The New Brunswick Department of Environment introduced a new approach to doing environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for oil and gas development in 2011. They called it a phased approach. And, virtually all aspects of this new approach were for the benefit of industry. The Department’s presentation on the new approach was shameless in saying it would “reduce delays for the project proponent” and the proponent would have the “freedom to explore the study area ” before the province made any decision on the entire project.
This freedom included allowing ground penetrating radar and seismic testing, building temporary access roads and well pads, and conducting test well drilling and fracking. All this activity could take place while a phased EIA review was underway. It begs the question, what environmental impacts are being reviewed while fracking is taking place?
The Department boasts that this phased approach requires oil and gas companies to enter the province’s EIA regulatory process earlier. This is just an administrative detail because nothing prevents companies from doing seismic work, road and well pad building, test drilling and fracking unimpeded by environmental considerations.
As for any details about the proponent’s requirement for water supply and wastewater, those could be “finalized while exploratory drilling is undertaken”. The phased EIA is supposed to improve considerations for cumulative effects. Where in the process do these considerations kick in? Who does the assessing and against what baseline will impacts be measured when monitored?
Stunningly, the Department has put the proponent in charge of collecting and responding to public comments. In response to concerns about the public consultation process, a Department of Environment spokesperson said the public was welcome to contact the company with any questions or concerns they might have (Telegraph Journal, March 5, 2014). Apparently, the province doesn’t want to hear directly from the public .
What kind of public consultation did the company currently “exploring” in the McCully field near Penobsquis do apart from putting an ad in the local newspaper and notices in the area? According to the company’s consultation report , they did door-to-door canvassing and “any and all comments or concerns” were recorded.
Really? Sending people (land agents no less), hired by the company, to go door-to-door and expect them to faithfully record the views of residents is just not credible. This lack of credibility is reflected in the sample comments included in the company’s consultation report. According to their report, 64 homes were visited. The consultation report lists 12 comments, all are positive for the project.
There is nothing open, transparent, thorough, rigorous or credible about the phased EIA process for oil and gas development. The province has taken a hands-off approach to public consultation and has allowed the companies to drive the EIA bus. If the public has any concerns, talk to the bus driver.
More disturbing about the province’s total abdication of its responsibility to protect the environment and the public is the fact that the province had a opportunity to be the first not the worst in incorporating an examination of public health issues into oil and gas development project. For all the government’s hype about their regulatory regime being world class or first class, it clearly ranks as a zero not a hero.