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New Brunswick Panel Seeks Public Input on Fracking

A three-member panel appointed in March by New Brunswick to study hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and determine whether it can be performed to the provincial government's standards has, for the first time, asked for public comments on the practice.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Quebec, a coalition of environmental groups opposed to shale gas drilling on Anticosti Island blasted that province's government for not being forthcoming with the results of geologic samples taken from the island, and for taking an inconsistent stance on climate change.

The New Brunswick panel -- officially, the NB Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing -- last Friday invited individuals and groups to submit comments on fracking, or to request a meeting with the panel. The panel was appointed by the province's Energy and Mines Ministry last March (see Shale DailyMarch 27).

"We are most interested in examining the potential benefits, risks, opportunities and challenges shale gas offers New Brunswick communities and the people who live here," the panel said on its website. "To fulfill our mandate, we will conduct a thorough review of shale gas and [fracking] and present to the premier our findings regarding whether the government's conditions can be met."

The prospects for shale development in New Brunswick were dealt a setback last September after voters returned the Liberal party to power and turned out the pro-shale Progressive Conservatives (see Shale DailyDec. 12, 2014Sept. 24, 2014). Three months later, the Liberal government enacted a moratorium on fracking, and said it would not lift it until five conditions were met -- the first of which was for oil and gas companies interested in exploring the province to have "social license," a term in Canada that essentially means the companies have earned the public's trust in keeping them safe.

"What we will not do is state whether the New Brunswick government should or should not lift its moratorium on [fracking]," the panel said. "That is a decision that rightfully belongs with the government of New Brunswick, informed by its values and priorities."

The panel has until March 2016 to present its findings to Premier Brian Gallant.

New Brunswick is home to the Frederick Brook Shale, an emerging play that lies beneath the Hiram Brook tight gas sands in both the Sussex and Elgin sub-basins (see Shale DailyDec. 7, 2010).

In Quebec, the environmental coalition Nature Quebec asked the Quebec government "to be transparent and consistent" on the issue of drilling on Anticosti, which lies at the outlet of the Saint Lawrence River in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. It urged the government to publish the results of geologic samples drilled on the island in 2014 and 2015.

According to Nature Quebec, reports on the samples were no longer posted on a provincial government website that tracks oil and gas geosciences information. It also said the website for the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change had posted a table showing the number of reports on the samples, but no details on their contents.

"If nothing is done, drilling with hydraulic fracturing could begin as early as the summer of 2016 without public scrutiny or debate," Christian Simard, general manager of Nature Quebec, said in a translated statement.

The coalition also accused Quebec's government -- led by the Quebec Liberal Party and Premier Philippe Couillard -- of sowing confusion in the province, after announcing an ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions earlier this month, while maintaining projects like Anticosti.

"Allowing fracking on Anticosti is like opening the door to use this technique to explore for shale gas throughout Quebec," said Jacques Tetreault, spokesman for another anti-fracking group, Regroupement Vigilance Hydrocarbures Quebec.

Quebec's previous government, led by the Parti Quebecois (PQ), formed two joint ventures (JV) in 2014 with four oil and gas producers to drill both onshore and offshore wells at Anticosti (see Shale DailyFeb. 21, 2014). The JVs were established despite a moratorium on fracking that was enacted by the PQ shortly after it came to power in 2012 (see Shale DailyFeb. 8, 2013).

Since Couillard and the Quebec Liberal Party returned to power in 2014, speculation has grown that Quebec may allow fracking in some parts of the province, although Couillard has said he opposes the practice in environmentally sensitive areas (see Shale DailyApril 8, 2014).

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