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Doctors, Researchers Differ on Fracking in New Brunswick

A Canadian family doctors' association has called for the government of New Brunswick to enact a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), while researchers with the University of New Brunswick (UNB) are urging Fredericton to proceed with caution.

According to media reports, Anick Pelletier, president of the New Brunswick chapter of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, sent a letter to every member of the Legislative Assembly outlining the group's concerns about fracking. Pelletier could not be reached for comment Thursday.

"We are urging you to protect our valuable resources and the public's health by putting a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing development in New Brunswick until further research can prove that the benefits clearly outweigh the risk of this practice," Pelletier said.

Meanwhile in an eight-page opinion piece released Monday, four UNB professors -- Tom Al, Karl Butler, Rick Cunjak and Kerry MacQuarrie -- said water quality and quantity were at the heart of the debate over fracking in the province.

"It should be clear...that if the choice of technology is hydraulic fracturing with water, then we share some of the concerns regarding water consumption and waste water treatment and disposal," the researchers said, later adding that "hydraulic fracturing should not proceed unless there is an environmentally responsible option for disposal of waste water."

Although the opinion piece did not delve into the possibility of having operators perform fracking with carbon dioxide (CO2) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) instead of water, the researchers said they were surprised those alternatives have not played a bigger part in the debate over fracking in New Brunswick.

"The one very obvious benefit of CO2 or LPG fracturing is that it does not require water," the researchers said. "Most of the concerns about water consumption and contamination are consequently diminished. In the interest of getting it right, we believe the CO2 and LPG fracturing technologies deserve serious consideration."

But assuming that water holds sway, the researchers recommended that operators look to possible alternative water sources, such as waste brines from potash mining. They also said the provincial government should encourage operators to recycle flowback water, use deep injection wells to dispose of wastewater and bar municipal facilities from accepting wastewater for treatment.

Although seismic testing caused an uproar in the past (see Shale Daily, Aug. 25, 2011; Aug. 15, 2011), the researchers said its impact on groundwater supplies "is expected to be minimal." They added that the risk of groundwater contamination from fracking "due to leakage upward along gas well casings should be very low if best practices for well construction are followed.

"We recommend that independent technically trained well site inspectors provide continuous oversight at the wellhead during the critical stages of well construction."

The researchers also recommended the establishment of exclusion zones, using comparative depth to other resources as one possible criterion. "There may be other worthwhile criteria for defining exclusion zones such as proximity to property boundaries, water wells and abandoned petroleum wells," they said.

Natural Resources spokeswoman Anne Bull told NGI's Shale Daily on Thursday that Minister Bruce Northrup planned to unveil new shale gas regulations sometime this spring but said there was no specific date for an announcement. The province recently awarded Windsor Energy Corp. a five-year lease for exploration and possible development (see Shale Daily, April 23).

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