dr. Eilish Cleary states in her 82-page report, released on Monday.
Cleary recommends requiring a health impact assessment and monitoring the health of the population on an ongoing basis to detect adverse impacts.
She says "few studies" have looked at the overall health impact of shale gas development, but she believes the potential risks of hydro-fracking are greater than just chemicals. Air quality, noise, and vibration are among her concerns.
Cleary spent part of the summer looking at the potential health impacts of the industry and what the provincial government should do to minimize them.
The Alward government initially would not commit to releasing the contents of Cleary's report, but it was released in full.
Cleary will not be answering any questions until Tuesday, when she is expected to hold a news conference.
"Proper controls and mechanisms to protect and monitor health must be put in place to reduce the risk of spoiling the potential benefits from economic gains through adverse health outcomes," she states in the report.
Among her numerous recommendations:
- Require disclosure of all chemicals used.
- Monitor air, water and drinking water quality, including baseline measurements pre-development.
- Prevent fracking in sensitive areas, including wet fields.
- Require setbacks, noise/vibration standards, emergency response training.
- Monitor the health of people living, working or going to school near fracking sites.
- Establish an implementation group and oversight mechanism.
- Ensure optimal emergency response capacity to deal with potential physical injuries at work sites and in the vicinity.
Industry could absorb much of the costs
"Current infrastructure, capacity, processes and legislation are not adequate to meet these needs," Cleary stresses.
The cost of funding her recommendations has not yet been determined, but they "will not be insubstantial," Cleary writes.
But she has suggested if there are economic benefits from the shale gas industry, that could help cover some of the costs involved with measuring the health impacts.
Cleary says her recommendations may seem onerous, but they should be seen as routine public health practice.
The provincial government also released a report Monday by Louis LaPierre, a professor emeritus in biology at the University of Moncton.
LaPierre, who was hired to solicit the opinions of citizens over proposed regulatory changes to the oil and gas industry, said the provincial government must address the "very serious concerns" people have, but ruled out a provincial moratorium on the shale gas industry.
Opponents to 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.
In May, the provincial government introduced 116 proposed changes to the regulatory framework that oversees the oil and gas industry.
The new provincial regulations will set out stricter rules on protecting the environment, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup has said.