Shale gas critics in New Brunswick say that two government-commissioned reports released in October are being used to give a green light to the development of an industry that is too risky for the province.
Dr. Eilish Cleary, the province’s Chief Medical Officer, was tasked with examining the potential public health impacts of shale gas development in New Brunswick and making recommendations aimed at preventing or mitigating those impacts.
The Alward government announced in early October that they would not be releasing the study. After public outcry, the Alward government reversed its decision and released the report on Oct. 15.
Stephanie Merrill, CCNB Action’s Shale Gas Alert Coordinator found comfort in Dr. Cleary’s health review: “For the first time in over two years, a government issued report openly acknowledges that the shale gas industry has serious health impacts and those impacts will come to New Brunswick if the industry is allowed to proceed.”
The N.B. College of Family Physicians passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for shale gas last April. The association, which represents 700 doctors in the province, wants a moratorium put into place until studies are done and it can be shown whether the benefits outweigh the risks.
Shale gas opponents say hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for shale gas is a public health concern because the industry has a track record of leaving behind contaminated drinking water, polluted air and emotional duress at its sites of operation in Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo softened his support for shale gas when he announced last September that fracking in the state would have to wait until a review of the industry’s potential public health impacts was completed.
The industry’s critics point to Penobsquis, a rural community adjacent to Sussex, as a place where the provincial government was not able to adequately regulate industry. The residents and their supporters say getting information from the government that is needed to assess risk for the community is already a gruelling task.
“How can we expect the government in New Brunswick that has and continues to put industry ahead of the people of Penobsquis to protect us from the impacts of shale gas? The Conservation Council is still waiting for information requested from the Department of Environment back in July on air quality in Penobsquis. The Alward government is violating rules of responding to information requests within 30 days,” says Merrill.
Dr. Louis LaPierre, a Professor Emeritus of Biology at the Université de Moncton, was commissioned to hold public meetings and gather public opinions concerning the government’s 116 recommendations for regulating a potential shale gas industry. LaPierre’s report was released on Oct. 15th.
LaPierre noted that there were few comments about the government’s regulations at those meetings. Instead, the public shared their concerns with how shale gas could affect their water, health and environment. Shale gas opponents are criticizing the conclusions of LaPierre’s report, which they say are not derived from the data received.
“Dr. Cleary and Dr. LaPierre did not have the mandate to give the green light to shale gas, as seems to be reflected by government and media. Both reports support what the opposition has been saying,” says Merrill. “New Brunswickers have been saying the risks are big and we aren’t willing to assume them. Dr. LaPierre reports this as he heard it in the government-supported tour last summer and Dr. Cleary substantiates those risks, at least with respect to public health.”
About 20 community groups from across the province released a statement on Oct. 19th suggesting that LaPierre’s recommendations and conclusions were based on opinion, not science.
Meaningful public consultation is another concern of the shale gas critics. The critics say that the handful of meetings chaired by LaPierre did not include the cities of New Brunswick or communities that could be most affected by the development of a shale gas sector.
“MLAs should hold meaningful public consultations on whether to allow or not allow shale gas development in New Brunswick. This consultation should start with legislative hearings, and later include public meetings on the government’s final recommendations,” says Dr. Caroline Lubbe-D’Arcy, a Fredericton dentist and active opponent to shale gas.
Shale gas opponents have noted that the Alward Conservatives criticized the previous Graham Liberal government for its lack of public consultation on the proposed sale of NB Power.
“The Alward government is guilty of the same undemocratic actions of forcing a decision on New Brunswickers that based on all the evidence collected could very well harm us in the future,” says Dr. Lubbe-D’Arcy.
Dr. Jean Louis Deveau is a social scientist with the Fredericton Chapter of the Council of Canadians.