FREDERICTON – New Brunswick should proceed with shale gas exploration but with a phased-in approach that would limit it to one to three sites to allow for research and development, a report released Monday says.
University of Moncton biologist Louis LaPierre, who was hired by the provincial government in May to study the shale gas industry, released his report following public meetings throughout the summer.
LaPierre’s report rejects a moratorium on shale gas development as sought by the Opposition Liberals, saying it would halt research on the issue and not be in the province’s interests.
“A moratorium on future shale gas exploration activities would not provide the opportunity to address the concerns of the citizens nor would it enable government to define the economic potential of the shale gas industry,” he says in the report.
Interim Liberal Leader Victor Boudreau took issue with that.
“This is a commercial exploitation of shale gas that is occurring in the province of New Brunswick,” Boudreau said.
“In no way would a moratorium prevent research from happening. It may prevent the commercial exploitation, but it doesn’t have to stop the research.”
LaPierre began his review following the release earlier this year of a government paper on shale gas containing 116 recommendations that addressed issues such as well designs, royalties and protection of water supplies.
LaPierre told a news conference that he repeatedly heard the public’s concerns over water during his consultations.
“Citizens in New Brunswick spoke passionately to me on the need to protect their water,” he said. “Water to them is a sacred resource.”
Opponents of shale gas development have staged protests throughout the province voicing concerns that water could become contaminated as a result of shale gas fracking. Fracking involves the injection of pressurized water and chemicals to release trapped pockets of natural gas.
LaPierre also said he would like to see four universities — Mount Allison University, the University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University and his own — work together to establish a research institute that would gather data on the shale gas sector.
“We spend a lot of money on our universities and I think the universities could be very well integrated into an independent institute that would report to government but not be directed by government,” he said.
“We need credible data for New Brunswick, not extrapolated data from away.”
Energy Minister Craig Leonard said he needed more time to study the report, but added that he was interested with its recommendations.
“The approach that he is suggesting for a way forward is intriguing,” Leonard said. “It would certainly reduce the amount of risk that’s out there and give a better comfort level to people about moving forward.”
Green party Leader David Coon accused LaPierre of not taking environmental concerns seriously.
“We believe you can’t make shale gas and fracking safe with regulations,” Coon said. “Besides, it’s a fossil fuel, and he seems to have forgotten we have a climate crisis.”
LaPierre also recommends that a portion of any shale gas developed in New Brunswick should be reserved for use within the province.