The threat to the lives of New Brunswickers posed by the development of unconventional shale gas and oil is so great that it is illegal, and the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA) is going to court to prove it.
Armed with a growing number of scientific studies on shale gas and the experience of communities elsewhere with the industry, NBASGA filed a Statement of Claim in Saint John Court of Queen’s Bench on June 23.
The anti-shale gas coalition of more than 20 community groups across the province says that the actions taken by the Government of New Brunswick to develop unconventional shale gas violate their rights to life, liberty and the security of the person as guaranteed by Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It says the right of all people in Canada to the security of their person under Section 7 of the Charter presupposes the right to clean water to drink and air to breathe because both are essential to sustain life.
As well, NBASGA says it will also prove that developing and using shale gas “contributes to climate change and threatens the very existence of the Plaintiffs, their future generations and all New Brunswick people.” The plaintiffs acting for NBASGA are its chairman Roy Ries and members Carol Ring and Jim Emberger.
The NBASGA lawsuit promises to be a landmark in Canadian jurisprudence. It is it believed to be the first time a government in Canada has been taken to court on this issue of climate change. As well, by asking for a moratorium on shale gas until long-term, population-based scientific studies show that it can be done safely, NBASGA is asking the courts to stop a contemplated action before it actually takes place.
“We’re taking the Province to court to protect the lives of people and their families now and in the future,” NBASGA chairman Roy Ries said at a Moncton news conference after the lawsuit was filed in Saint John on June 23. “The scientific research that has been done to date on shale gas, and the experience of communities elsewhere with the industry, is very alarming,” he said.
“For example, a recent study by scientists from the Colorado School of Public Health and Brown University found that, as the number and nearness of wells to pregnant women’s homes went up, so did the likelihood that their babies would develop congenital heart defects.” A similar study in Pennsylvania found close exposure to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than 50 percent.
“We have science, they don’t”
“There are many such studies documenting the life-threatening health problems and contamination of air, water and land associated with shale gas,” Ries said. “We will place the best available, peer-reviewed, scientific studies documenting that damage before the courts.”
Answering questions from reporters in Moncton, NBASGA spokesperson Jim Emberger said that “court action to stop shale gas is necessary because the provincial government has ignored the many dire warnings about shale gas from both independent scientists and doctors, including the recent report from The Council of Canadian Academies that said there is no scientific basis for existing shale gas regulations.”
“We have the science, and the government doesn’t,” Emberger declared while challenging New Brunswick Energy Minister Craig Leonard to produce the studies the Alward government claims to have showing that developing shale gas is safe.
The Alward government’s own “scientific report” on shale gas was exposed as a fraud after it was learned the author of that report, Louis Lapierre, did not have the scientific credentials he claimed. Lapierre has since been stripped of the Order of Canada.
“We have tried every means we can think of to get the provincial government to take the warnings about these very obvious dangers seriously, but those warnings have simply been ignored or dismissed out of hand each and every time,” Emberger said. “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to life and security of the person for everyone in Canada. Neither governments nor corporations are allowed to violate those guarantees by ignoring threats to them for any purpose.”
“Human Guinea Pigs”
NBASGA spokesperson Denise Melanson says people in shale gas development areas are being used as “human guinea pigs.” Melanson notes that there are more than 600 chemicals used by the industry, and 90% of those chemicals are known to harm human health.
“People living near unconventional oil and gas wells are exposed to toxic and cancer-causing chemicals at various times in unknown quantities on an ongoing basis,” she said. “Purposefully exposing people in New Brunswick to hundreds of toxins and cancer-causing chemicals through the water they drink, the air they breathe, and the food they eat without their knowledge is unconscionable.”
“Exposing people to hundreds of chemicals without their informed consent violates the ethical standards governing both scientific and medical testing,” said Melanson.
NBASGA says that until research to establish the true, full and long-term health and environmental effects is actually done, the development of unconventional oil and gas is the equivalent of an uncontrolled experimental study using uninformed human subjects without their consent.
Its Statement of Claim asserts that none of the hundreds of fracking chemicals have been tested to see what their effects are when mixed in the numerous combinations of the fracking process, nor what their effects would be when fracking brings them into contact with the naturally-occurring chemicals (of which many are toxic) located within the earth.
Further, it says that “the health effects of any potentially new chemical combinations that may form under the heat and pressure conditions present during the fracking process have not been tested” and that “there has been neither evidence submitted nor any scientific basis that these new combinations are safe for human exposure.”
“Allowing an uninformed public to be exposed to the harmful chemicals used in extracting unconventional oil and gas stands in stark contrast to the carefully-controlled process governing the approval of even a single pharmaceutical compound for human use,” Melanson said. “The governments of Canada and New Brunswick have established rigorous scientific testing processes to ascertain the safety of chemical compounds like prescription drugs that are intended for human consumption.”
“Yet, in logical opposition to these sensible and universally-accepted safety precautions, the unconventional oil and gas industry will expose New Brunswickers to known toxic and cancer-causing chemicals without any required testing or the knowledge or consent of those exposed to the toxins.”