New Brunswick

Shale gas study tour wraps up in Norton

Norton was the final stop in Louis LaPierre's nine-community study tour that asked citizens for their views on 116 proposed regulations to the shale gas industry.

Louis LaPierre's final report is expected in the fall

Opponents to shale gas exporation applaud a speaker during a public meeting in Norton on Wednesday. (CBC)

Roughly 250 people packed into the Norton legion hall on Wednesday to discuss the provincial government’s proposed rule changes for the shale gas industry.

The provincial government hired Louis LaPierre, a professor emeritus in biology at the University of Moncton, to tour the province and ask people about their views on the 116 proposed reforms.

The crowd in Norton was the largest of the nine-community study tour and again the majority of the people who showed up to speak were opposed to the industry developing further in the province.

LaPierre said the public meetings have been important to gauge the public reaction to the potential changes outlined by the provincial government in May.

"Because as government rewrites these regulations, they will take some of these certainly very valid points and they will be integrated into — hopefully — future regulations," LaPierre said.

"I think it's good for government to hear these."

LaPierre said he expects to file a report with the province sometime in the fall.

The majority of people who showed up at the public meeting in Norton were opposed to shale gas development in New Brunswick. (CBC)

The provincial government announced last week the public has until Sept. 18 to offer feedback on the changes, instead of July 18.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup and Environment and Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch announced 116 different reforms that, if implemented, would ensure more money flows into the provincial coffers and also provide money to property owners and communities where mining activity is taking place.

The proposed changes would also set out strict rules on protecting the environment and natural gas companies would also be hit with higher fines if they break the rules.

The majority of people that showed up in Norton on Wednesday were opposed to the expansion of the shale gas industry into New Brunswick.

Tom Cunningham said the provincial government’s consultations are misguided and should be asking different questions.

"They should be consulting — not just yes, we're going to do it, but should we do it, should we go ahead with it, should there be commercial use here, should the gas stay in New Brunswick?"

While in the minority, there were some citizens who showed up to offer their support of a regulated shale gas industry.

Ed Armstrong told LaPierre that he would like to see strong rules govern the shale gas industry.

"I want it done environmentally sustainable, and I want it done using best practices, and the best way to ensure best practices is to have strong, enforceable regulations," he said.

Premier David Alward’s government has been forced to grapple with significant criticism over the issue of shale gas exploration in the last year.

Many groups and citizens have specifically voiced their opposition to the contentious mining practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or 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 of the process say it could have a negative effect on local water supplies and many of them have held protests across the province.

Some of the opponents to hydro-fracking have had close ties to the Progressive Conservative government.

Former Tory cabinet minister Tony Huntjens denounced hydro-fracking as a "dangerous experiment" during a public meeting in Durham Bridge last month. Huntjens retired from politics instead of running in the 2010 election.