New Brunswick Is Canada's Next Shale Gas Fracking Battle Front

Thu, 2011-04-14 14:52TJ Scolnick
TJ Scolnick's picture

New Brunswick Is Canada's Next Shale Gas Fracking Battle Front

On Canada’s east coast, American oil and gas companies are doubling down and betting that the small maritime province of New Brunswick is the next shale gas hot spot.

How has New Brunswick become a primary destination for oil and gas companies? Two reasons in particular stand out: 1) The government does not know how it will manage shale gas exploration (having only just released its “framework for a long-term action plan to manage the exploration, development and utilization of domestic natural gas” last Thursday evening) - which means companies that invest early will have a say in developing gas exploitation policies; 2) In terms of gas concentrations per square kilometer, New Brunswick may hold North America’s largest shale bed [PDF].

New Brunswick was not on the gas industry’s radar a couple of years ago but things are changing rapidly as American gas developers are rushing across the border to snap up exploration rights in order to win big in the destructive shale boom.

A year ago this past March, the provincial government granted rights to companies to explore for gas on one million hectares in New Brunswick, on top of another half-million hectares previously provided. Now close to 100 communities fall in the combined 1.5-million hectare territory, located mainly in the southeast.

One key U.S. player diving into the emerging shale market in New Brunswick is Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co. (a.k.a. SWN Resources in Canada), which found the Fayetteville play in Arkansas. Southwestern Energy will spend nearly $47 million over the next three years looking for shale gas in NB. This is SWN’s first project outside the U.S. and the company is lobbying the NB government hard with Tom Alexander, their regional manager, serving as the spokesperson for the whole industry in the province.

Apache Canada Ltd., a subsidiary of Houston-based Apache Corporation, which is already involved in shale plays in the Horn River Basin in Northern Alberta, plans to spend $25 million on exploration activities over the next 18 months in New Brunswick.
 
Exploiting shale gas in the province will require the use of the highly controversial hydraulic fracturing technique (a.k.a. fracking). “Fracking fluids” (water, sand and chemicals) are injected as a dirty cocktail into shale formations cracking the rock under extreme pressure and releasing gas.

If the experiences of their U.S. neighbors are any indication, New Brunswick citizens should worry that in September 2010, 13 families in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County filed a lawsuit accusing SWN of contaminating their drinking water with fracking chemicals and waste dating back to 2008. Locals are worried this could happen in New Brunswick given the current lack of government oversight of the industry, and the slow pace of government efforts to enact regulations to hold the industry accountable for any damage it causes.

Between the Sussex and Elgin regions there is an estimated 67 trillion cubic feet of gas. Citizens in the communities of Penobsquis and Elgin, where drilling is already taking place, are concerned about the impacts of gas development on their groundwater, aquatic ecosystems and their own health.

While gas companies are enjoying an early head start on gas exploration and permitting, the provincial Natural Gas Steering Committee is still figuring out how to manage the industry. On Thursday, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup finally announced a short-term action plan, indicating how far behind the province is in setting critical rules for development:

“Today, we are in the early stages of what could be the development of a significant natural gas industry in our province…”

“If this occurs, our government will make sure it is done in an environmentally responsible manner with maximum economic and social benefits for New Brunswickers. That is why we are developing this made-in-New-Brunswick plan.”

The government has conducted fact-finding missions outside the province, but to date its phased-in environmental impact assessment fails to account for cumulative impacts, and thus far it has largely failed to seek input from the residential community.

Unconvinced by government efforts, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick Action (CCNB Action) is calling for an outright ban. Stephanie Merrill, CCNB Action Freshwater Protection Coordinator and primary contact on the shale gas file, discussed the many dangers from continuing to expedite shale gas development:

Given the mounting evidence, throughout North America, against the safety of well drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and the inherent risks associated with the entire process of shale gas development, we feel that no regulations can ever control this industry and the risks to our water, air, landscape and human health are too high.  CCNB is calling for a ban on shale gas exploration and production in New Brunswick…”

Accordingly, the CCNB has launched its “No Means NO”! campaign with a petition [PDF] to ban shale gas.

Access the CCNB primer on shale gas: “Fracking for Shale Gas in New Brunswick: What you need to know” [PDF]

Previous Comments

Thank you Tim Scolnick, perfectly expressed! We are a tiny little province, fighting for the very quality of our lives and those of our children and grandchildren. As more scientists speak out against the dangers of high volume, slick water, horizontal fracturing, it is becoming clearer to us, that this is an imperfect science, which cannot be made safe by “best practices”. New Brunswick must understand that this is not conventional drilling, shale gas requires hundreds of wells in close proximity to access the horizontal deposits. The sheer number of gas wells and processing facilities required, multiplied by the millions of litres of water and chemicals required to extract the gas, will have a massive impact upon water supplies, air quality and the landscape. Our environment and quality of life will never recover from this kind of intense industrialization.

How come there is all this negitivity toward shale gas drilling. Yet the potash mine is flooding and water wells have been lost in penobsquis. But because the people work and rely on the potash mine to survive there is very little said about that! What about the people in the community that rely on the drilling? or are they not important enough!!! its time that we let some of these companies in the provience and we grow together learning as we go. People should realize that what happens south of the boarder is because of greed and lack of respect for the people. As someone who works in the drilling industry in canada & with experience in the industry in the u.s. we should not even be compared or even spoke about in the same conversation. there should be ZERO hessitation from the people in the community’s. These companies are here for a profit but also to make you,us and every other person in new brunswick a profit.

….get yer arse down south! The short term reward you think is worth the risk doesn’t seem that attractive to all the farmers you’ll see on the 111 corridor from Sussex to St.John. So when they can no longer find water for their crops or livestock, are you going to give up your job so they will have aplace to work to support their families? You can be sure those jobs will be off and gone when the gas runs out, but so will our water….then what? Government hand outs? supplied by your taxes? that you cant pay because you no longer have a job? Smarten up!

The fact that they truck and pump how many loads of water out of the mine on a day doesnt shed proof on where the water in the comunity went……it’s to bad the mine messed up your water, without this you wouldn’t have anything to fear monger with….. As it’s been said ” we believe it’s the franking that took our water” won’t be no fear of government hand outs, there won’t be any money in this province to hand out soon enough anyway. Do you not turn on a radio or TV???? Get out of the hole you’ve been living in and see what the big picture is going on around you…. Read a little more about the stipulations government is putting forth on this issue.

I would assume people would hesitate because the same horror stories from across the boarder are surfacing in western canada. Aside from that who wants to look at unsightly gas wells and have their peace broken by noise from trucks and heavy drilling equipment. People around the world pay a lot of money to have fresh water imported from other countries who have an abundance of this resource and we should do everything we can to ensure that our water supply remains clean. Hydraulic fracturing will go down in history as one of the most horendous environmnetal disasters of all time. This is under review in my province of Nova Scotia and I intend to oppose it every step of the way!

I would assume people would hesitate because the same horror stories from across the boarder are surfacing in western canada. Aside from that who wants to look at unsightly gas wells and have their peace broken by noise from trucks and heavy drilling equipment. People around the world pay a lot of money to have fresh water imported from other countries who have an abundance of this resource and we should do everything we can to ensure that our water supply remains clean. Hydraulic fracturing will go down in history as one of the most horendous environmnetal disasters of all time. This is under review in my province of Nova Scotia and I intend to oppose it every step of the way!

I would assume people would hesitate because the same horror stories from across the boarder are surfacing in western canada. Aside from that who wants to look at unsightly gas wells and have their peace broken by noise from trucks and heavy drilling equipment. People around the world pay a lot of money to have fresh water imported from other countries who have an abundance of this resource and we should do everything we can to ensure that our water supply remains clean. Hydraulic fracturing will go down in history as one of the most horendous environmnetal disasters of all time. This is under review in my province of Nova Scotia and I intend to oppose it every step of the way!

Thanks for the comments.

Certainly shale gas development and fracking is a very risky option to pin economic growth upon. Lynda, you are right, the environmental damage that may be caused from drilling will stain the province for years and generations to come. N.B. could do very well to transition towards clean energy and low-carbon solutions which will benefit society in the long-term. And anonymous, thank you for your comments. But I think it is important to note that American companies are operating in Canada, and they will bring their same ethos to their work in Canada as in the U.S. SWN and Apache are publicly traded companies, they have a profit motive - like most organizations. Desmogblog has been covering shale gas and fracking for some time now, and the news just gets worse. In Pennsylvania there are major spills and suddenly government action has been necessary, read the post from today. And in the Canadian context, we just need to look at Quebec, and I have been doing this lately. There the industry has cause 19 spills in 31 gas wells…and lets not forget the severe climate change polluting gases that are emitted. In all, shale gas and fracking are a major risk and N.B. should be focusing on leading Canada and North America to a greener and sustainable economy.

I understand what you are saying

But what about all the positives that come with this. Why is it that only the negitives are discussed? Speeking as someone who worked first hand in the shale gas industry in alberta,bc and new brunswick. With 15yrs in the industry and working in new brunswick for the past three yrs in the drilling industry. The enviroment was and land was & is always first on the priority list. Instead of looking at all the bad that happned in quebec & pennsylvania. How about focusing on the good that has taking place in new brunswick and learning and move forward together. Yourself & the media make the oil and gas company’s out to be the bad guys and only care about the money and nothing else. Do you people realize that they live in the same world as we do. So i’m sure that the enviroment is just as important to them as it is to everyone else.

For all those who are “focusing on the positives” in your replies … enough already. If you have, as you say you have, worked for the gas exploration companies, then you are very low level and have bought into the line your companies have fed you. True test: come drink my water right now, that has changed color and smells like gas. Tell me there is a positive. I’m quite aware of the “positives” and they are for the big companies and some members of government who line their pockets with proceeds. I promise you, those in the community will never see anything that will come close to compensating for the mess, let alone the long term health issues that are beginning to arise. If you believe that the “environment and the land” are always first consideration, then you are simply poorly educated on capitalism and the history of the oil and gas industry.
I have close associates in the industry, and they are very clear that they know what it does to the environment and to people’s land, and admit it is the exact opposite of what they propagate to the public and to those in the communities they are preparing to rape. Believe me, i’m aware of the economic rewards of sitting on large gas resources. But those rewards do not and will not get passed along, and hence will not be of any benefit to those who’s lives and land/water are destroyed. This is the uncivilized short sighted economy we live in today, and it is sad.

Its terrible to say, but if they have found gas in NB, they are going to drill for it no matter what the concerns are of any citizen or group of..The gas industry is a welcome addition in my mind. It’s a great oppurtunity for this province to make some money in lieu of a failing lumber industry. I work in the gas industry in Ft. Nelon BC and know first hand enviroment and safety are the #1 concern over all others.

You’re on crack. Fracking permanently fucks up water supplies, then the companies just say Oops, sorry bout that.

I am confused I have read the article on this blog and listen to the video. The article does not explain what are the hazard of a Frac. I have listen to recent news interviews and nobody is explaining what part of the Frac process is hazardous to the water table. The gentleman in the video, called for the ban on the frac process and then talked about wanting to stop the seismic equipment. Which, process is he concerned with, or does he not understand there is a difference. Today there was a group in NB blocking the road CBC spoke with a lady claiming to be the spokesperson, she did not provide any information about specific concerns regarding the process. This issue of Fracs are dangerous has been generated from mis-information by a very organized single agenda group. I give credit to the nice Elderly Lady that stated exactly what this is about “I don’t want a gas well in my area”. At least she is honest and stated her reason. Not hide behind misinformation regarding the frac process. Thank you for the opportunity to view my thoughts.

I’m for franking personally…. But the risks are the chemicals that are used and the process of pumping the water/sand/chemical mix underground to “fracture” the shale rock to release the gas into the well. This process pumps huge amounts of pressure into the ground, this is the process people generally fear because of the very small potential for something to go wrong…