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Reports will determine future of NB shale gas: Alward

University of Moncton report calls for phased-in approach to shale gas.


October 17, 2012
by The Canadian Press

FREDERICTON—New Brunswick’s premier David Alward says two reports released this week on the shale gas industry will help ensure that if the industry develops in the province, it will be safe.

On Monday, University of Moncton biologist Louis LaPierre released a report that called for a phased-in approach with just one to three shale gas wells to allow for research and development.

Meanwhile, Dr. Eilish Cleary, the province’s chief medical officer of health, released her own report saying strong measures to protect public health must be put in place before further development of a shale gas industry is allowed.

She said New Brunswick’s infrastructure and legislation aren’t strong enough to ensure public health is protected should the shale gas industry be expanded.

Alward said his government is gathering the necessary input to ensure safeguards are in place.

“We’re doing our necessary work to make good decisions on behalf of the people of New Brunswick,” Alward said in an interview. “It’s not an easy decision or an easy file in any way, but I appreciate the work that Dr. LaPierre and Dr. Cleary have done.”

Cleary spoke publicly Tuesday about her report, saying the 30 recommendations she makes are the result of looking at the industry “through a health lens.”

She said decisions should not be clouded by the potential prosperity that could come from the industry.

“With industry there can be economic benefits which can have a positive impact on people’s health, however we cannot assume that more money necessarily equates to a healthier population,” she said. “The money has to be spent and invested strategically.”

Cleary’s report warns of potential health risks that include deteriorating air and water quality, increased truck traffic accidents and a “Boomtown Effect.”

She said an increase in population and prosperity in some areas could result in increases in crime, drug and alcohol abuse and sexually transmitted infections.

The Opposition Liberals have called for a moratorium, but Cleary said that’s a moot point because there’s plenty of time to put protective measures in place before commercial development occurs.

Paul Barnes, the Atlantic manager for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said he welcomes the reports but has concerns with the phased-in approach being recommended by LaPierre.

Barnes said too much restriction could have a devastating affect.

“Once industry invests to explore for oil and gas and they find something they wish to proceed to the next step of producing it,” he said. “So if there are delays in that process then that potentially has an affect on investment decisions.”

Barnes said he supports the use of science-based research because his industry wants clear and predictable regulations.

He said the industry will provide full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process.

Fracking involves using large volumes of water and chemicals under pressure to fracture rock deep below the surface in order to release the gas.

Opponents are concerned fracking will put water supplies at risk.

Members of the gas industry have maintained that shale gas wells are safe if they are done correctly.

Phil Knoll, CEO of Corridor Resources said the industry needs to be able to develop or New Brunswick will fall behind other areas of North America that are developing their own sources of natural gas.

“We’re talking about a world-class resource here that can take advantage of the pipeline infrastructure we have in place in New Brunswick to move the product to markets in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and also provide volumes for export,” he said.

Corridor is currently producing natural gas from a well near Sussex, with some of the gas being used by a large potash mine there.

Knoll said there is a large deposit of shale gas where the company is exploring in Elgin. He said the next step is to build a $150 million pilot plant, but that will take about two years.

Energy Minister Craig Leonard said he will take the time to review both reports before making any further decisions on how to proceed.

“I think the key thing is that both reports are in agreement that we need to move forward in a scientific approach and understand what resource we have here and what size and scope that industry is going to be if we move forward,” Leonard said.

©The Canadian Press