Town Hall Meeting – Hillsborough

Looking to find out what the Frack is going on?

  • In Rexton?
  • In Penobsquis?
  • In Albert County?

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.

Please join:
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.

In the aftermath of Rexton

Last Tuesday, the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA) held a media conference at the Capitol Theatre in Moncton to respond to the violent events in Rexton the week previous.

Global news report: http://globalnews.ca/video/918855/anti-shale-gas-alliance-questions-rcmp-intervention

The official statement follows:

The New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance supports the rights of aboriginal peoples to have prior, meaningful consultation on matters vital to their lives and livelihoods, as guaranteed by treaties and courts. Because they live close to the land and have nowhere else to go if their lands are damaged, they are the first line of defense for all of us.

Although there were unquestionably many things that eventually led to the events last week in Rexton, there is an underlying background history of 3 years of a government failure to engage honestly and openly with the citizens of NB on such a crucial issue.

This is not only an aboriginal rights story.  It’s a story of government ineptitude and arrogance.  The dangers associated with shale gas pose a threat to all New Brunswickers, and for three years the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance of nearly thirty groups of Anglophone, Francophone and Aboriginal citizens have sought, along with the people of Elsipogtog, to expose these dangers to the government and the public.

Just as it has ignored aboriginal rights, the government has also ignored our groups, the thousands of people we represent and all New Brunswick citizens.  Opponents to shale gas have turned out 1,500 people on short notice for a march on the legislature in 2011 and a year later brought an historic petition to the legislature, signed by 20,000 citizens.  In a province of only 750,000 thousand people, these are incredible numbers.

We have just learned that 51 Francophone mayors have reiterated their calls for a moratorium, joining the 14 of 15 civic leaders of Kent County and dozens of municipalities and districts throughout the province.  How can the government make any claim to have the support of the people?

A door-to-door poll in St. Ignace found that 98% of the populace opposed shale gas, which matches the 97% of a similar poll in Taymouth nearly three years ago.  Clearly the government is not making its case, and with good reason.  If you don’t talk to people you can’t convince them.

The NB Anti-Shale Gas Alliance has continuously urged the government to address all of the scientific, economic and social issues surrounding shale gas in public forums open to questions and debate. To date, the government has completely ignored these requests and has totally failed to present its scientific and economic case to the public.

It missed a perfect chance to do so when the Chief Medical Officer for Health issued a comprehensive, award winning report on shale gas. The government had to be forced to make this report public, and never, ever discusses it, because it raises questions about the general lack of knowledge about many aspects of shale gas, and about the government’s approach to developing it.

The single government attempt to engage the public was the LaPierre ‘listening tour’.  But when the tour ended, government decided to ignore the public’s comments and instead accept a report of the personal opinions of Dr. LaPierre, a report, which now stands discredited along with its author.

This disregard for the public’s opinion and willful failure to seek informed consent from the public is mirrored in the government’s failure to obey its legal obligation to consult with the aboriginal people. This failure makes the government the first lawbreaker in this dispute, and is the underlying cause of all the events leading to Rexton.  Simple, honest and open public discussion could have prevented Rexton from happening.

Anti-shale gas demonstrations, including blockades of equipment and arrests, have been occurring for nearly three years with absolutely no appearance or threat of violence.  Thousands of people have peacefully visited demonstration sites from Stanley in 2011 to Rexton today, bringing supplies and financial and moral support.

Therefore, there are many questions to be answered, and many explanations needed to determine why last Thursday at Rexton was different.

We applaud the Elsipogtog people for being able to move on to healing and peacefully making their case through the courts. They have our support and that of allies around the world.  But there must be a public accounting of the police activities leading up to and including the day of this event.  There remain many questions about the authorization, timing, necessity and execution of this action, and the shocking escalation in the use of force. Leaving them unanswered will set a precedent that will guarantee a reoccurrence of Rextons in the future.

We are also happy that this incident has ended with the Elsipogtog people seeking their own injunction to halt seismic testing. Seismic is not simple and harmless exploration. Under New Brunswick law it is the gateway to production. An exploration license (granted for seismic testing) is automatically turned into a production lease simply by asking for it and paying a fee. The only time to have meaningful discussions about whether or not we as a Province want to follow this path is to do so before exploration is done.

Moving to a more positive message…

As the government has abandoned public dialogue, the NB Anti-Shale Gas Alliance has been attempting to fill this void. Our members have been giving presentations, providing information, organizing events and spreading the word person-to-person throughout the province. This has prompted dozens of municipalities, professional and civic groups to call for a moratorium.

We have stepped up our efforts by putting together a package of arguments about the many facets of shale gas that are seldom discussed, as the government, industry (and some media) are happy to pretend that water contamination is the only problem with shale gas. Our first formal collection of arguments was directed primarily to the concerns of municipal officials, and was distributed at the AGM’s of both the Francophone and Anglophone Unions of Municipalities.

The information is drawn from credible (and named) sources such as peer-reviewed science, expert analysis, industry reports and stories in the news from places where shale gas is being extracted. It covers much of the same ground as the scientific Chief Medical Officer for Health’s report, but it is designed to be accessible to the non-scientist.

The information is available here.

As this information, with additions and updates, circulates in the public, we encourage people to take it to their political leaders and get answers to their questions about it. As the campaign for next year’s election proceeds, we will track candidates’ positions on this issue and make them known to the public as well.

The government should know that there ‘will’ be a public discussion about shale gas. Whether they will be part of that discussion is up to them. The other campaign of the Alliance is to raise money to fund a legal challenge to shale gas.  One way or another the public will get the truth.

Questions Regarding the Events in Rexton:

There was no threat to public safety until police, who arrived with drawn guns, dogs and snipers in camouflage, advanced on unarmed civilians, including women and children, using pepper spray and non-lethal rounds.  This was a sudden and shocking escalation in the use of force.  Why was it necessary, given months of non-violent protest, where firearms were never seen at this site or any protest site?

The police claim to have ‘intelligence’ that there were explosives and firearms. How did they know?  Why then did they allow people to go into what they later described as a ‘dangerous situation’ right up to the moment the police assault began?  This site had been effectively blocked in all directions for weeks.  Why did this not take place on Thursday?

While some people were allowed in, why did the police ban the press from the scene while the action took place? By doing so, the police removed the only people who could substantiate their allegations about firearms and explosives purportedly found at the site.

And if police had this knowledge, why wasn’t it made known to the chiefs with whom they had contact? They may have been able to diffuse this situation peacefully themselves if they had been informed.

We find it utterly incomprehensible that with a massive police presence at the site that first one and then eventually six vehicles could be set on fire, with no police intervention, and no arrests of suspects for arson. We don’t know what to make of this, but it needs an explanation.

We need a change of heart

“It is a change of heart that’s needed, a change of direction,
an understanding in the bone that we must stop the desecration of our lands.”
Marilyn Lerch

Wednesday’s Telegraph Journal contained one journalist’s cynical and patronizing view of Unity Encampment in Rexton…the viewpoint of a stranger who walks through once and assumes he understands the whole story.  The following letter to the editor was written by a frequent visitor to the camp…one who has lingered and listened to hear the Heartbeat of a new community finding its way and growing stronger.

These words from Marilyn Lerch of Sackville:

Something beautiful, inspiring and historic has been happening in our province,this summer and fall of 2013. It has been coming to fruition for three years or more in people’s living rooms, in community halls in Berwick, Taymouth, St. Ignace, Bass River, Cornhill, Hillsborough and in the hearts and minds of countless thousands of our people. It manifested on country roads like 116 and 126 in Kent County in June and is continuing to grow at the Unity Encampment near Rexton today.

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I am talking, of course, about the grassroots movement to ban shale gas mining. And, though that remains the central thrust of this movement, it has become so much more. If you come with me into the talking circle near Rexton with the night sky brilliant with stars you will see what I mean.

You will find common folks speaking from the heart. No jargon, no doublespeak, just stories like this one from a young mother: My son is four years old and I saw him sitting by a tree the other day. He was talking to it. Then he stopped and listened. And then he spoke again. I want him to grow up in a world that honours trees like that.

A young First Nations man spoke about how he must change himself, become clean in mind, spirit and heart to carry on this struggle. There are few academics in the circle, but more and more students are coming. And they must return to the academies and teach what so many of their elders know but have not the courage to act on. There are no millionaires in the circle to my knowledge. And certainly few if any politicians have dared to come.

There are women who feel safer here than at home, men in beards and camouflage who know the land, young and old, people from all over the province and beyond, mixing, moving around in small circles sharing what they know.

holdinghands

We are Francophones, Anglos, First Nations people talking together, laughing and planning together. I sit there for hours as the Talking Stick moves around the circle, as consensus is patiently found, woodsmoke in my hair and clothes, and I long for more writers, poets, thinkers, teachers, doctors, town councilors, to be there.

For if not now, when?

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No injunction or show of force by the RCMP or cosmetic talks with the government can stop what is building in our province. This is not a threat. It is simply that finally, finally New Brunswickers are seeing what it has cost us to be manipulated by a few powerful entities that have left our democratic process in shameful shreds.

Our Mi’kmaq brothers and sisters at Elsipogtog are standing strong as protectors of the land. They do not want a job or revenue that comes at the price of poisoning land, water and air for their children. Who would want that? They are raising with powerful voices once again what their treaty rights have given them and what has been denied them for centuries. They are claiming anew what they have not ceded to anyone. And their rising up must be the rising up of all of us non-indigenous people.

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It is not a change of government that is the answer. New Brunswickers are sick of revolving door politics. It is a change of heart that’s needed, a change of direction, an understanding in the bone that we must stop the desecration of our lands. Now. The digging, scraping, fracking, at any cost with profits for a few must be denounced, decried, and sane alternatives offered. Now.

We must all cry out for a ban on shale gas mining, but more than that, we must all become protectors of the ground on which we stand.

A powerful, inspiring beginning has been made.
Where do you stand? Ask yourself, then act.
This opportunity, if missed, may not come again for a very long time.

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Our choices will determine our children’s future

“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…

Fracking fun…

WEPAC wishes to congratulate the organizers and volunteers of the Albert County Exhibition, being held Sept 12-15, 2013 for reaching this monumental 100th Anniversary Celebration.  We are proud that our small rural community has been able to continue with this exhibition for an entire century. It speaks to the tremendous commitment of the volunteers who make it possible and to the loyalty of the people who attend and take part.

To help celebrate all that we hold dear in our county and our province, we have sent WEPAC volunteers, Agent Jack No Frack and his partner, Mother Earth down to the Ex as our representatives.

BREAKING NEWS:  Agent Jack and Mother Earth Win
1st and 2nd prizes at the Exhibition!

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Call on Jack No Frack to protect what you love. He may look friendly and harmless now, but do damage to his special lady, Mother Earth, and you won’t know Jack! —

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Agent Jack for Hire…

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Have a word with Mother Earth. Spend some time at her feet and listen to her wisdom. Consider the many ways she nurtures you.

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Words of Wisdom from the Earth.

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WEPAC kids in the parade on Saturday. Our float won 3rd Prize! We aim to cultivate a new generation of community members…ones holding values of pride, participation and protection. But – hey – it’s also nice to get a wee bit o’recognition for the hard work, too!

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(This following photo from the Hillsborough Parade)

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See you at the Ex!

Grassroots Guardians:

Why Protecting New Brunswick from Shale Gas Development is Everyone’s Responsibility

Last month, Council of Canadians National Chairperson, Maude Barlow spoke to over 500 people at the Capitol Theatre in Moncton, New Brunswick on the need for all cultures to come together in a quest to protect our land, air and water.

If you were unable to attend the event itself, it was recorded in three parts:

PART 1:  Patricia Leger, of Memramcook Action, speaks first to the intensive work and solidarity of many groups and volunteers across the province of New Brunswick who are collaborating in opposition to hydro-fracking for gas and oil. Deborah Carr of Water and Environmental Protection for Albert County spoke to the situation in the areas surrounding Moncton and the potential for developments in south-eastern New Brunswick, giving the reasons why everyone needs to become involved.

PART 2 –  Ron Tremblay, of Maliseet First Nations, begins in his native tongue because his grandfather always told him to speak in his own language first when he talks.  Then, in English, using the stories of his culture, he explains the need for all people to take a stand to protect our shared Mother Earth. He talks about polluted rivers and his arrest, as he stood at the junction of Routes 116 and 126 to block seismic thumper trucks. He shares the prophecies of the elders that the people will reach a crossroads and if we advance beyond, there will be no turning back. We are at that crossroads; it is the time for rising up of all people to protect our future.

PART 3 – Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians, speaks on the environmental protection work being done throughout the world, and here in New Brunswick, where our opposition is being watched by other provinces, states and countries.  She paints a grim picture of the state of our environment, but shares optimism inspired by the very large successes of dedicated people and groups, among them our First Nations communities. She encourages the financial support of legal injunctions to stop the government from proceeding with the exploitation of our natural gas. (see www.knowshalegasnb.com).

TransCanada proposed pipeline route: what N.B. landowners should know

Further to our previous post on protecting landowner rights, Dave Core, of the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowners Associations (CAEPLA) has supplied important Q&A information based on a meeting with TransCanada Pipelines Limited (TCPL), concerning their Energy East Project, on August 13, 2013.

The questions in this .pdf document were asked by New Brunswick woodlot owners. You will find TCPL answers below the questions, and responses from the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations (CAEPLA) in italic below those.

Please share this information with landowners who may be living along the proposed pipeline route. The image below shows the proposed route (in red) from Edmundston to Saint John.

pipeline

 

Dave stresses the importance of landowners getting organized into a cohesive bargaining group as soon as possible in order to protect their interests and their investment.  CAEPELA can provide valuable information and resources to assist with this.

Public meetings will be held in a few scattered communities in August and September. This may be the only time that New Brunswickers have a chance to ask questions and voice concerns.  Understand this:

“Now, under new National Energy Board (NEB) rules, they¹ve made it almost impossible for Canadian citizens to provide input on tar sands pipeline, tanker or rail projects. If you wish to submit a simple letter of comment, you must first fill out a nine-page online application explaining why you are qualified to speak. Then the NEB gets to decide if you can submit comments based on a very strict set of criteria.”

This will essentially muzzle all public comment. (Sign a petition against this denial of free speech and democratic process now.)

About CAEPELA
CAEPLA has created an instruction booklet – When the Landman Comes Calling – advising landowners of the risks of leasing. If you know of a friend or neighbour who has been approached by a land agent or anyone else trying to acquire a land or pipeline lease, share or print the attached document with them.  Also share the document with anyone who has stated they are willing to lease their land.

This land is my land…or is it?

(with notes from R. LeChance and D. Core)

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.

davecoreDave 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.

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Pipeline surveyors are already contacting people in the Saint John River Valley. Listen to this interview on CBC and this online article.

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:

  • Most important: Do not sign any oil or gas leases or pipeline agreements (surveying, exploration, land, etc.) unless you know exactly what you are signing.  Signed documents of any type have been successfully used by pipeline and gas and oil companies to indicate the landowner’s approval for development. Even attending a ‘town hall’ consultation meeting and filling out a survey or information form can be used to ‘verify’ that the company has ‘consulted’ with you.
  • Pipeline companies do not want to own or lease your land; they want to take your land through an easement agreement which leaves your name on title. In this way, partial or total liability for any damages remains with the landowner.
  • Any easement on your land, including all future liabilities, will be tied to your property even if you attempt to sell it.  The easement may restrict your use or any future buyer’s use of the land.
  • If you refuse to sign an easement agreement, the company can apply for a ‘Right of Entry’ that the federal government’s National Energy Board will approve. This taking of land is to the financial benefit of pipeline company shareholders. It is rent control for pipeline monopolies.
  • Land agents will play neighbour against neighbour to make sure that they do not pay fair industrial rates for the land and to avoid signing an ironclad contract that protects your property.  You have little bargaining power as an individual.
  • Landowners across Canada now understand that the only way to get fair compensation for oil and gas leases is to talk to each other. The only way to protect your family’s safety, environment, businesses and investments is by working together to demand ironclad contracts and changes to government legislation respecting property rights. It is only the front line people, those directly affected, that can address these issues and protect our water and stewardship responsibilities.
  • Verbal assurances from a land agent or a gas company are not legally binding. Anything not written into the oil/gas lease or a pipeline easement is NOT in the agreement.
  • Very few lawyers have the necessary experience in property rights issues associated with the laws relating to gas companies and gas leases to actually address the best interests of an affected landowner. When landowners work together, they have leverage to negotiate better agreements and to hire legal counsel who understand the enacting legislation and will stand up for landowner rights.
  • Land agents do not look after your best interests. It is their job to acquire lease/easements at the lowest price with the least responsibility for their clients; i.e. the gas/pipeline companies. When you purchase a house through a realtor, they represent the seller, not the buyer.  Land agents represent the buyer (gas company), not the seller (property owner). Their fiduciary responsibility is to the company paying their contract not to the property owner; do not let them convince you otherwise.

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.

About CAEPELA
CAEPLA has created an instruction booklet – When the Landman Comes Calling – advising landowners of the risks of leasing. If you know of a neighbour that has been approached by a land agent or anyone else trying to acquire a land or pipeline lease, share or print the attached document with them.  Also share the document with anyone who has stated they are willing to lease their land.
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Wetlands taking a blasting

(Conservation Council of NB Media Release; news coverage to follow)

Shale gas exploration gets green light in wetlands, around watercourses

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?”

CBC Coverage
– Print:  SWN Given permit to test in wetlands– TV:  http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/NB/ID/2397123866/

 

“Safe” is more than a feeling…

(written by Charles Doucet)

Imagine this scene, if you will:

A hospital ICU; the patient is on life support. Standing beside the bed, we have the hospital administrator – let’s call him David. At his side is a rep from a big pharmaceutical company, and relegated to the corner of the room, is the doctor.

The administrator is explaining to the patient that the only thing that will cure their ailment is a new medication that’s just entered the market – let’s call it… Frackacin.

“It’s safe” Dave says, “…and it’s been used in different places for years without any problems” he adds. “Not only that, but the company that makes it follows really tight rules, the toughest around, so you can be sure it’s ok to take the medication”. The pharmaceutical rep is nodding at everything administrator Dave is saying, while, it must be noted, the doctor behind the scenes is clutching her clipboard in a white-knuckled grip and is working hard to bite her tongue.

“Are there any other options?” the sick patient asks. The doctor then chimes in quietly: “well, with some minor lifestyle changes, and a little exercise…”

“No, no”, Dave interrupts, “Frackacin is the only thing that’ll work”.

“But, I’d like to try those things the doctor mentioned…” the patient responds.

With furrowed brow, David explains: “I’m afraid you’re misunderstanding me. We not asking for your permission, we’re simply ‘consulting’ with you on what’s going to happen. Hospital policy stipulates that because you chose to come here, you are giving up your right to have a say in how you’re cared for.”

“But, but, what about side effects – are there any?” asks the patient, who’s becoming increasingly concerned.

The pharma rep, not willing to look the patient in the eye, replies sheepishly “well, there have been a few cases of… (mumble, mumble)”.

“What was that? What did you say?” the patient asks shrilly.

“Extra limbs, ok? A few people have grown extra limbs!” Mr. Pharma replies defensively.

“How many had that happen? Are there any other side effects?” the patient demands, now clearly agitated.

“Well, the thing is, we don’t really have an answer to either of those questions” Mr. Pharma admits, embarrassed. Dave speaks up: “None of this matters, as I’ve said… Frackacin is the only cure, I’ll stake my career on it. Now take your medicine!”

“The Hell I will”, the patient exclaims angrily, tearing off leads, throwing off the sheets of the bed and storming from the room.

~~~

The moral of this cheeky little story is this: “Safe” is more than a feeling. It’s also more than the opinion of a clearly biased person or organization with a vested interest. It is an objective threshold, below which a process or product is “unsafe” and above which the opposite holds true.That threshold is determined by a combination of empirical research and public consultation.

The research is conducted to:

  1. Identify the risks associated with the activity
  2. Quantify those risks.

If we are to avoid a situation like the one outlined in the ‘hospital’ described above, the risk and their determined frequencies must then be brought to all the stakeholders potentially affected in order to discuss what is acceptable to a majority of those people (say an incident frequency of 1 in 500, or 1 in 1,000 for example), then get their yea or nay. In medicine, this concept is known as seeking “informed consent”. In the oil and gas industry, it is called “securing a social license to operate”. Without it, the doctor cannot administer the medicine. The same standard should apply to shale gas if we are to respect people’s rights in democracies.

Dr. Louis Lapierre, in his report “The Path Forward” concluded that the risks associated with the industry must be both identified and quantified. Where he makes a mistake is that he believes it’s both acceptable and necessary to ‘test’ shale gas in New Brunswick, in essence using us as lab rats – without our consent. He is completely mistaken. With a new drug, a sufficiently large sample size of subjects who voluntarily accept to take the medicine should account for any differences arising from gender, age, ethnicity, geography, etc. It can be secured from elsewhere and allow us to draw the necessary conclusions about its safety.

The same can be said for shale gas. So get to work.