Premier Alward shifts sides

In April 2010, Premier David Alward, then in the opposition party, challenged Natural Resources Minister Wally Stiles on fracking during question period. Strangely enough, he seemed quite adamant that fracking is inherently dangerous and that regulations are not enough to keep our water safe.

And now, two years later, we find ourselves posing the same question to him:  We know this is a dangerous industry. How will the government ensure that our Hillsborough and Stoney Creek wells are protected?

From the Telegraph Journal,
On the Record, Published Wednesday April 7th, 2010

FREDERICTON – Opposition leader David Alward wants assurances from Natural Resources Minister Wally Stiles that drinking water will be protected in the hunt for natural gas in southern New Brunswick. Here is an exchange from question period in the legislature on Tuesday:

Alward: There is optimism about the energy potential in natural gas fields within the province, especially given the recent attention by several exploration companies, with the most recent being southwest. However, care must be taken to ensure the safety of our drinking water. Many problems have been reported because of exploration companies using a mining technique known as fracking or hydraulic fracturing. That process has been known to result in dangerous chemicals ending up in the water table. What measures are being taken to ensure that fracking does not negatively affect our water supplies in New Brunswick, as it has in parts of the United States?

Stiles: Fracking is a technique actually used by people who are exploring for natural gas. It has been around for quite some time now. We have a very strong series of legislation and regulations from the Department of Environment that they will have to follow, no matter who does the fracking.

Alward: According to a story in the Telegraph-Journal on January 8, Corridor Resources has already used fracking to explore a well on the Rosevale property in the Sussex area. A second well will be fracked in May or June. People in the Penobsquis area already know firsthand how their wells can be adversely affected by drilling. In their case, their wells went dry. In many cases in the United States, fracking poisoned wells. What guarantees has the province received from the exploration companies drilling in New Brunswick that similar problems will not happen here?

Stiles: As I mentioned before, there are very stringent regulations that have to be followed by any company that does frack a well. They have to follow a very strong, stringent EIA process as well. Those are questions that have to be answered during the EIA process.

Alward: We know that, in the United States, there are very serious concerns. Significant contamination of people’s drinking water is taking place. We know that, in the United States, companies are not required to provide the information. We also know that we are receiving calls and e-mails from people raising concerns about the potential impacts on their drinking water. Make no mistake about it – the landmass is one seventh of New Brunswick. That is somewhere around 2.5 million acres that can be explored. Will the minister inform the house as to what he will do to ensure that New Brunswick’s drinking water is protected?

Stiles: As I mentioned, we will follow the EIA process. May I remind the member across that some of these natural gas wells are down in the ground almost two kilometres? That is where the fracking takes place. The process that is used has to follow the EIA process. We will make sure that it is followed. That is our goal at the Department of Natural Resources.

Alward: It does not matter how far down the wells are drilled. In the United States, people’s wells have become contaminated. The last time we asked questions tied to exploration, the government admitted that there was only one inspector, one mining officer actually in place, who could ensure the compliance of the work that is being done by the companies. Will the minister inform the house today as to how many inspectors are in New Brunswick to ensure that these companies are following the necessary rules and regulations? You can have all the rules and regulations in the world, but if companies are not doing what they are supposed to do, they are not going to help anybody.