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Ottawa Ready to Intervene on Fracking If Necessary

Canada's environment minister indicated that the federal government in Ottawa was keeping a close eye on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and was prepared to intervene if it thought either the provincial or territorial governments weren't doing enough to safely regulate the procedure.

"The principle responsibility [for regulating fracking] rests with the provinces and the territories," Peter Kent said Thursday in the House of Commons. "The federal government has an interest and can involve itself when a threat is perceived and reported."

Kent made his comments during questioning by Megan Leslie, a member of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), who serves as the party's critic for environmental issues. After stating that fracking was "very controversial and has not been thoroughly studied," Leslie asked Kent if the federal government had any information about the practice.

"Hydraulic fracturing is a rather old technique in terms of conventional oil production, but it is relatively new with regard to shale gas," Kent said. "[The] provincial and federal governments share in the responsibility of regulating the oil and gas sector. The regulation of shale gas is mainly a provincial and territorial responsibility, except on federal lands. [But] research is being conducted."

Leslie then asked Kent if Ottawa would begin requiring energy companies to reveal their lists of chemicals used as fracking fluids. He responded that the environment ministry was responsible for regulating toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

"Where required, we will intervene," he said.

Tom Huffaker, vice president for policy and environmental issues with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), told NGI's Shale Daily that Kent's comments noted the sharing of responsibilities between the federal and provincial governments.

"Resource ownership rests with the provinces," Huffaker said Tuesday. "This includes the regulation of shale gas, which is mainly a provincial responsibility. [Meanwhile] the federal government regulates hazardous chemicals under CEPA."

Huffaker added that CAPP supports efficient, nonduplicative regulations to protect the environment. "We consistently advocate for regulations that ensure public confidence and safety, and that balance the environment, energy security and economic growth," he said.

David Coon, executive director for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, told NGI's Shale Daily that he did not expect the federal government to perform its own fracking study.

"They didn't suggest they were going to do a study," Coon said Tuesday. "They didn't suggest much. The jurisdiction of the federal government is pretty narrow on this issue. It would relate only really to the handling and fate of any toxic chemicals that might be used [in fracking]."

In March the government of Quebec said fracking could continue in the province for exploration purposes only while it conducts a two-year strategic environmental assessment of shale gas (see Shale Daily, March 10). Two other provinces, British Columbia and New Brunswick, have declined to study fracking or put restrictions on the practice there (see Shale Daily, April 4; March 14).

The NDP is the main opposition party in Canada, controlling 103 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. The ruling Conservative Party has the most seats, 166.

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