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New Brunswick Shale Moratorium Unnecessary, Says Researcher

New Brunswick should require a portion of any natural gas found in its shale plays be set aside for use in the province and should put in place a water use strategy for the shale gas industry, but it should not place a moratorium on the industry, according to a report by Louis LaPierre, a professor emeritus in biology at the University of Moncton.

A moratorium would not advance debate concerning the major issues surrounding the shale industry and would not provide the opportunity to address the concerns of residents, according to LaPierre's report, The Path Forward, which was requested by the provincial government.

"A moratorium stops all research and would not benefit New Brunswick or its people," he said. Legislators and the provincial administration have so far refused to enact a ban despite a series of anti-fracking protests. LaPierre's report includes a total of 14 recommendations that focus on water, well casing, environment, health, legal, economic, energy and First Nations issues.

"LaPierre found that the government and industry have been unsuccessful at properly informing the public about shale gas exploration and believes that the current widespread approach should stop immediately," according to the provincial government. "He recommends that the government adopt a phased approach for future exploration initiatives, which would limit the exploration activity to one to three sites in the province, which would allow for comprehensive research and development."

The report lays out a health and risk assessment model that would define the level of risk associated with each phase of exploration, extraction and management to define mitigation options, as well as monitoring programs that need to be implemented to compile statistical data relevant to New Brunswick.

LaPierre recommended a new governance model which moves shale gas exploration to the Department of Energy and Mines to be integrated with New Brunswick's energy policy. "The department would establish a focal point for policy development and coordination with other key ministries including the departments of Environment and Local Government, Health, Transportation and Infrastructure, Natural Resources, and the Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat," according to the report. LaPierre also recommended the creation of an Energy Institute that would provide "a New Brunswick focus" to research using expertise that currently exists at the province's universities.

"I firmly believe that a rational, science-based process and structured dialogue is needed to properly determine whether there is a viable shale gas industry in New Brunswick, and if the economic potential can be realized in an environmentally safe manner," the environmental scientist said.

LaPierre was hired by the New Brunswick government earlier this year to solicit the opinions of citizens about dozens of proposed regulatory changes to the province's oil and gas industry (see NGI, May 21). The recommended changes, which were included in a in a discussion paper released in May, "would make our existing regulations even stronger and would ensure we are prepared if the industry expands in our province," according to Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup. Production in the province still in its infancy, with New Brunswick accounting for well below 1% of total Canadian marketed natural gas production each year since 2003.

The recommendations, which included tougher casing and cementing standards, increased water protections and substantially higher royalties, came from the Natural Gas Group, a triumvirate formed by the province's Environment, Energy and Natural Resources departments. Those departments' ministers and deputy ministers, meeting as the Natural Gas Steering Committee, unveiled another set of rules in 2011 (see NGI, June 27, 2011).

LaPierre gathered public opinion about the proposed changes during a series of nine public meetings held in the province over the summer.

"Throughout this process I became acutely aware of the serious concerns that New Brunswickers have regarding shale gas exploration, as well as the economic benefits that the industry could have for our province," said LaPierre. "I began to think of a way that the two sides of the shale gas debate could co-exist and created The Path Forward, which is a framework and a set of actions that would allow the province to fully explore the potential of a shale gas industry in New Brunswick."

Other recommendations from LaPierre's report include the development of a chemical database and health registry that would be available to physicians, and the establishment of a panel to conduct scientific and peer review of information and literature on shale gas.

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