FREDERICTON • New Brunswick’s Liberal government plans on imposing a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.
Premier Brian Gallant said the moratorium is on all hydraulic fracturing activity – water and propane included.
Gallant said that the move will require amendments to the oil and natural gas act, expected to be introduced in the legislature on Thursday afternoon.
He stressed the move is not a ban and that it could be lifted in the future.
But the moratorium has a series of conditions that need to be met before being lifted, including a process to consult with First Nations, a plan for wastewater disposal and credible information about the impacts fracking has on health, water and the environment.
“We have been clear from Day One that we will impose a moratorium until risks to the environment, health and water are understood,” Gallant said. “We believe these conditions to be very reasonable.”
Gallant said he also wants the development of a royalty structure and a “social licence’” ensuring that the public accepts fracking before the moratorium would be removed, though he acknowledged that has yet to be defined.
He said his government supports job creation but added that it needs to be done in a diversified and sustainable way.
“We’re not interested in putting all of our eggs in a single basket,” he said.
But the moratorium is strictly on hydraulic fracturing, meaning exploration for shale gas could continue.
Companies can continue work, as long as they don’t frack.
“We’ll certainly also always listen to businesses that may have concerns and try to mitigate some of the impacts if they believe (them) to be negative on their operations,” he said.
Fracking is a process whereby a pressurized fluid is injected into shale rock in order to crack the rock and release underground natural gas deposits.
In making the announcement, Gallant is carrying out another of its cornerstone commitments.
The Liberal election campaign platform pledges to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing “until risks to the environment, health and water are fully understood.”
“Any decision on hydraulic-fracturing will be based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence and follow recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer of Health,” it states.
The move risks killing an industry that has already invested hundreds of millions in New Brunswick.
It also raises the danger of multi-million dollar legal action from the companies that were granted licences by both Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments in the province over the last decade.
But it erases the threat of environmental risks that have been hotly debated across the country and around the world.
New Brunswick’s move follows moratoriums in Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
It turns it back on joining provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan with a history of hydraulic fracturing having embraced industry development.
The arguments, reports, and studies for and against the well-stimulation technique are many.
The Fraser Institute has stated the environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing are real but manageable with existing technologies and regulation, noting that stopping shale gas development is squandering a good economic opportunity.
A group of university and private sector analysts released a report on shale gas that included an economic study that predicted New Brunswick could create between 5,900 and 7,900 full-time jobs, both directly and indirectly, if the industry annually drilled between 150 and 200 wells.
That would translate into between $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion in economic growth.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said in September that a total of 44,266 oil and natural gas wells have been hydraulically fractured in Saskatchewan.
There were 1,380 wells fracked there last year, without incident.
“There are simply not the incidents that some who oppose fracking are pointing to,” he said.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark maintains that her province has “never had a single incident of water contamination reported in British Columbia after doing this for 50 years.”
The David Alward Progressive Conservatives went all in on the industry in a failed re-election bid that urged New Brunswickers to “say yes” to what the Tories said would be $10 billion in short-term investment.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, Premier Philippe Couillard ruled out exploiting Quebec’s shale gas reserves.
Quebecers are largely against hydraulic fracturing and exploiting the natural resource in today’s market is not economically viable, he said.
Couillard made the comments shortly after Quebec’s environmental review board concluded the ecological and social risks associated with hydraulic fracturing outweigh the financial benefits.
Nova Scotia has moved ahead with legislation to ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing for onshore oil and gas. Only three test wells have been hydraulically fracked in Nova Scotia since 2007, all of them in the Kennetcook area, where Denver-based Triangle Petroleum failed to make the natural gas there flow.
The government there won’t consider lifting the ban until it is convinced fracking can be done safely under a set of stringent new rules and regulations.
The New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance, which represents 22 community organizations, called on the Gallant government earlier this week to “put people before politics” when it comes to the shale gas industry.
“We recognize that the government is under significant pressure from the oil and gas lobby, in both public and private, to reverse or weaken its decision (for a moratorium), and its promise to the electorate,” said alliance spokesman Jim Emberger at a news conference in Moncton. “This is no less than a direct attempt by industry to subvert the will and voice of the people and therefore, is also a direct attempt to undermine our democratic process.”