New Brunswick

Shale gas report by health officer may remain secret

The Alward government won't say whether a new public health report on shale gas will be released publicly.

Dr. Eilish Cleary looked at potential health impacts of the shale gas industry

The Alward government will not say whether it will release a report by the province's chief medical officer of health on the potential health impacts of the shale gas industry.

Dr. Eilish Cleary spent part of the summer drafting recommendations for the provincial government on possible shale gas development in New Brunswick.

She was to look at the potential health impacts of the industry and what the provincial government should do to minimize them.

But Tracey Burkhardt, a spokeswoman with the Department of Health, told CBC News that Cleary won't be discussing her recommendations publicly.

The report will be circulated internally as part of the provincial government's discussion on shale gas, Burkhardt said.

'That's the piece that is, I think, the most salient to the public. That's what they really want to know — how is this going to impact me and my family going forward?' —Stephanie Merrill, Conservation Council of New Brunswick

Stephanie Merrill, the fresh water program co-ordinator for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, contends it's important Cleary's report on the controversial issue be made public.

"We need that piece, to make sure people have the whole picture," Merrill said.

"That's the piece that's missing, and that's the piece that is, I think, the most salient to the public. That's what they really want to know — how is this going to impact me and my family going forward?"

Important to track effects

In May, when Cleary undertook the review, she said "there would need to be some investment in resources and infrastructure to ensure that the negative impacts are mitigated and minimized."

Cleary, the province's top public health official, said it would be important to try to track the health effects of the industry, but that it would be expensive.

She had been looking at what other provinces and U.S. jurisdictions had done to monitor any impacts from hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as hydro-fracking.

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.

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

The provincial government has promised to release the results of a separate report by Prof. Louis LaPierre on his public consultations regarding proposed rule changes for the industry.

LaPierre's report is expected this fall.

But officials say it's too early to commit to releasing Cleary's recommendations publicly.

The government introduced 116 proposed changes to the regulatory framework that oversees the oil and gas industry in May.

The new provincial regulations will set out stricter rules on protecting the environment, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup has said.