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Newfoundland has put a moratorium on shale gas exploration into effect, primarily over fears about effects on tourism around Gros Morne Park.
A “small special interest minority”? We think not.
Our government downplays citizen concerns, saying not to worry about seismic testing, because it is only exploration.
NB’s Oil and Gas Act – 26(3), explains how to change from exploration to production.
“A license to search may be converted to a lease in its entirety at the end of the license term, if in the opinion of the Minister, all exploration commitments under the license have been met.”
So, as long as a company simply spends a required amount during exploration, it is guaranteed a production lease – there is no process in between.
Looking to find out what the Frack is going on?
There has been no shortage of ‘Shale Gas Protests in NB’s news
in recent weeks. Maybe you have concerns, opinions or questions.
It’s time to share what we know and do our best to answer your questions and find out what happens next.
Water and Environmental Protection for Albert County (WEPAC) for a Town Hall Meeting at:
TIME: 6:30 pm
DATE: Tuesday, October 29
PLACE: Kiwanis Community Centre, Legion St., Hillsborough, NB
Freewill donations gratefully accepted to offset costs.
We will have a limited number of ‘No Fracking’ signs for sale.
“Sustainable development must define the choices we make to provide our children with both a thriving and healthy world. It has become increasingly apparent that the shale gas industry is incompatible with sustainability.”
There is no shortage of independent scientific research to prove this statement, as well as actual experiences from places where shale gas has been developed.
There are presently more than 70 New Brunswick municipalities that have called for a ban or a moratorium on shale gas development in the province – along with 30 groups, and a dozen organizations/associations (many of them health-related), as well as countless individuals.
There is little public support for such development, particularly in our rural areas. In a recent meeting with Regional Service District representatives from Kent County, Energy & Mines Minister Craig Leonard said that he would support individual landowners who said ‘no’ to having wells drilled on their property, but would not support municipalities calling for a moratorium within their boundaries. This is an erosion of our democratic rights.
The New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance has compiled a marvelous collection of short pieces that summarize the different issues of concern related to shale gas development. The twelve important topics, which aren’t often part of the public discussion, are covered individually. Many of the topics greatly affect those not living in shale gas areas. While geared specifically towards the interests of municipal decision-makers, they also provide fact-based evidence for individuals looking for credible information and research. Read more…
Last week in Hillsborough, Dave Core, founding president of CAEPLA, Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowners Associations to spoke to a full house of southern NB landowners on the issue of leasing land for pipelines or gas/oil wells.
Dave has spent decades advocating for landowner property rights across the country. He jokingly commented that, despite his ponytail, he was not an environmentalist, but was, in fact, pro-development. But never at the expense of the landowner.
He hopes to create more responsible land stewardship and to ensure industry is held to higher levels of compensation, accountability and safety through lease agreements.
Pipeline companies are beginning to survey lands east and west of Fredericton for the proposed West-East pipeline and the government has scheduled town hall meetings in a limited number of communities. At the same time, gas companies are exploring for shale gas in south-east New Brunswick and preparing for further development in other areas.
Dave’s talk in summary:
Gas and oil companies lease the surface of your land to extract the resources. Pipeline companies can acquire the use of your land through “Easement Agreements” that leave your name on title. In both cases the energy companies can apply to the government through “regulatory processes” for “right of entry” (expropriation). This takes away your right to negotiate a fair contract protecting your best interests. You have no leverage to negotiate once your property rights have been taken by legislation that creates either ministerial or regulatory processes giving all the advantages to the oil/gas and pipeline industry. The only way to counter-balance this is when landowners work together to level the playing field and to force governments to change the legislation protecting property rights.
Here are some important points to understand, should someone approach you to lease/survey your land:
The proposed west-east pipeline would be regulated by the National Energy Board (NEB), and their regulations supersede anything you agree to with the pipeline company, provincial environment or regulatory laws. Once the pipelines are abandoned with NEB approval, the NEB no longer has jurisdiction; responsibility falls back on the landowner. The landowner whose name is on the title, will fall prey to provincial environmental and safety laws, potentially making his/her property a brown space, like an abandoned gas station. This is why pipeline companies do not want to own the land their pipelines cross, they ultimately do not want responsibility when all is said and done.
The best way to protect your best interests when approached to lease land for pipelines or well pads is for landowners to work together to force contracts that are renegotiated or updated every 5 years. Contracts should address abandonment and other risks, liabilities, duty of care and other costs that are often left to affected landowners when they legally belong to pipeline companies.
By creating a NB Landowners Association, landowners form a united front enabling them to negotiate better easement agreements (or perhaps a lease with annual payments renegotiated every 5 years) that help protect safety and property values. It is only by working with your neighbours that you can level the playing field.
We need our local communities and our Provincial Governments to support us in holding the Federal government and its NEB responsible for our property rights.
Fredericton – After being alerted to the fact that seismic testing and related work for shale gas exploration is happening in wetlands and around significant watercourses in Kent County, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) has learned that government has granted a blanket permit to do work across wetlands and watercourse buffers in 8 provincial counties.
CCNB was approached by Kent County residents Tina Beers, Harcourt Local Service District Advisory Committee Chair, and her husband John, also with the Harcourt LSD and a volunteer firefighter, who came across activity in a nearby wetland. They were immediately concerned that activity was taking place in sensitive wetland and floodplain areas and started inquiring about the rules for working in and around them.
CCNB requested, and the Department of Environment and Local Government has shared, the wide-sweeping Wetland and Watercourse Alteration (WAWA) permit granted to SWN Resources Canada in April for their seismic exploration program to do work in “various” wetlands and watercourse buffers throughout Albert, Kent, Kings, Northumberland, Queens, Sunbury, Westmorland and York counties.
Ms. Beers was shocked to learn how easy it was for the company to have such widespread access to wetlands.
“We keep hearing that our waters will be protected from shale gas exploration through the strict new ‘Rules for Industry’, she said, “but we look into this issue that concerns us just to find that the province has given the company a green light to go into these sensitive areas”.
“We really want the public to know this,” Ms. Beers continued, “this is a real example of how the “rules” are being applied right now.”
Mr. Beers came across a drill rig stuck in the wetland while out on a fishing trip. A swath of land was cleared larger than allowed as the rig needed to be removed by an excavator.
The wetland is about 16 hectares and located roughly ½ km from, with the water drainage connected to, Hector Fork, a tributary of the Richibucto River. Shot hole blasts were also marked less than 40m from the bank of the Richibucto River, an identified wetland area.
“The Rules for Industry” that government is so proud of are permit conditional, like most of our environmental regulations in New Brunswick, says Stephanie Merrill, Freshwater Protection Program director for CCNB. “A proponent can apply for a variance, they write a check for the fee, it’s given the stamp of approval and off they go”, Merrill explained. “Our ‘rules’ are useless if there is no political will to use them for the intended purpose and unfortunately the granting of WAWA permits specifically is very common practice,” Merrill stated.
In addition to granting alteration permits for ‘regulated wetlands” — wetlands acknowledged by the Department of Environment through their GeoNB mapping system, SWN has been actively working in “unregulated wetlands” — not mapped but that still exist on the landscape. These wetland alterations require no oversight from the Department of Environment since 2011 when then Minister of Environment Margaret-Ann Blaney made dramatic changes to how wetlands are regulated in the province.
CCNB has previously estimated that this mapping system only accounts for about 50% of wetlands that exist on the ground and identified 16 examples where wetlands were relieved of their ‘regulated’ status.
“We’ve been saying since these changes were made over two years ago, that the Department is actually in violation of their own Clean Water Act by ignoring these wetlands and relieving them from any protection, permitting, tracking and monitoring, says Merrill. “How can government expect the public to be comfortable with new rules when the old ones aren’t even followed?”
– Print: SWN Given permit to test in wetlands– TV: http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/NB/ID/2397123866/
There is no way around it. A village without water will die.
Several years ago, our village dug 35 wells before finding two that would give us reliable water. Good water is hard to find in hydrocarbon-rich Albert County.
Now, we understand Hillsborough sits on a significant oil reservoir. Below the oil lies what a Corridor Resources spokesman calls “the largest known shale gas play in North America by an order of magnitude.”
It is called the Frederick Brook member, a shale play that extends from Memramcook, Hillsborough and Stoney Creek, to Elgin and Sussex (the leases are split between Contact Exploration, Petroworth and Corridor Resources).
“In the shale gas world, I’m not aware of anything that comes remotely close to the Frederick Brook Shale, and that’s because of its thickness,” says Corridor’s geologist.
Well pads already surround Hillsborough on three sides. Some are for oil. Some are for the natural gas below the oil. The process for extraction is largely the same.
The oil and gas lies within what geologists call a ‘complex’ area. The faults running through the layers of rock look like a three-dimensional tic-tac-toe. In the midst of this tic-tac-toe board, lies oil well ‘B55’. It is situated about 1,500m or less from our municipal wells and close to private wells. B55 is a little over 1100m deep. Our village water well taps into the aquifer at 200m.
But don’t worry, says our government. In assessing the lay of the land, they have determined if a spill or other accident occurs, the natural flow of contaminants would be away from the village water wells and toward the river.
Really? Well, that also means spills would flow toward the homes with private water wells.
Understand this: I am no eco-terrorist or fear-mongerer. I do not insult or intimidate people who disagree with my viewpoint. I’m all for employment and prosperity in New Brunswick. Who isn’t?
I’m simply a homeowner and self-employed writer. My work ebbs and flows like the Fundy tide. I have no pension. My home is my safety net.
I live and work here in Hillsborough. We have wetlands and wildlife. We’re friendly folk who hike and bike the village trails, and appreciate fresh air, and a dark sky filled with stars. We have easy access to forests, lakes and streams. You get the picture.
So all this concerns me. Deeply. It concerns my neighbours. It concerns our village council and our local businesses. It also concerns doctors, geologists, scientists, engineers, economists, lawyers, and everyday people all over this province who have spent thousands of unpaid hours researching independent studies on the issue and giving people the information our government should be providing.
You might think that Hillsborough would have a soft spot for oil and gas exploration. We lie a few minutes from Stoney Creek, New Brunswick’s first developed oilfield. But you’d be wrong. I’ve toured the Stoney Creek oilfield. I know people who experience gas fumes and headaches from wells that currently operate in that area. Others have strange illnesses.
Many private wells in Stoney Creek have bad water quality and quantity. Is this due to 100 years of oil drilling or because of natural contaminants? We don’t know. No one mapped aquifers or tested water back then. No one is mapping our aquifers now.
Proponents of industry say we do things better here in Canada. That we have more ‘stringent and rigorous rules’. Rules that call for setback of 250m from private homes and 500m from schools, yet a long-term health study from the University of Colorado found highly elevated risks for cancer and other diseases for those living within 750m of a gas well and a Duke University study found highly increased risk of methane contamination of water wells within 1km of gas wells.
I’ve toured Penobsquis too, and smelled fumes from the gas wells on the flood plains of the Kennebecasis River.
I’ve seen how close well pads are to each other and homes. I’ve talked with residents who spent $15,000 and 25,000 volunteer hours trying to resolve their water losses. Alone.
Ask them about the risks vs benefits. Ask them if the loss of water to 60 families was worth the 6 jobs the industry created.
And so I wonder what Hillsborough will look and smell like—what life will be like—if oil and gas development continues in Albert County.
The trouble is, our pastoral village lies in the crosshairs of an industry with a noxious reputation. And will be subjected to a process that no one can prove is safe.
In spring 2011 our province gave Contact Exploration the approval to bring into production up to 39 existing oil and gas wells in the Stoney Creek–Hillsborough area. Prior to releasing their new rules, the government approved the drilling of four more wells.
We have many unknowns: complex geology, a precarious water supply, the scale of future oil and gas development. Then there are the knowns: noise, pollution, truck traffic. The impact on property values, human health and well-being.
Recent research on the effects of shale gas development on property values shows that not only are properties devalued in the near vicinity of development, but also in neighbouring communities.
Our own Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Eilish Cleary, expressed concerns for people living in close proximity to gas and oil development, and last fall made 30 recommendations necessary to prevent or mitigate impact on public health. Our government, however, has not yet issued a formal response or proposed action plan for these recommendations, and, in fact, only released it after public pressure to do so.
And then there is the economic well-being. We’re told New Brunswick stands to gain hundreds of jobs and billions in revenues from shale gas development. Perhaps you are like me and find this rather vague and loosey-goosey.
A Cornell University team recently studied Pennsylvanian towns affected by oil and gas developments. Their report found that jobs were short-term and low-paying, when the drill teams moved on, those towns are economically worse off than before. I have yet to find a Happy Frack Town.
(Caveat: three government officials have spoken about talking to a happy PA organic farmer with gas wells on his property. One happy farmer. If they truly wanted to understand the impacts, perhaps they should have been talking to the unhappy ones.)
So, perhaps you might excuse me, instead of accuse me, for opposing oil and gas development in my area and in my province. Perhaps, instead of thinking of me a protestor, you may think of me as a protector.
Because it is not just my backyard. This is a small province. It is actually your backyard too.
We would like to set the record straight on recent comments made to the media by Minister Craig Leonard (Energy & Mines).
On several occasions in recent weeks, Minister Leonard has downplayed and diluted the concerns expressed by people in Albert County, saying, “It’s the same kind of development that has taken place in Albert County for decades”, “the work being done by Contact Exploration in that area is conventional drilling,” and also that “the only activity that there’s been permits and approvals for has been the conventional work.”
(Note: Conventional drilling refers to the older method of vertical drilling to access a pool or reservoir of oil/gas; unconventional is the combination of horizontal/vertical drilling and hydraulic fracturing to create pathways for the release the oil/gas from tighter formations.)
The company’s 2012 Corporate Update is quite clear about the unconventional horizontal drilling and fracing of two Stoney Creek oil wells in 2010 and how ‘modern’ fracing unlocks previously unrecoverable reserves.
It should also be noted that regardless of whether fracing for oil or gas, the process is largely the same. Chemical mix/water requirements change, and geologic formations are typically closer to the surface (800-1000m), but the process brings the same risks from diminished property values, health and social impacts, air emissions, water usage and contamination, accidental spills, wastewater disposal, traffic, noise and possible chemical/gas migration underground.
On February 15, 2013, WEPAC received the following information from Minister Leonard’s own department regarding an approval (EIA-1308): “Contact Exploration Inc. was given permission under the Phased Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Review process in December 2012 to proceed with field investigations including drilling and testing of 4 oil wells located on existing well pads within the Stoney Creek Wellfield.”
To the question, “Does ‘field exploration, drilling and testing’ include fracing?” we received the response, “Yes, in this case it does include hydraulic fracturing.”
Just to be perfectly clear, we asked Contact Exploration’s CEO, Steve Harding, the same question. His response: “Any wells drilled at Stoney Creek would involve fracing, whether they are vertical or horizontal.”
Also, for the record, last fall WEPAC received a copy of Approval I-7507 dated March 2011, issued by Energy & Mines under their former regulatory regime. When asked the difference between the former regulations and the new Phased EIA process, as they applied to safety, we received this answer:
“Under the old process, oil and gas projects were required to undergo an EIA review at the point of commercial extraction (meaning after the well had already been constructed and hydraulically fractured and the proponent was ready to withdraw product from the well for commercial purposes). Under the new process , a Phased EIA review is required prior to well pad construction.”
In part, Approval I-7507 states the following:
“Contact Exploration Inc. will be undertaking upstream oil and gas exploration activities in Albert County. This includes exploratory drilling, completing, testing, producing and related activities of the oil wells known as Contact Stoney Creek A89-2328, Contact Stoney Creek I-88-2328/N-78 and Contact 109-N-78-2328.”
The approval goes on to include ‘testing, producing and related activities’ for another 17 oil wells and 11 gas wells (all previously drilled) and a production facility for oil and natural gas from these wells. Nine well pads are included under the authority of the approval (at least two of these, that we know of, are for the purpose of gas extraction).
Seven of the well pads mentioned surround the village of Hillsborough on three sides. While developments may be slow to start, we must consider the extent of possible development. According to Steve Harding, CEO of Contact, “when we establish a well pad with the ability for a commercial well, we will drill as much as possible,” as many as “8-24 wells on a pad.”
While Contact Exploration must apply to drill any additional wells over and above the 35 included in the above-mentioned documents, they currently have in hand, enough permits for oil and gas wells to keep them busy for the coming year or two, should they choose.
Until now, the company’s focus has been oil, but it has optimistic gas prospects in Hillsborough, a new partnership with an LNG export company that suggests annual exports of 10 million metric tonnes of natural gas (1/3 of that coming from NB). In a recent newspaper interview, the CEO said they have 35,000 acres in Albert Co. and 12 potential drill sites to explore.
If this was your backyard, what more would you need to connect the dots?
CONTACT EXPLORATION – STONEY CREEK & HILLSBOROUGH
Contact Exploration has approval to bring into production up to 31 old and new gas and oil wells (issued in March 2011) and to drill and frack four new wells (issued Jan 2013). We are awaiting word from the company when they expect to begin and will update this page as we receive more information. While most drilling to date has focused on oil production, the company has expressed optimism for excellent natural gas prospects and just partnered with a company constructing an LNG terminal in NS. This means they will soon have a market for Albert County gas. (Note: While fracking for oil is largely the same as fracking for gas, the process uses less water and chemical mix, and the drilling takes place in sandstone closer to the surface.)
We believe it is important for people to know what is and has happened in their community. The March approval was granted under a former regulatory regime. The January approval was granted before the government released their ‘new rules’. Information below has been gathered from the Contact Exploration website. meetings with their CEO and emails from Environment and Energy & Mines:
PETROWORTH – ROSEVALE
Petroworth has four gas wells in the Rosevale Area (not far from Berryton) and two in Dawson (one shut-in). Their website is currently off line, so it is uncertain if the four are producing gas at this time. The company stock is only a few cents on the stock exchange. Petroworth Resources lost its Alberta-based farm-in partner for an exploratory well near Lake Ainslie in Cape Breton after the company was spooked by an anti-fracking protest that blockaded the Canso Causeway in September. The gathering was part of Global Frackdown – a worldwide day of action and solidarity, intended to ’send a message to elected officials that people want a future fueled by clean, renewable energy, not dirty, polluting fossil fuels.
Our government and the industry would have us believe that this can be done safely with the appropriate rules in place, but other independent geologists and professionals in the field tell us we have valid cause for concerns. So, do we believe those who have something to gain, or those who have nothing to gain?
We have been told that Canada has the most stringent regulations, but a spokesman for the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board has said, “There is no amount of regulation that can overcome human error.” And when Premier Alward was in the opposition he said: “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.”
As we all know, rules do not give guarantees and we have much to lose.