Kent County residents slam fracking, document concerns during emotional meeting with Commission in Richibucto

Written by Dallas McQuarrie on October 21, 2015

IMG_0118 Protestors on Highway 134 #3-2

Non-violent opposition to fracking on the highways and in the forests of Kent County from Aboriginals, Anglophones and Francophones alike in 2013 stopped a multi-billion dollar shale gas company in its tracks. A frustrated Conservative government that had announced shale gas as fait accompli responded to the peaceful protests by arresting citizens, while the RCMP attacked and overran a protest camp near the site of this photo. Photo by Dallas McQuarrie.

Kent County residents and citizen groups have again denounced fracking and documented their fierce opposition to it.

During what several participants later described as an “emotional” meeting in Richibucto October 15, the Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing, appointed by Premier Brian Gallant received submissions from the Kent County Council of Canadians (KCCC) and Notre environnement, notre choix / Our Environment, Our Choice (NENC), as well as formal briefs from several individuals.  While in Richibucto, the Commission also met with people opposing fracking from the Tantramar region of New Brunswick, and some of the plaintiffs in the so-called ‘People’s Lawsuit’ who, through legal action, are attempting to prevent fracking in the province.

During more than two hours, the KCCC and NENC submissions documented massive opposition to fracking all across Kent County. People presenting briefs also applauded the wealth of scientific studies that already document the many serious threats fracking poses to public health and safety, as well as the massive environmental damage fracking causes by water, land and air pollution.

Premier Gallant has asked the three member Commission to determine whether there is a “social license” for fracking in New Brunswick, and to gather “clear and credible information about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on public health, the environment and water, allowing the government to develop a country-leading regulatory regime with sufficient enforcement capabilities.”

As well, the Commission has been asked to report on whether “a plan … that mitigates the impacts on public infrastructure and that addresses issues such as waste water disposal” can be formulated, and “a process [put] in place to respect the duty of the provincial government to consult with First Nations.”  It will also address the issue of “a mechanism … to ensure that benefits are maximized for New Brunswickers.”

Rexton resident Denise Melanson presented the KCCC brief at the Richibucto meeting.  Melanson, a retired medical social worker, is angry that the industry and its proponents are willing to use Kent County residents as guinea pigs in a dangerous experiment.

“In the face of the existing uncertainties related to the health impacts of [shale gas development] … the imposition of this industry on local populations would be tantamount to forcing residents to become unwilling subjects in an uncontrolled experiment,” Melanson said.  “The laws of Canada do not permit the use of human subjects without their free, prior, written and informed consent.”

She wonders if the industry and its government advocates are trying to avoid legal responsibility for the damage fracking causes to people and the environment by maintaining a state of willful ignorance about the technology’s effects.

“The instant one asks the question, ‘Does this pose a risk to the people living nearby?’ an ethical and legal obligation has been created to answer it.  This would prove to be very awkward for the government, regulators and the industry,” the KCCC submission says.

“The otherwise inexplicable exclusion of public health or toxicological expertise from every single body responsible for drafting the regulatory regimes that govern this industry (and every other polluting industry) probably reflects this legal and ethical dilemma,” Melanson said. “They simply couldn’t afford to ask this question because if they did they would then be required to obtain the free, prior, written, and informed consent of every single person who could be impacted prior to drilling any wells anywhere.”

IMG_0124 Chief Sock announcement #1-2

In what proved to be a prophetic announcement, in October 2013, Chief Aaron Sock of the Elsipogtog First Nation (visible here in a white shirt in the upper left of the picture) announced Aboriginals were taking back control of their territory. A year later, in June 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Aboriginals are still the lawful owner of their traditional territories not sold or ceded by Treaty. The ruling means Aboriginal people today are the lawful owners of what is euphemistically called ‘Crown Land’ in New Brunswick. Photo by Dallas McQuarrie.

“For consent to be valid, it must be informed.  Citizens should not be asked to make decisions based on incomplete, inaccurate, faulty or false information.”

Trying to pretend fracking doesn’t cause serious health and pollution problems is becoming ever more difficult with new studies being added almost daily to the wealth of scientific studies that already document the ravages of fracking

“Why are we still talking about this?” the KCCC brief asks.  “If we are asked if this industry has the consent of the population to operate in Kent County, we can say with absolute certainty that the answer is no.  The overwhelming feeling here is that this [industry] would be very dangerous for us and would have a terrible impact on our quality of life and our environment.”

NENC members were among the first people arrested when the previous Conservative government attempted to use force to suppress peaceful shale gas protests in Kent County in 2013.  NENC members were delighted when the Conservative government, campaigning on a platform of “Say Yes to Shale Gas” were defeated in September 2014, but they are also angry about the Gallant government’s apparent short-term memory loss.

“It’s outrageous, the NENC submission says, “that a mere six months after 65% of New Brunswick voters said ‘no’ to shale gas development in a provincial election, the Province would need to ask a Commission to determine whether there was ‘a social license to proceed’ with the industry!”

As well as noting the crushing defeat suffered by Conservative candidates in the 2014 election, NENC’s brief also detailed widespread community support for shale gas protests.

“Local priests and religious visited protest camps, supporting their parishioners and bringing  gifts of food.  Local business owners also contributed food and, when the winter came, warm winter clothing,” NENC said.  “Many businesses had the ubiquitous ‘Say No to Shale Gas’ (Disons non au gaz-de-schiste) signs in their windows.  Public meetings called to mobilize opposition to shale gas consistently over-flowed the host community centers with the crowds spilling out into the parking lots.”

Given the massive, documented opposition to shale gas in Kent County, NENC says it is “deeply suspicious of the provincial government’s motives in establishing the Commission.”  NENC members wonder if the Gallant Liberals have already decided to lift the moratorium that got them elected, and are now cynically  “using the Commission to give the illusion of ‘due process.’ ”

NENC members, however, accepted assurances from Commission members that, whatever Premier Gallant may or may not be up to, they do not have a hidden agenda. However, while the Commission will control the contents of its own report, ultimately the decision on whether to allow fracking for shale gas in New Brunswick will be made by Premier Gallant.

Rather than detailing the hundreds of scientific studies documenting serious health concerns linked to fracking, NENC’s brief notes the work already done in this area and already given to the Commission, by the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA).   The group sought and received assurances from the Commission that it would read every document NBASGA has referred to it.

Its brief insists that “the only data that can be accepted as both legitimate and valid is data contained in independent peer-reviewed scientific studies” and data “not derived from independent scientific studies … must not be regarded as more then merely anecdotal in nature.”

After citing 10 famous examples of “false and misleading information flowing, deliberately or otherwise, from companies whose first priority is to generate a profit for their owners/shareholders,” NENC pointed out that “the shale gas industry is no exception!”  Indeed, industry “claims about the safety of developing shale gas have been called into question in many places for many reasons.”

NENC did however draw to the Commission’s attention “the importance of the 2014 report by The Council of Canadian Academies” which noted the need for much more research before fracking can be presumed to be safe.

The Council’s report, Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada: The Expert Panel on Harnessing Science and Technology to Understand the Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction, represents the most recent work of Canada’s top scientists on shale gas.

NENC said a failure by the Provincial government to heed the collective voice of Canada’s top scientists would expose New Brunswick’s  assessment of shale gas as merely “an empty political exercise designed to reach a pre-determined conclusion.”

Gilbert Blanchard from Kouchibouguac Village prepared his own submission for the Commission.

Blanchard is outraged by the fact he and people across Kent County “working to stop shale gas development have been repeatedly vilified and attacked by industry spokespeople and government officials in the previous government.”

“Those same people constantly say we are “misinformed,” he said.  “On the contrary … the vast majority of people in our area base our adamant opposition to shale gas development on a vast body of scientific information … produced by experts in a variety of scientific fields, by independent scientists who have zero connection with the oil and gas industry.”

“These scientists, and the people who have suffered in areas where shale gas development has been done, are not ‘misinformed,’ and neither are we.”

Blanchard also spoke to the Commission about a conference he attended in Fredericton in April 2014 featuring Professor Tom Goldstein from the University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Lalita Bharadwaj, an environmental health expert with a PhD in toxicology now living in Saskatchewan.

At the conference, Blanchard learned that “big problems occur” after fracking is done.  Those problems include water, air and land pollution.

Toxic agents present in shale gas development are always dangerous,” Blanchard says.  “Toxic elements are present in the air and fluid around gas development.”

“The smaller the person is, the worse is the toxic effects on the person.  Children are the most at risk!”

Blanchard, who made detailed notes of what the experts in Fredericton said, noted that “Dr. Goldstein recommends that on shale gas development, governments should “stall, stall, stall.”

Whether the Gallant Liberals intend to lift the moratorium on shale gas is a matter for speculation.  What is not a matter of speculation is that the Province has been doggedly dragging its feet trying to avoid a courtroom confrontation with the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA).

Armed with a library of scientific studies documenting all sorts of health and environmental problems caused by fracking, NBASGA’s Statement of Claim against the Province asserts that fracking is so hazardous, it violates Section 7 of the Canadian constitution which guarantees “security of the person.”

Indeed, the day after the Commission hearing in Richibucto, the Concerned Health Professionals of New York released the third edition of their Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings demonstrating the Risks and Harms of Fracking.”  That compendium adds more than 100 new studies documenting the very real dangers of fracking to NBASGA’s arsenal of evidence.

“When confronting a high-risk situation only a fool would not look at the experiences of others facing those risks,” NBASGA spokesman Jim Emberger says.  “While geology may differ somewhat from place to place, the laws of physics, chemistry and, certainly human biology, do not.”

“Does a fracking chemical that causes disease in Pennsylvania or Alberta not cause disease in New Brunswick?”  Perhaps Emberger’s question provides the key to understanding why the Province of New Brunswick is doing all it can to avoid having to defend the safety of fracking in court.

Dallas McQuarrie is a news writer for the NB Media Co-op based on Mi’kmaq territory in Kent County, New Brunswick.

Comments are closed.