N.B. has time on shale gas file, says health officer10/17/2012
FREDERICTON – New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health is defending her call for strong rules and monitoring if the shale gas industry is to grow in New Brunswick. But Dr. Eilish Cleary sees no need to discuss a halt to the industry’s development.
“To me the question of a moratorium is somewhat moot because we’ve been assured that there is plenty of time before the industry happens to allow these measures to be put in place. If that wasn’t the case, we might be having a different discussion,” Cleary said during a news conference Tuesday, where she discussed her report to government released a day earlier.
Cleary’s comments came after the author of another report to government, Dr. Louis Lapierre, said he does not support a moratorium on shale gas exploration in the province.
She said she’s been told there is time to address concerns if the decision is taken to go ahead with the development of the shale gas industry.
“But it’s not this year or next year; there is time, we’ve been assured,” Cleary said.
Cleary wouldn’t comment on Lapierre’s suggestion of a phased-in approach, saying she has yet to review his report.
Cleary said the 30 recommendations in her report are ones she believes “need to be put in place in order to protect the health of the people of New Brunswick.”
Among other things, Cleary’s report calls for measures that include monitoring the health of people who live or work near a shale gas site, disclosing all chemical compounds used by the shale gas industry, and requiring companies to use the least toxic compounds in the process.
“Are we setting standards too high? I think the answer to that is no.
“I don’t think we should settle for loose standards in New Brunswick. I have four children; I want them to be protected and I want their children to be protected. So I think we deserve to have high standards. However, I also want them to have jobs, so it is balance.”
Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard said the government will review both the Cleary and Lapierre reports and respond to them.
He said the issues aren’t new.
“A lot of the recommendations in both reports are items that the Natural Gas Group and (Department of) Natural Resources have already identified as issues that have to be dealt with and have actually laid out regulations that will deal with them,” Leonard said.
“I think both reports have very good ideas we have to take a close look at, but again, the key focus we have to move forward with is a science-based approach to get the facts of what we’ve got – and New Brunswick-based facts, not extrapolations from other jurisdictions where geology or social impacts might be different,” Leonard said.
That suggestion quickly drew condemnation from New Brunswick NDP Leader Dominic Cardy, who voiced concern the government will ignore evidence coming from other places.
“Other jurisdictions have gone through this before. We’d be crazy – we’d be violating all the principles of science – if we didn’t look at what has happened in other places and their experiences with this industry,” he said.
Cleary’s report identifies the findings in another of jurisdictions that have investigated the hydraulic fracturing method, including Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania and Quebec.
“I think there is enough evidence from other jurisdictions to suggest that these measures are necessary,” she said.
She added that New Brunswick has the opportunity to begin monitoring before the industry grows, something that many other jurisdictions never had a chance to do.
David Coon, leader of the New Brunswick Green Party, lauded the work of Cleary and her staff.
“She has done a huge favour to everybody in New Brunswick by demonstrating what the practice of public health really means in this report with her recommendations.
“She’s showing what has to be done up front to safeguard and promote public health.”
The process of extracting gas deposits held in underground shale is known as hydrofracking. It involves pumping large quantities of water infused with chemicals being pumped kilometres underground to break apart shale rock formations, freeing the gas to rise to the surface.
Proponents of the industry believe that the fracking method could give the industry access to substantial oil and gas deposits under a wide swath of New Brunswick. That could lead to increased royalties and job creation in the province.
Opponents of the industry have raised concerns that both the exploration for and the exploitation of underground shale gas deposits could devastate the environment and drinking water supplies.
The industry maintains fracking is safe if done properly.
Cleary said her office began working on the report 18 months ago on its own initiative.
Cleary, whose report was released publicly on Monday afternoon even though it was delivered to government last month, said the “report has been released in its entirety.”