Let’s talk about traffic…

We understand that Contact Exploration will be resuming operations this year in Stoney Creek and Edgett’s Landing. As far as we know, they will be drilling and fracking for oil on existing well pads. This may mean fewer construction vehicles and water tankers than for new gas operations, but we know that gas exploration and development is coming soon.  We wonder how Route 114 will hold up.

So, what can we expect?  Here are three eye-opening videos:

Now…enough of those polished, high-priced sales videos…tell us what it’s really like…

Or one real life drive along a Pennsylvania highway one week after a fracking operation began.

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.

Dave-Core-250x180

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/

 

Unearthed: The Fracking Facade

Afrikaan filmmaker, Jolynn Minnaar’s documentary, Unearthed: The Fracking Facade, started off as her determination to explore the potential for shale gas development in South Africa. She ended up traveling internationally , including the United States and New Brunswick and interviewing over 400 people in her quest for the truth. She visited Moncton last June. The final 5 minutes are particular poignant.

And here is an interview in which she talks about how this independently funded film came about and what she now thinks about the industry.

“This film isn’t about me, about what I think, I’m a filmmaker. I’m 24 years old, I’m not a petrochemical engineer,  I’m not an oil company executive, I don’t have any history in this industry. What I seek to do is go to the various stakeholders, be that the company or someone who has cancer after being exposed to the chemicals used in fracing, and make their voices known because up until now there hasn’t been that exposure so in this debate and in south Africa and internationally, this has failed us. And governments I believe are making poorly informed decisions and a lack of public consultation and it goes down to the basic democratic processes that haven’t been followed. And to me that is completely unacceptable.” Jolynn Minnaar

A Village in the Crosshairs

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.”

HillsboroughmarshIt 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.

hillsboroughSo 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.

Stringent? Rigorous?

I’ve toured Penobsquis too, and smelled fumes from the gas wells on the flood plains of the Kennebecasis River.

penobsquis

Wellpads in Penobsquis, NB

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.

brody_cropA 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.

© copyright 2013 Deborah Carr

For the Record….

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?

Dear Premier Alward, please don’t ruin our water…

Quinn knows the value of fresh water. He sees his dad working hard to keep Hillsborough’s two village water wells in good working order and knows bad water makes people sick. He has heard about fracking in the news and at school and knows others in his county are concerned about the gas and oil wells drilled nearby. He told his mom he wanted to do something to help.

Premier Alward, Quinn and his sister Cadence do not stand alone. They speak for all of us.

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Image2Image3(used with permission from Quinn and his mom.)

Guess Who’s Invited to Town?

Get to know the company our government has invited to our fair province.

swn_nbOur government has leased 2.5 million acres of New Brunswick land to SWN Resources Inc.(a subsidiary of Southwestern Energy) for shale gas exploration and development. SWN operates in Arkansas, Texas,
Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Colorado, in addition to New Brunswick. Their NB lease lies largely through central and southern part of the province (see map).

A former oil and gas driller who has worked in fields throughout Canada and the US, has compiled a list of violations, fines, contamination reports, accidents and lawsuits that SWN has been named in – all found online. Yet the company claims they have a safe track record. Can all these incidents be false or coincidence?

Does our government really believe rules and regulations will make a difference here in New Brunswick?

Note:  “SEECO” is SWN’s drilling division, and DeSoto Gathering Company is their pipeline division.

Ontario won’t allow fracking for gas without evidence it’s safe

The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 4:13PM EST

TORONTO — Ontario would need to see scientific proof that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is safe before it allows energy companies to use the controversial practice to extract natural gas, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.  Read more:

Proposed Oil & Gas Development in Stoney Creek and Hillsborough

In March 2011, Contact Exploration Inc. received approval from the Alward Government for construction of a production facility and for “exploratory drilling, completing, testing, producing and related activities” (which includes hydraulic fracturing) associated with 31 new or old Stoney Creek oil and gas wells. This approval includes well B55 in Edgett’s Landing (Taylor Hill), which is less than 2km from the Village of Hillsborough’s main and backup water wells. The village drilled 35 wells before acquiring these two reliable water sources. The company also has an additional application for more development.

Albert County has a complex geology with sinkholes, faults, gypsum caves and shallow shale. Almost half of 168 old oil wells have not been properly plugged or abandoned, according to 2004 documentation. Any of these might provide a pathway for toxic frack fluid to migrate into our groundwater.

Because of this danger, the Village of Hillsborough has asked for a halt to mining activities surrounding the B-55 well.

On behalf of the residents of Stoney Creek and Hillsborough, WEPAC is petitioning our government to conduct comprehensive aquifer mapping to determine how best to protect our well water.  We have also asked the government to subsidize water testing for residents in these areas before any work begins.