Shale Daily / NGI All News Access

New Brunswick Unveils New Oil and Gas Rules

Officials in the Canadian province of New Brunswick unveiled new rules for oil and natural gas development in the prospective Frederick Brook Shale on Friday, including a requirement that operators disclose all of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

"We have been firm in our commitment to New Brunswickers of putting rules in place that will protect the water, the environment and landowners and do so in a safe way if the oil and gas industry in our province expands," Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard said. "These new, robust rules will do just that."

The Energy and Mines Ministry said the rules outlined in a 106-page report were based off a discussion paper released last May (see Shale Daily, May 21, 2012), and dovetail with recommendations made separately by the province's chief medical officer, Eilish Cleary, and Louis LaPierre, a professor emeritus in biology at the University of Moncton (see Shale Daily, Nov. 28, 2012; Oct. 16, 2012).

The provincial government is expected to release a blueprint for oil and natural gas regulations this spring (see Shale Daily, Nov. 30, 2012). The blueprint is to focus on five areas: environmental responsibility, effective regulation and enforcement, community engagement stability of supply, and sustainable economic development.

The rules released Friday are divided into 11 sections. Specifically, they address setback requirements for seismic testing; preventing contamination from the well bore; assessing geological contamination outside the well bore; wastewater management; monitoring water quality; water management, air emissions; public safety and emergency planning; community and environmental protections; reducing financial risks and protecting landowner rights, and sharing information.

Under the rules, seismic testing that uses explosive charges would have to adhere to certain setbacks. Non-explosive testing would require a 15-meter (49.2 feet) setback from oil or natural gas pipelines and wells, but for explosive testing the setback would range from 35 to 101 meters (114.8 to 331.4 feet), depending on the weight of the charge.

New Brunswick wants operators in their province to meet the minimum well casing requirements established by the Alberta Resources Conservation Board. The province has also set standards for pressure testing, joints, surface casing vents, conductor pipe and cementing.

Operators will be required to model any potential inter-well bore communication between a well stimulated by fracking and any adjacent producing, shut-in or abandoned oil or natural gas wells, taking into consideration the local geology before fracking is performed. They must also then conduct sufficient monitoring to fully understand for the local geology is responding to fracking.

Shallow fracking, where the target formation is less than 600 meters (1,968.5 feet) from the surface, is prohibited.

The province will also require that operators use closed loop, pitless systems for managing drilling fluids. The operator must also have a vacuum truck on stand-by alert within a one hour driving distance of the well during fracking and the first 72 hours of the flowback phase. Pits for flowback and produced water are prohibited.

Operators will also be required to submit approve a waste management plan to regulators. The province will outlaw unauthorized on-site waste disposal and encourage recycling.

"The goal of these rules is to protect the environment, people's health and our water," said Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch. "We would stack our rules, taking into consideration our unique geology, against any other jurisdiction in North America."

But Stephanie Merrill, spokeswoman for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB), told NGI's Shale Daily that the environmental group still opposed fracking in the province, and said the government's rules had several shortcomings.

"The government has been promising regulations to the public, but these aren't regulations -- they're conditions," Merrill said Tuesday. "They'll be attached to operating permits. We're concerned that these are much softer, much easier to change and much easier to give variances. It also opens up the potential for ministerial interference, which we have a history of here."

Merrill also said the new rules don't address well failures or air quality issues, and puts the burden of proving groundwater contamination on landowners.

"The government tried to put a reverse onus into the rules and the industry pushed back," Merrill said. "So we'll have a situation where landowners are responsible for proving a case of water contamination, and the government is suggesting that they will step in as an intervenor. But that begs the question of whether the government can really play that objective role because they're also facilitating the expansion of the industry. It puts them in an inherent conflict of interest."

Sheri Somerville, spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), told NGI's Shale Daily that the organization was still poring over the technical details of the government's new rules.

"This is an important announcement for our province and for the industry because it gives us clarity on the rules and we can move forward," Somerville said Tuesday. "We have found that these draft rules are comprehensive, but in some cases they are overly stringent. Industry is concerned about maintaining a competitive environment. That's our primary objective."

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