“The Rules” for the “responsible environmental development of oil and gas activity in New Brunswick” were recently released by the Ministers of Energy and Mines and Environment and Local Government.
CCNB Action maintains the position that shale gas development is environmentally irresponsible. The release of the rules for shale development, which are permit conditions and not legislated regulations, may start to address some environmental issues related to the shale gas industry. However, the conditions placed on shale gas activities really only continue to negotiate more pollution.
The rules claim that the fracking fluid chemicals must be disclosed, but with exemptions for additives considered to be trade secrets. The rules identify that gas wells must be set back 250 metres from water sources, however, scientific studies indicate that water wells within one kilometre of gas wells are highly likely to suffer methane contamination. The rules don’t apply to what happens after a well is abandoned, even though substantial contaminants remain underground over time. The setbacks from schools, nursing homes, dwellings and outdoor public spaces are arbitrary because of a severe lack of scientific study on the short- and long-term public health implications.
In short, industry receives a permit to cut up the landscape, release emissions, withdraw water, infill wetlands, inject chemicals, encroach on communities, discharge wastewater, etc, etc, etc.
We also know this industry cannot, and has not, been appropriately regulated by any government in the “we have the strongest regulations club.” Industry’s own data shows that newly-drilled wells leak at a rate of five to seven per cent and deteriorate to 50 per cent over a period of 30 years. The unsustainable use of freshwater that this industry thrives on can never be fully or eternally recycled. The inability to deal effectively with toxic wastewater and the guaranteed industrialization of our land with pads, rigs, wells, flares, tanks, trucks, pipelines and compressor stations are facts that the government has not acknowledged or presented to the public.
It is also a fact that the industry is running on a production treadmill that requires drilling thousands of densely packed wells in order to recoup huge capital costs and replace quick declines in per-well production. This drill-baby-drill trap inherently carries an enormous environmental footprint – whether on landscape or in greenhouse gas emissions.
Shale gas has been shown in scientific, peer-reviewed literature to be a climate change accelerant on-par or exceeding coal and oil. We are on trajectory toward a two- to six-degree increase in temperature. In fact, the International Energy Agency has now stated that 75 per cent of currently-known fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground to avoid run-away climate change.
While the New Brunswick government moves ahead to develop shale gas, it has, at the same time, lagged in its commitment to develop and implement the next phase of our own Climate Change Action Plan, which was adopted in 2007 and expired in 2012. David Alward’s Energy Blueprint, released in October 2011, recommitted to a 10 per cent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2020. It is now, suspiciously, missing in action.
The province is leaving the regulation of greenhouse gases from industry to the federal government. Canadians have been waiting for these oil and gas emissions regulations since 2006. At the same time, government is aggressively promoting the expansion of Canada’s energy sector, including Alberta’s tarsands and cross-country pipelines. We fail to see how climate targets can be taken seriously given the simultaneous facilitation of the oil and gas industry – the second-highest emitting economic sector in the country.
Back in New Brunswick, we are told that we have the “strictest rules anywhere.” However, adopting best-known practices does not make the industry safe or appropriate, it makes it the best we can or are willing to make it – right now. Even so, this does not reflect the government’s ability or will to enforce what can be controlled. Let’s look at Penobsquis today. Penobsquis residents are left without hourly and daily ground level air quality monitoring, despite living in a heavily industrialized area, and despite having tried to have their concerns heard.
There is very little confidence today in our government’s will or ability to regulate. After two years of severe cuts to environmental regulation and science capacity at the hands of our federal government, and significant changes in direction to water policies by our provincial government, we have little belief in government’s commitment to enforce the rules.
We have already experienced a staggering loss of biological diversity, the acidification of our oceans, rising sea levels and unprecedented flooding that is threatening those who live near our coasts and rivers. Extreme energy extraction and new infrastructure to facilitate more fossil fuel burning does nothing to solve these problems.
It’s 2013 and we know better: it is now impossible to achieve real “responsible environmental development of the oil and gas industry” and we certainly cannot afford the version that’s being forced upon us.