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Quebeckers Split on Hydrofracking Report; No Ban in New Brunswick

While Quebec's announcement that hydraulic fracturing could continue on a limited basis has divided people in the province, a government official in the neighboring province of New Brunswick said a moratorium on the practice won't be implemented there.

"I want to be very clear; the New Brunswick government will not put a moratorium on" hydraulic fracturing, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup said Friday. "We're at an early stage in this, the production phase. To become a reality, [development] is three or four years down the road. New Brunswick does not believe a moratorium is necessary since we have good regulations in place right now."

Pierre Arcand, environment minister for Quebec, released a highly anticipated report by the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE) on Tuesday and said the government would conduct a two-year strategic environmental assessment on shale gas (see Shale Daily, March 10). Hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) would be allowed to continue for exploration purposes only.

"The very large majority of people are favorable to what the BAPE just proposed and what [Arcand] has accepted," Andre Belisle, president of the Association Quebecoise de Lutte contre la Pollution Atmospherique (AQLPA), told NGI's Shale Daily on Thursday. "It doesn't say it is a moratorium, but it is almost one. It gives us the time to make the research we need to find the right answers to all the questions that were not asked before.

"We should look at what is going in the United States. [The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] has decided to launch a very thorough examination of all the problems and questions related to shale gas. During that time we should the same thing here in Quebec and make sure we find the right answers to all of those questions."

Two other groups, Regroupement national des conseils regionaux de l'environnement du Quebec (RNCREQ) and Conseil regional de l'environnement et du developpement durable de l'Outaouais (CREDDO), also applauded the government's decision.

"We're happy because we're not going to launch into this shale gas exploration without further study," CREDDO Executive Director Nicole DesRoches told NGI's Shale Daily on Thursday. "We're happy that the government has endorsed the report."

In a translated statement, RNCREQ Executive Director Philippe Bourke said his organization was "pleased that the BAPE has acknowledged that it is premature to propose a framework for development of this industry, given the flagrant lack for crucial information, including on the risks of hydraulic fracturing, on the emission of greenhouse gas emissions and on the impacts on health."

But not everyone was pleased with the 323-page BAPE report. The opposition Parti Quebecois blasted Premier Jean Charest and his party, the Quebec Liberal Party, and called for a halt to all hydrofracking.

"The BAPE concludes that the Liberal government acted wrongly and the people had reason to be concerned about shale gas," a translated Parti Quebecois statement said. "The BAPE has been the victim of a period too short and a mandate too limited. We currently do not have reliable information and knowledge in Quebec to launch the shale gas development. This reinforces the conviction that a moratorium worthy of its name is necessary."

DesRoches acknowledged that not everyone was happy with the provincial government's decision. "But it doesn't mean that after the two years of study that shale gas usage is going to go on," she said. "It is sort of a moratorium because everything is stopped. At least we're going to think about this before we start doing it [on an industrial scale]."

Belisle chuckled at calls for Charest to resign over the issue. "Well, politicians are politicians," he said. "I guess that's understandable that they ask for his resignation. But we felt it was more important to welcome this report and tell people that the BAPE work is good work."

Northrup said the New Brunswick government was meeting with concerned citizens groups and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB), and promised they would be able to raise their concerns on hydraulic fracturing with industry officials.

"We realize what's happening in Quebec," Northrup said. "Some of the things that they are doing now we have already done in the past. It's no offense to Quebec, but we've started the process quite awhile ago. We feel that we're ahead of this game but we want to take it slowly. We want to bring all the facts back to New Brunswick and learn by other peoples' mistakes. It's a slow process, but we want to make it a slow process."

CCNB renewed its calls for a moratorium on Wednesday.

"We have had no studies, no public hearings and yet our government is willing to move forward with shale gas development while Quebec clearly is not," CCNB Executive Director David Coon said. "Our government needs to follow New York and Quebec. Daily, there are more municipalities, counties, states and now provinces putting a halt to this practice before it gets out of hand, [and] New Brunswick should follow suit."

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