Groups in New Brunswick concerned about groundwater and air protection intend to bring the discussion surrounding the Alward Government and the shale gas industry’s intentions to move forward with development to public debates by panelists presenting each side of the issue. In October 2011 Premier David Alward publicly stated that Members of the Legislature would be organizing town hall and information meetings later that month, “to hear directly from their constituents on this important issue.” In the spirit of Premier Alward’s suggestion, the group Friends of the UNB Woodlot will host the first of these debates this Thursday, May 10, starting at 7:00 pm at the Cathedral Memorial Hall, 168 Church St. in Fredericton.
Information is now coming to light that the Saint John River is home to one of Canada’s largest aquifers. This comes on the heels of a study out this month by the National Ground Water Association in the US pointing out that the potential deterioration of rock formations by hydraulic fracturing fluids can allow fracking chemicals and other toxins to flow to ground surface rapidly and migrate to aquifers well within the period of a decade.
“Complete aquifer mapping has not been conducted to-date but we understand that one continuous aquifer under the Saint John River Basin extends east-west from two kilometers below Woodstock to two kilometers above Welsford and extends north-south to the headwaters of the Nashwaak River and the headwaters of the Oromocto River,” says Mark D’Arcy, spokesperson for Friends of the UNB Woodlot. “The significance of this is very simple. Any water contamination by shale gas development that happens on the outskirts of Welsford will affect the water that people in Fredericton drink. “Proper aquifer mapping and groundwater flow monitoring are crucial to establish the interconnections of our groundwater system before the government can even consider promoting this industry anywhere in the province.” SWN Resources has a license to explore 1.2 million hectares that cuts across the aquifer upon which communities like Fredericton and Woodstock draw their water.
“This public debate is important for citizens to hear both sides of this important issue, especially with exploration imminent in the province”, says event moderator Dr. Jean-Louis Deveau. “We are waiting for a response from Government as to who will represent their position. We can assure the public that the government position will be represented as clearly and as fairly as possible.” If necessary, one or two panelists will read the public position taken by the David Alward government, industry, and business groups like the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce.
The following advocates for shale gas development in the province have each received an invitation to debate this issue: Premier David Alward, the Minister of Energy Margaret-Ann Blaney, the Minister of Natural Resources Bruce Northrup, the Minister of the Environment Bruce Fitch, the Province of New Brunswick Natural Gas Group (Marc Belliveau, Communications); MLA for Fredericton-Lincoln Craig Leonard, MLA for Fredericton-Silverwood Brian Macdonald, MLA for Fredericton-Nashwaaksis Troy Lifford, MLA for Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak Pam Lynch; Fredericton Chamber of Commerce (CEO Krista Ross), Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Enterprise Central NB (John Flynn, Executive Director), SWN Resources Canada (Tom Alexander, General Manager, NB), and Windsor Energy (CEO Khalid Amin). No advocates had accepted prior to this notice having been released to the press.
Mark Connell, Maxime Daigle, Mark D’Arcy, Peter DeMarsh, Jim Emberger, Corinne Hersey, Stephanie Merrill and Hazel Richardson have agreed to represent the viewpoint concerned with groundwater and air protection.
In addition to the topics of groundwater and air protection, organizers hope to hear questions from the public on such issues as job creation, industrialization of rural New Brunswick, human and environmental health concerns, as well as municipal and provincial obligations and regulations.