New Brunswick

Upper Miramichi concerns over shale gas exploration

Marlene McClement of the Upper Miramichi Stewardship Alliance expresses concerns about shale gas development.

A series of special op-eds written on the shale gas industry

Marlene McClement is a resident of Hayesville.

She has consulted with geologists, environmental scientists, economists and health professionals in an effort to understand the shale gas industry. 

McClement now considers hself an activist against shale gas development. 

She is a member of the Upper Miramichi Stewardship Alliance. 

The Upper Miramichi Stewardship Alliance (UMSA) is a group of citizens in the Rural Community of Upper Miramichi concerned about the development of the shale gas industry in New Brunswick.

In addition to worries about negative impacts on our water and air, we are disturbed by the government’s lack of consultation with New Brunswickers, with blatant disregard by shale gas companies for regulations (even at this early stage), and by the speed at which the industry is moving forward, despite many calls for caution.

The Rural Community of Upper Miramichi is located in the geographical centre of New Brunswick. With a population of 2,400, it is comprised of 16 communities stretching along the beautiful Miramichi River Valley.

Our river provides a valuable sports fishing industry which has supported families who live along it for the past 200 years. All the residents of this community rely on springs and wells for potable water. 

In some cases, those wells have been hand-dug, and are very shallow. In times of drought, it is not uncommon for some wells to go dry. It was alarming, therefore, to learn that millions of litres of water would be permanently removed from our watershed to be used for the extraction of shale gas.

Just as alarming was the manner in which many of us learned about this new industry coming to our area. There was no press release; no consultation by government representatives. Rather, it was the appearance of low-flying helicopters, seismic equipment, and unfamiliar workers that informed us. 

Searching for information

As individuals researched and shared information, our community became concerned; the evidence of negative environmental, social, and industrialization impacts that have dogged this industry seemed overwhelming.

SWN Resources Canada was granted a licence to explore in our area.

SWN did not request, nor was it provided with, written permission to carry out seismic testing in the Rural Community of Upper Miramichi. This is a direct violation of the Oil and Gas Act Regulation 86-191 Section 17:1 (OC 86-1026) Dec.1986).

Having witnessed Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup’s response to Windsor Resources flagrant violation of regulations in Sussex, is it any wonder that we have little confidence that minister Northrup’s response to SWN will be any different than his response to Windsor Resources?

The minister’s decision to turn over the issue in Sussex to the RCMP speaks volumes regarding the strength of the regulations and the government’s willingness, or lack of, to enforce them.

Local survey

The Upper Miramichi Stewardship Alliance recently surveyed local residents, who were asked to respond to the question,

"Do you support the development of a shale gas industry here?" Of those who expressed an opinion, 97 per cent were opposed.

Having obtained a strong response from the community, the UMSA made a presentation to our municipal council, in which we highlighted the results of the survey and community concerns regarding shale gas development.

Foremost among these concerns was the contamination of our water, rivers, lakes, streams, brooks, and wells; the industrialization of our landscape with well pads, access roads, pipe lines, and compressor and pumping stations; the social upheaval of our rural community; and unsuitable infrastructure to support heavy industry and to accommodate transient workers. 

We asked our council to:

  1. Send a letter of admonishment to the Premier, DNR and the Natural Gas Group expressing disapproval of SWN for carrying out exploration without permission.
  2. Pass a motion denying permission for further shale gas exploration in the Rural Community of Upper Miramichi.
  3. Pass a motion denying permission for shale gas production in the Rural Community of Upper Miramichi.

We await their decision.

Needed jobs

Meanwhile, Premier David Alward claims that the shale gas industry will bring much-needed jobs to New Brunswick.

With a long tradition of a resource-based economy, we in the Rural Community of Upper Miramichi are acutely aware of the need for jobs.

But we also recognize a disturbing trend of allowing our natural resources, such as lumber, to be over-harvested and to be shipped away for processing  elsewhere, at a significant loss to our local economy.

Should the shale gas industry be permitted to develop the natural gas that is trapped within our shale rock will be sent to the United States. 

People of New Brunswick are very aware of the need for jobs. The question has to be asked, "What price are we willing to pay for these jobs?" 

By the government’s own estimates most of the jobs created by this industry will be temporary and lower paid. While a few high paying jobs may be created, the majority of the high paying jobs will move with the industry which is transient by nature.

Experts in the field advise that the science of shale gas extraction has not developed sufficiently to be done safely.

The push for shale gas in New Brunswick could destroy all we hold dear; clean air, clean water, abundant wildlife, healthy ecosystems and a quality of life that surely must be the envy of other countries around the world. 

Our government’s first imperative should be to protect our quality of life not to threaten it.

The Upper Miramichi Stewardship Alliance has joined with the other groups in the province who are also very concerned about the direction our government is taking and the speed with which it is moving to embrace this industry. Together we are requesting that the Alward Government ban shale gas exploration and development in the province.