Shale gas exploration and extraction via hydraulic fracturing is a controversial and polarizing topic in New Brunswick. The public is divided on the issue and, as is often the case these days, social media are being used to rally supporters to one side or the other. Inflammatory rhetoric and exaggerated claims appear to dominate the discussion. That being said, it is far from clear yet whether NB has a sufficiently large and economically extractable reserve of gas to create a significant industry; it may turn out that shale gas may not exist in sufficient quantities, or prices may not be sufficient to justify development at this time. On the other hand, the gas is a public asset and so discussion of how to develop (or not develop) and utilize the asset is merited. For a useful outline of the shale industry in New Brunswick, see an article by A. Park of UNB (16) and an opinion piece by various UNB researchers.
The development of hydraulic fracturing technologies over the past 30 years or so has made extraction of shale gas economically feasible and attractive prices have allowed the industry to expand rapidly. An abundance of gas in the marketplace pushed down prices in 2011-2012 and the expansion of the industry has slowed somewhat. Information in the peer-reviewed scientific literature with respect to adverse environmental and health impacts from shale gas extraction is now beginning to appear. A number of these articles are available for free download and I would encourage people to read them, rather than accept the interpretations that appear in various media (or my interpretations, for that matter). It is fine to have opinions, but much better to have opinions based in verifiable data. Then we can have a rational discussion.
Recently, the Mining Commissioner of the Province of New Brunswick released his report on the complaint by residents of the Penobsquis area regarding damage to their property they claimed was the result of mining activities by the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan.
As is detailed below, the Commissioner’s report deals mainly with a land subsidence claim put forward by some residents. Water damage claims were withdrawn – some reasons for that withdrawal are given here. The whole story is quite an indictment of the Province’s apparent complete lack of regard for the concerns of its citizens. In short, the Province has failed to show that it ‘has the people’s back’. That, in fact, is the most alarming aspect of this decades-old story. I am not in a position to evaluate the damage claims made by Penobsquis residents, but the’ hands-off’, ‘let the lawyers decide’ attitude of successive Provincial governments is chilling.
The text of the Commissioner’s report is below. This text was formatted for this website from a PDF version of the report. Some errors may have been introduced during this formatting – for those, I apologize (please send me an email if you find errors that mislead).
I am not a mining expert and cannot comment on the technical issues here. But I will make the following comments:
1. The Mining Commissioner appears to be a lawyer and there is no evidence that he has sufficient technical backgound to judge the merits of the evidence before him. Given the powers of the Commissioner, it seems to me that it would be preferable (and more fair) if the Commissioner had considerable technical backgound in the issues at hand, but had access to legal advice where needed. Here we have the opposite – in fact, it is worse than the opposite as there is no evidence that the Commissioner had access to any independent technical advice.