The following document is written in response to Corridor Resources’ 2 recent applications for approval to proceed with shale gas development and fracking in Penobsquis (near Sussex NB). In it, I point out the environmental issues not raised in the report that the government is using as its base data. This report was prepared by a consultant working for Corridor — AMEC.
Hmmm, but AMEC is also a full partner with PotashCorp in their mining activity there in Penobsquis; and Corridor is also partnered with PotashCorp, producing the energy that the mine uses from its gas wells.
Therefore, to my mind, AMEC is too connected to Corridor to prepare a report that the government is using to discern environmental impacts. I simply could not reconcile these facts in my mind and so my project of critiquing the Corridor proposal became a much larger investigation into how EIA (Environment Impact Assessments) are done in NB. The first 25% of this document deals with the Corridor proposals directly. Most of the rest is about how EIAs are done and should be done, and I hope you learn as much as I did from this research.
WE NEED AN EFFECTIVE EIA PROCESS IN NB.
If after reading through this document you agree with the issues I flag in Sections 6 and 7 and Appendix B, please take the time to write the NB Ombudsman: Charles Murray, firstname.lastname@example.org (kindly cc me at email@example.com). Ask Mr. Murray to investigate this deeply flawed process and recommend to the legislature a process that will actually work to protect our environment for future generations. Thank you, Merci, Welalin, Woliwon.
I APOLOGIZE FOR THE ROUGH SPOTS IN THIS UPLOAD.
IT IS A COMPLEX AND LENGTHY DOCUMENT — with footnotes that are now ENDNOTES — an illustration I could not upload properly, several appendices, etc.
IF YOU WANT A .PDF of the document, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 5, 2014
Marysville Place, P O Box 6000
Fredericton, NB E3B 5H1
Dear Hon. Danny Soucy, Minister of Environment and Local Government:
I am writing to request a Comprehensive Environmental Impact Review on both current phases of Corridor Resources’ McCully Field shale gas industrial development proposals for Penobsquis NB. Initial assessments commissioned by Corridor (the proponent) from AMEC (its own consultant) have been submitted to your Ministry staff:
• McCully Phased Environment Impact Assessment Phases I and II: Natural Gas Exploration and Development at Well Pad F-67 Submitted to: Corridor Resources Inc., Halifax Nova Scotia Submitted by: AMEC Environment & Infrastructure, A Division of AMEC Americas Ltd., Fredericton, New Brunswick, October 2013, TE131040
• McCully Phased Environment Impact Assessment Phase III: Natural Gas Exploration and Development in the McCully Field Submitted to: Corridor Resources Inc., Halifax Nova Scotia Submitted by: AMEC Environment & Infrastructure, A Division of AMEC Americas Ltd., Fredericton, New Brunswick, February 2014, TE131040
I am very concerned about the incomplete and misleading assessments prepared AMEC. In my following comments, I address both proposals together. They really are conjoined, so must be considered together, and I can see on the Government of New Brunswick (GNB) website that, as of today’s date, the “Determination Review is in progress” for both proposals. (1)
1 Fracking with Propane
The industry, their investors, and their advocates in the GNB seem willing to take risks using a technology that has not been subjected to any scientific analysis on its safety record or environmental impact. I am not an engineer, however I am trained and certified as a Propane Pump Attendant. Therefore, I have some idea of propane’s safety risks. It is HIGHLY flammable and even small 20 lb tanks must be very carefully transported. The LPG (Liquid Propane Gas) beginning to be used in shale gas fracking is perhaps even more of a fire hazard: it includes butane and other flammable additives.
One reason GNB seems willing to do this on the quietly, without discussion is that both the GNB and the shale gas and oil industry can access the current research. They know that most environmental issues raised over the past few years are being proven in credible research. Unconventional hydraulic refracturing (obtaining methane from the deep shale layers of the planet with gargantuan quantities of deeply pressurized water laced with chemicals) is very risky because it all too often emits poisonous matter into adjacent water, air, and land. (2)
Another BIG problem with hydraulic fracking is the waste of water (millions of litres per frack), which then becomes “waste water.” This waste water is contaminated by the stuff added to facilitate the “frack,” and further contaminated by other ingredients, often radioactive, which occurs naturally in the deep shale and comes up to the surface with the frack water “blow-back.” In many jurisdictions there are HUGE problems with managing storage and treatment for disposal of this blow-back water, and in New Brunswick there is way to deal with it.
The only reason anyone would even think of using LPG for fracking shale gas wells (i.e. to get methane out of the earth’s deep shale layers) is because, unlike the water method, the public does not have the information about the risks. The people who promote fracking with LPG are those involved in making money from that activity, or who want to be. There are no empirical studies, only corporate promotion of its virtues – which can always be followed by lawyering up and the silence that protects corporate privilege when something goes wrong. Using common sense to think about (LPG) as a fracking agent, a number of serious concerns arise: (3)
• Many truckloads of liquid propane are needed for each frack. Use of LPG for fracking means HUGE quantities of a truly hazardous substance is being hauled, loaded and unloaded, to and from well sites, across New Brunswick roads, risking accidents in residential, agricultural, tourism, outdoor recreation, and other land use region. Propane is also stored on site for periods during the active frack process, and the proponent’s site is very close to local residences and operations.
• LPG, like the propane we know in our barbecues, is highly combustible and presents dangers to on site workers as well as those who live in and around the Penobsquis area. GasFrac is the Canadian company that has pioneered this technology. They are partnered with Chevron and are the propane fracking contractor Corridor intends to use. At least two significant accidents have occurred at GasFrac sites. (4) Propane was also a major factor in the huge fire at a Chevron site in mid-February in southwestern Pennsylvania (5, 6)
• The LPG converts to gas during the fracking process. In its gaseous state, propane is heavier than air. As a surface fugitive gas, it will pool in low spots on the industrial site, at which point the fugitive methane becomes a really significant explosion hazard. Taking a guess, this may have contributed to the aforementioned fire in Pennsylvania. • Fracking by LPG still requires unacceptable quantifies of hazardous chemicals. The proponent says the projects will only use three additives but these additives have several components, as discussed further below. As with hydraulic fracking, when these chemicals are on site, being transferred to and fro and present in blow-back gas or water, accidents, spills, and fugitive gasses enable migration of these chemicals into the surrounding air as well as the soil and groundwater.
• Recovery of the propane, after it returns to the surface as a gas, requires heavy-duty industrial compression on the site to convert the gas back into LPG form. This is an hazardous operation that will contribute to air pollution either on the site or wherever this recovery facility is located.
• LPG is expensive: the price of propane is climbing daily and the technology is so “cutting edge” that third party contractors are hired to do propane fracking while the industry’s own in-house experts and equipment (designed for water-based fracking) stand idle. Because of the costs, it is entirely possible these wells are initially being fracked with propane to make them more acceptable to an unwitting public, and after the proposed development is in place the same wells could be fracked with the old pressurized water method. This brings on all the issues of unconventional fracking with water as the fluid.
The above points constitute my first reason for calling on your government to go beyond the hollow EIA’s submitted by the proponent in these applications. You must forthwith undertake a transparent, open, full and comprehensive environmental impact study on these new development proposals.
2 Flood Plain, Watercourse, Wetlands
A basic aerial map of the region shows the Penobsquis area is dotted with ponds and other small water bodies and streams. The Kennebacasis River headwaters are in the foothills of Albert County, near the community of Goshen. The major tributary for this river flows through Penobsquis, with all tributaries merging a few kilometres south. On pages 5 and 16 of the February submission, Corridor admits:
• there is only about 20′ or 7m. between this tributary and Well Pads 67 and/or 57;
• the sites covered by these three phases of development are all in a floodplain.
On December 1, 2011, internationally respected Dr. Anthony Ingraffea (PhD, Civil Engineering) said point blank to an audience in Hampton, NB, “I am an engineer and it is just plain foolish to build gas wells over floodplains.” (7, 8) Over-flooding water from storage pits, well heads and the surrounding industrial area would carry with it toxic chemicals, contaminated blow-back, and other industrial waste contamination to adjacent properties and throughout nearby watercourses. This issue is even more worrisome in view of the increasingly severe and often freakish weather associated with climate change. Throughout New Brunswick, there is also reason to be concerned that there could be radon or other radioactive waste in the post-frack gas, dust, and fluids from the site.
Surely you do not intend to allow the proponent to expand the existing non-conforming development when it means encroaching further into wetlands? Seven years ago (2007), GNB was extremely concerned about development on this environmentally sensitive site. A stop work order was issued on Corridor’s gas plant in the McCully Field in Penobsquis precisely because of its proximity to recognized wetlands in this flood plain. In order to proceed with that 2007 stage and scope of its shale gas industrial activities, Corridor was required to compensate this loss to the public. (9) Only a transparent, open, full and comprehensive environmental impact study will provide full opportunity for consideration of these issues.
3 Subsidence, Seismicity, Fault Lines
Subsidence has already occurred in the Penobsquis area and it is recognized as an active subsidence area. On December 1, 2011, again in Hampton, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea said, “It is asking for trouble to build wells and pipelines in areas where there has been subsidence, and where subsidence is still active. You have seen how important casing and cementing is to wellbore integrity… and if you’re moving rock mass centimetres, or metres” around these casings “you can’t expect that protection system to last.” Given the proponent’s plans to experiment with the use of LPG (propane) as the frac fluid, well bore integrity is especially essential to provide some hope for workplace and rural neighbourhood safety.
This subsidence became an issue for area residents with the development of the PotashCorp mine and the initial development of the McCully Field by the proponent. These two industries and their activities are inextricably linked in the corporate world and on the ground in the Penobsquis area (or should I say, below the ground). The dramatic amount of subsidence in the past decade appears to be due to three factors: the deep fault lines shown on Lawrence Wuest’s map in Appendix A (having some trouble uploading, please email email@example.com to see this), the potash mine hollowing out the underground and mine infrastructure impacts, and seismicity associated with the shale gas fracking process. However, the Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis only had the resources to challenge one of the industries. At a lengthy public hearing in 2013, PotashCorp agreed that the subsidence was at least partially due to its mine, although the company acknowledged no responsibility for damage to local properties. Corridor Resources was not a party to this hearing.
August 2012 research from the BC Oil and Gas Commission shows there is a clear link between fracking and seismic activity along fault lines.(10) With these proposals, the proponent is signalling intent to ramp up seismicity in the region with new fracks and increasing development that aims towards commercial levels of production. We know that deep shale gas extraction needs ever more frequent fracks to keep producing.
Steps must be developed and implemented to avoid any further subsidence in this area. Now is the time to stop, take a breath, and at a minimum establish a baseline as well as a monitoring program that will protect owners of adjacent properties from continuing to be collateral damage in this resource rush. This baseline and monitoring system would enable compensation if their worst fears are realized. This matter can only be fully investigated and addressed through a transparent, open, full and comprehensive environmental impact study in which the public is given any support needed to participate. Let’s get the full story out there and deal with the issues. To fail to do so would be foolhardy for a government that wishes to avoid litigation for damages down the road.
4 Chemicals Used
On page 14 (188.8.131.52) of the proponent’s October 2013 document, it is stated that only three chemical additives will be used in the LBG-based fracturing fluid: a gellant, an activator, and a breaker, and that these will be used in “small dosages” of 4 to 10 litres per 1000 litres. 4 to 10 litres per 1000 litres is from four parts per thousand to one part per hundred. Many chemicals can cause serious harm in only a few parts per million and some in as little as a few parts per billion, so the proponent’s claims that these do not pose a threat to human and/or environmental health need to be much further investigated.
In Appendix A of the same proposal document, more than a dozen chemicals and compounds are identified as part of the three additives identified as fracking co-agents: Gellant GELLP-10; Activator XL-46D/XL-105; and Breaker BRKLP-10. Further, on page 9 of the same (October) proposal document, there is mention of something called “Synthetic Oil Based Drilling Fluid” that is not described in any more detail. Elsewhere in these proposals it is mentioned that propane is only 95% of LPG and other substances are added to it. This information provided in these proposals is totally inadequate for residents or those who work and recreate in the area, and by proximity may become contaminated via any manner (contact, inhale, ingest).
The population of this region, and of New Brunswick in general, has the right to know what industrial chemicals, gasses and fluids the company plans to use BEFORE it is put into our land, air, water, and bodies. The precise known and suspected effects of each additive and compound should be public knowledge prior to approval, as well as the concentration of each chemical in parts per million or parts per billion in the fracking cocktail. These comments apply to all wells to be fractured as per any fracking operations covered in all current and future phases of the proponent’s development at this site. Further, use of any chemicals not on the disclosed list should not be permitted until the same steps are taken. Information like this should be part of the environmental review process and its absence in the AMEC documents is one more reason why a transparent, open, full and comprehensive environmental impact study is needed for these proposals.
5 Health Impacts
Many of the above referenced and other potential chemicals used to facilitate the fracking process are hazardous to human health, even in the smallest quantities. Multiply this threat by the acknowledged fact that this development is taking place on a flood plain and the wild weather accompanying increasing climate change is bringing unexpected floods to all sorts of streams and low lying areas. Multiply again by the fact that NB regulators and the proponent have no experience with the use of LPG (itself a hazard) as a fracking fluid. Add on the risks of subsidence. Already the potential for psychological, financial, social, health, and emotional misery (even devastation) is HUGE! The homes, farms, woods, camp, watercourses, and wildlife (etc.) were there before these industries moved in. Sadly, this list is incomplete. There are many more risks and hazards.
New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eilish Cleary is the ultimate GNB expert on public health and human environmental issues related to this form of development. In October 2012, Dr. Cleary reported on public health issues related to shale gas industrial development in our province. (11) Her research report Chief Medical Officer of Health’s Recommendations Concerning Shale Gas Development in New Brunswick won national and international accolades, including the prestigious Environmental Health Review Award for 2013 from the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors for its comprehensive “state-of-the-science” overview/examination of public health issues related to the shale gas industrial development. This award is presented annually to an individual, organization, or agency who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of environmental health and/or the betterment of public health during the previous year. In a clear snub of Dr. Cleary’s peer-acclaimed scientific research and advocacy, GNB sent no representative to this award ceremony.
However, Dr, Cleary perseveres. She ignored the snub and, in fact, she ignores being ignored. Still driving home her message of “do no harm” through prevention and protection, on February 18, 2014 (two weeks ago), Dr. Cleary said, “the Alward government needs to take ‘targeted and strategic actions’ to prevent and mitigate any negative health impacts associated with the development of the shale gas industry.” She recommended requiring a health impact assessment and monitoring the health of the population on an ongoing basis to detect adverse impacts, including from:
• chemicals used in the fracking process; air quality; noise; and vibration (12)
• the impact of this development vis-a-vis First Nations Peoples, climate change considerations, social and psychosocial impacts of the industry, and the overwhelming evidence that industrial mining of deep shale layers causes significant and hazardous air pollution. (13)
In the CBC Information Morning interview cited above, Dr. Cleary further commented, “I think the shale gas conversation has opened up a whole range of big-picture policy questions that our department needs to be involved in,” and this means looking at the full picture of risks, costs and benefits of this industrial development here in New Brunswick. Dr. Cleary continued, “In health, we have already come forward with recommendations and now what we have to do is focus on translating those recommendations into operational plans, for example air quality” monitoring, and “the same applies for doing health impact and environmental impact studies.” To date, your government seems to be totally ignoring Dr. Cleary’s words of wisdom. It is not inconceivable that this could expose GNB to the risk of a class action law suit if some of the troubles she identifies occur. To protect all New Brunswickers, your government must not fail to heed her warnings and advice.
A week ago, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) called on the Government of New Brunswick to provide Dr. Cleary with a clear mandate and adequate resources to do her job of protecting public health. (14) This mandate would start with an invitation from the Department of the Environment and Local Government to the Office of the Medical Officer of Health to become a sitting member of its standard Technical Review Committee for Environmental Impact (EI) reviews on shale gas development proposals.
New Brunswick would truly have a world-class regulatory system if the CMOH’s staff is fully integrated into all application and approval processes. This means spending some of the revenue that New Brunswick projects from this industry on provisioning her department with resources to:
• participate fully in all EIA processes;
• undertake baseline Health Impact studies for those regions with approved projects;
• monitor all shale gas development re: identified public and environmental health considerations; and,
• establish professional, 24/7/365 inspection capacity to protect residents and workers.
6 GNB is Dropping the Ball on Environmental Impact Assessment
GNB has been arguing for two years that it can protect the health and natural environment of New Brunswickers with its: “world-class” regulatory framework, capable enforcement and inspection civil service workforce, and a bona fide environmental impact review process. To date, these seem to be glamourous words with no substance. I see no evidence of this commitment being honoured.
In my opinion both of the subject proposals are misnamed; they are not true “Environmental Impact Assessments.” To try to understand why they are named this, and what GNB actually thinks an Environmental Impact Assessment is, on February 26, 2014 I had a 40-minute telephone conversation with David Maguire, Manager of the Environmental Assessment Section, in the Sustainable Development and Impact Evaluation Branch of the Department of Environment and Local Government. (15)
In Mr. Maguire’s view, the work outlined in the subject proposals is preliminary, “small,” and can be approved without much intervention in order to get things moving. He said that the “nature of this particular industry is that there is continued collection of data as the projects get underway” which could also be expressed as: they don’t have much of an idea what they will encounter once they get started. He said that “this government has clearly stated that it plans to encourage companies to proceed with shale gas development.” If a company wants to “do this or that or frack here or there,” GNB will see this as in compliance with its policy. “Only when the company says, we want to go into commercial production” will the Minister get involved to say yea, nay, or approve with conditions to the proposal. In view of Mr. Maguire’s comments, I became even more concerned about the vacuous and superficial nature of the proponent’s purported EIA studies.
The phasing of the proposals seems designed to avoid restrictions found in the most current GNB rules and policies. Under Section 9.8 in GNB’s Rules for Industry (see Appendix B), on Protecting Flood Prone Areas, Wetlands and Watercourses, much of the development proposed in these submissions is not allowed. (16) The proponent seems to argue that all the work currently proposed is simply a sprucing up of existing infrastructure so approvals could follow without complications from Sec. 9.8, e.g. the new proposals will be “grandfathered in.” As I see it, the vast majority of the proposed work is new construction or using new techniques, with new challenges and potentials. It needs to be carefully examined and considered before approvals are granted. We are not talking about building a new barn or a swimming pool. This is serious stuff.
If the proponent obtains these and upcoming small-scale, incremental, project approvals without a full and thorough review of the environmental risks and impacts, the precedent is set for approval of all subsequent small, incremental “phases” of development on this site without serious study. This system of “grandfathering in” will continue – if what Mr. Maguire said is correct – up to the point where the proponent is ready to operationalize full scale commercial production. At this future point, the proponent could reasonably argue everything is already in place, so all remaining plans do not require any serious, transparent, comprehensive EIA process.
It appears GNB’s attitude could be summarized as damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead – because GNB fully supports the proponent to move towards much larger, commercial production. Sketchy oversight based on a simulated or sham EIA process is fine because GNB does not want to put barriers in the way of industry. Let them do what they want and hope they don’t make too much of a mess, despite the legitimate concerns that are already very apparent. This cheer-leading attitude, while at the same time undertaking no meaningful human health or environmental protection or prevention planning, did not serve the people of Penobsquis well in the previous round of shale gas industrial development. There is little likelihood it will serve the people as the industry ramps up.
Let’s shift gears for one moment, to get another view on all this.
Don Bowser is the President of IMPACT, an international non-governmental organization headquartered in Halifax that works “to establish good governance and curb corruption around the globe. IMPACT provides targeted assistance to governmental, non-governmental and international organizations seeking to enhance systems of oversight, manage integrity, and increase transparency and accountability.” (17) Mr. Bowser is a New Brunswicker born and bred, with ancestors in this region going back to 1772. He is also an international expert on transparency and anti-corruption in governments and extractive industries.
Mr. Bowser was recently interviewed by independent video-journalist Charles Theriault from Kedgewick NB, in the 21st segment of Charles’ online video project Is Our Forest Really Ours?, Charles explores with Don the relationship between transparency, accountability and corruption:
“The extractive industries – mining, shale gas, natural gas, and the forestry – all that goes on here with very little public consultation. Having worked around the world, this is pretty surprising. …All over the world citizens are demanding to know, ‘What is going on with extractive industries?’ But here everyone seems to accept this lack of transparency as business as normal. Almost zero information about royalties except from the companies own statements.
“In New Brunswick, natural resources are being extracted, public resources are being used for private gain. Where public resources are involved you have no right to keep the dealings between government and the company secret. I am surprised that civil society in New Brunswick has not established any corporate responsibility. They use the fear of losing jobs, so people do not rise up, even though the world is resource hungry and many other corporations would come in that would not expect this lack of transparency.” (18)
Mr. Bowser’s comments are relevant because your government is taking the reports submitted by AMEC for the proponent as professional, competent, and valid enough to stand in lieu of a genuine EIA process. In no way can AMEC be considered an unbiased or independent consultant in regards to these two misnomered documents. AMEC, the consultant hired by Corridor Resources to prepare the subject proposal documents, has been in partnership with PotashCorp since at least 2007. They advertise this on their website. (19) As well, the two companies are acting together in a legal matter that goes back to 2010, involving a former contractor with PotashCorp on a job where AMEC was the project manager. (20) Further, PotashCorp and Corridor have been working together since 2003. (21) These linkages make it patently obvious that the interests all three companies are deeply integrated.
The hollow pro forma documents submitted by the “insider” project partner AMEC do not even come close to a valid environmental impact assessment analysis, let alone the transparent, open, full and comprehensive environmental impact study that these new development proposals require.
Based on these incomplete and misleading documents, prepared by a company that is a corporate partner with a corporate partner of the proponent, GNB apparently intends to approve this work.
I am deeply concerned about your Government’s apparent lack of honesty and transparency, and also your lack of diligence in safeguarding the long-term public interest of New Brunswickers. These concerns arise from what I now understand to be the approval processes for resource industry development in New Brunswick. More on how Mr. Maguire illuminated my understanding of the GNB EIA process is found in Appendix C.
7 Call for CMOH to help with a Comprehensive Review of these Proposals, and for CMOH and IMPACT to assist GNB to Create a Valid and Productive EIA Process
Let me be perfectly clear, I am deeply committed to seeing an unconditional, legislated 10 year moratorium placed on all shale gas and oil development in this region. However, if shale gas development is proceeding, it only seems right that your government ensures everything is done totally on the up-and-up, COMPLETELY safely, ethically and appropriately, including a thorough prior review. In fact, Minister Soucy your department is directly mandated to be hands-on in ensuring this.
Our Premier, David Alward, has repeatedly assured First Nations and all New Brunswickers that the shale gas and oil industry will not place New Brunswickers and our environment at risk. He claims the “world-class” GNB Rules for Industry policy document ensures this, but the real safeguard is, he says, through public involvement in the Environmental Impact review process. I heard him say these things personally in a meeting that occurred at Hotel Delta Beausejour on October 6, 2013. This was prior to the registration of the first of these subject applications. About two weeks later, the Premier reiterated this publicly: “there would have to be very significant consultations and environmental impact assessments before anything else would be able to move forward.” (22) In an article in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal on February 26, 2014, Minister of Environment and Local Government is quoted saying, “drilling does not go ahead without an environmental impact assessment.” Drilling is exactly what is planned in the proponent’s October proposal. (23) It is time to pony up and show us how well these rules can serve to protect us through the EIA process.
Unfortunately, I have no faith that your government will take my comments seriously. Successive Governments of New Brunswick have failed to take seriously the need to ensure public safety and environmental protection in regards to the substantial damage associated with this industry. Section 6 and Appendix C describe why I agree Dominic Cardy, leader of the New Brunswick NDP, who said, “I have no faith in the province’s ability to regulate” the shale gas industry. In general, “New Brunswick has a serious problem with enforcing the rules.” (24)
Because I am sadly convinced that you will shunt aside all public concerns about these proposals, I am forwarding this letter to the Office of the Ombudsman for New Brunswick. It is his mandate to ensure our provincial government operates with integrity in regards to consultation with its residents.
Regardless of my doubts, I do sincerely hope you decide to do the right thing. For the sake of future generations, you must make the determination to require that these proposals be comprehensively reviewed for human health and environmental considerations arising from the intended development activities in the submissions, as well as the future development envisaged by the proponent at this location. If you do so, I entreat you to invite the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health to join the EIA Technical Review Committee (see Appendix B) to assist with review of these submissions, and that henceforth her Office will be invited to be a standing member of this Committee.
I also hope that you decide that the issues I have raised in Section 6 and Appendix C about your customary EIA process are of deep concern to you. Now is the time to improve on the process used for EIA reviews, especially those involving controversial extractive resource and resource transportation industries, and to revise the regulation (87-83) so that the EIA process is once again fully enshrined in law.
The decision to act on this would be in keeping with the final paragraph of the GNB “Blueprint” extract found on Page 15 in Appendix D of this communication. If you make this courageous, ethical and forward-thinking decision, I hope your government will retain the services of an organization such as IMPACT to assist with the process.
I look forward to a prompt and full response on all matters from your staff.
Dena Murphy, Corridor Resources firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Murray, Ombudsman email@example.com
David Maguire, Manager, Environmental Assessment ELG David.Maguire@gnb.ca
Dr. Eilish Cleary, NB Chief Medical Officer of Health Eilish.Cleary@gnb.ca
Karen White, Director, Healthy Environments, Health Karen.White@gnb.ca
Stephan Hamel, Healthy Environments, Health Stephan.Hamel@gnb.ca
Jennifer Murray, Director, Office of the Ombudsman Jennifer.Murray@gnb.ca
Perry Haines, ADM. Environment & Local Government Perry.Haines@gnb.ca
Hon. David Alward, Premier of New Brunswick David.Alward@gnb.ca
Hon. Craig Leonard, Minister of Energy and Mines Craig.Leonard@gnb.ca
Sheila Goucher, Environment & Local Government Sheila.Goucher@gnb.ca
Leaders of all NB Opposition Parties
Aboriginal Rights Coalition – Atlantic
Canadian Union of Public Employees
Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis
Conservation Council of New Brunswick
Council of Canadians, Atlantic Region and National Office
Elgin Eco Association
KAIROS, Atlantic Region
Maritime Conference of the United Church of Canada
NB National Farmers Union
New Brunswick College of Family Physicians
New Brunswick Environment Network, Shale Gas Caucus
New Brunswick Lung Association
New Brunswick Nurses Union
New Bunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance
Public Service Employees Union of Canada
United Church, Maritime Conference
— photo from Larry Wuest of fault lines in Penobsquis area that i could not upload, email firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy
From Responsible Environmental Management of Oil and Natural Gas Activities in New Brunswick: Rules for Industry, pages 33-34. Accessed at: http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Corporate/pdf/ShaleGas/en/RulesforIndustry.pdf 9.8.
PROTECTING FLOOD PRONE AREAS, WETLANDS AND WATERCOURSES
Flood Prone Areas
Gas conditioning plants and compressor stations (including related fill) are not permitted within flood prone areas.
Well pads are not permitted in flood prone areas unless: a) it is demonstrated to the regulator that the construction can take place without significant changes to existing flood levels and flow velocities; b) the surface of the well pad is set at an elevation that is above the flood elevation; and c) access to the well pad is designed to be passable during a flood event.
Pipes and access roads are not be permitted within flood prone areas except as part of a crossing that has received a permit under the Watercourse and Wetland Alteration Regulation, Clean Water Act*.
Watercourses and Wetlands
Oil or gas well heads are not permitted within 100 metres of a watercourse or a regulated wetland.
Well pads, batteries, gas conditioning plants and compressor stations are not permitted within 30 metres of a watercourse or a regulated wetland or within 100 metres of a provincially significant wetland.
Pipes and access roads are not permitted within 30 metres of a watercourse or a regulated wetland, except as part of a crossing that has received a permit under the Watercourse and Wetland Alteration Regulation, Clean Water Act*.
Proponents of oil and gas facilities will be required to identify all potentially affected wetlands at the facility location, regardless of whether they are regulated wetlands or not. Proponents will be expected to make every effort to mitigate impacts to wetlands when siting and designing their facilities.
*A Watercourse and Wetland Alteration Permit is required for alterations including activities involving ground disturbance and/or cutting of trees in or within 30 metres of watercourses and wetlands. (25)
NOTE: It should not be necessary to state, but a Comprehensive Environmental Impact Review is obviously the only legitimate pathway for deciding if there is any merit in issuing the aforementioned Watercourse and Wetland Alteration Permit.
HOW ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENTS ARE PRESENTLY MANAGED by the Government of New Brunswick’s Department of Environment and Local Government.
I have spent two weeks trying to understand how the EIA process actually operates here in NB. Overall, I can only conclude it is currently designed to expedite the developments the government likes, and for the convenience of the GNB bureaucracy that is charged with responsibility by the government to assist with this expedition. The subject proposals regarding new shale gas industrial development on the McCully Field are my case-in-point for this participatory action research project. (26) In the text below I set out four major barriers to effective and genuine EIA’s in New Brunswick. Then I attempt to describe the steps in GNB’s current EIA customary process in the following table.
1) The first barrier is the informal way that the process operates
The process being used is not as per GNB Regulation 87-83 of the Clean Environment Act in respect to Environmental Impact Reviews. (27) Over the years since this was enacted, GNB bureaucracy has developed its own customary process. David Maguire (ELG employee cited above in the main text of this communication) said the process now operates in the customary manner outlined by the government “on its website, because 87-83 is an old law and the process set out in law in that regulation does not work for the shale gas industry.” (28) This means government cannot be responsible nor held fully accountable under the law.
This conumdrum gave me pause when I was starting out to write the foregoing communication, which is why I decided to contact the department for clarification. I was concerned that if I (or anyone) respond to this proposal by intervening in this “customary” process because of the urgency of the matter, perhaps I (or anyone) would at risk of being told further down the road that this act constitutes a forfeit of recourse under the statutes. I am not a lawyer and have none at the tip of my fingers. So, I decided to write this appendix after finishing writing my critique of the subject proposals.
In my opinion, the government’s failure to amend its legislation to regularize and make fully accountable the EIA process can be understood as wanting to do all this work in an extra-parliamentary manner. I believe this could be because GNB wants to avoid an open debate in the legislature on how EIA’s are done in this province. The same situation exists vis-a-vis GNB’s much touted “world class” regulations for the shale gas industry. Rules for Industry is not law. They are simply guidelines for industry to follow, which government can then waive on a site-specific basis to facilitate the industry’s goals. So there seems to be a pattern of extra-parliamentary governance in this province.
All the above should not be taken as a comment on whether the old or the new is better or worse. Simply put, the whole system from start to finish is dreadful, especially after the recent years of environment protection rollbacks at the federal and provincial levels, but that topic must be left for another day. My point here is: there is no accountability or transparency when major public issues are handled informally by autocrats.
2. GNB allows the applicant/proponent to set the environmental impact agenda
Under this customary process, the proponent for the project (the developer) provides the base research on which GNB then bases its analysis of the environmental impacts of the proposal. No criteria are established for what qualifications the proponent’s consultant must meet to validate this initial survey of environmental impacts. As can be seen in Section 6 above, even corporations who stand to gain directly from the proposed development are seen by GNB as qualified to author a study on the environmental impacts of the same proposal. This is a ludicrous situation.
It is also a terrible injustice to future generations. As a case-in-point, in my conversation with ELG staffer David Maguire, I was informed (perhaps in a kindly manner) that if I wrote about my opposition to shale gas development, my comments would not be taken seriously. Despite this warning, I feel it was only right to be up front about my views. Hence my opening sentence in section 7 above – and my inclusion here of two quotes:
From former “insider” Lou Allstadt, who spent 31 years in the industry much of that at the very senior executive level:
“My efforts to prevent fracking started over water — not the prospect of having to see a water tank from my home, but rather regulations that would allow gas wells near our sources of drinking water, in addition to well pads next to our homes, schools, hospitals and nursing homes. These issues are legitimate, but they are localized. I am now much more concerned with the greenhouse gas impacts of fossil fuels in general, and particularly the huge impact of methane emissions from natural gas production and transportation. These are global problems that local zoning cannot protect against. Only a major shift toward renewable energy sources can begin to mitigate their catastrophic climate impacts.” (29)
From The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, January 30, 2014:
“Methane, the main component of natural gas, is an atmospheric nightmare. Its potency for global warming is estimated to be at least 20 times greater than carbon dioxide’s, and some scientists put it far higher, depending on the time period measured.” (30)
3) Concerns from the public are filtered by the proponent during the “Determination Review”
As things stand under the customary process, the proponent gets to hire the consultant who writes the document that sets out the agenda about what environmental impacts are raised by the proposed development. Then the proponent gets to collect public concerns about this report and any other issues of concern, and report these in summary form to the regulator (GNB). As a rule, community members or other stakeholders with historic grievances or other reasons to distrust the proponent corporation/s will not trust this “insider” process. (Any regulator who really wants to encourage meaningful public consultation would know this.)
This distrust may be with good reason in the Penobsquis area. These comments have been passed to me:
• I wonder if they passed on to the government that I told them I didn’t want it?
• Referring to the Land Agents Visits to homes: Do we trust what these companies pass on to the government as responses to EIA’s? Is there some way to access what information Corridor passes on to government? Has anyone ever requested this information. When its a “David and Goliath” situation is it a fair consultation. When they show up at your house out of the blue – is that a fair consultation? We can’t even trust the government to know what consultation is.
• Landowners are the most impacted group of Stakeholders in the development of Unconventional Gas in the province, but the Politicians don’t have time for them. A group of landowners from the Back Road in Penobsquis sent two requests for a meeting with David Alward in the spring last year. One through their MLA, Bruce Northup, which the last they heard he is still working on. And one written request via e-mail that the Premier’s office has never responded too.
• Instead Corridor has now sent land agents around twice to consult with landowners and other community member about the work being done here, and then they will report back to the province as part of the EIA. Is this how consultation works in the Province of New Brunswick? Citizens get to talk to the company and the company gets to talk to the province on their behalf. The agents from Corridor came to my door but I did open it.
4) Does GNB have adequate personnel to do environmental impact analysis and monitoring?
The government of the day, that of Premier David Alward, resolutely defends itself from this charge. In Alward Gov’t Cuts Millions from Environment, Local Gov’t, a news article referenced on page 9, Liberal MLA Bernard LeBlanc contends it does not and is “questioning why the government would be reducing positions in the department with shale gas development slated to ramp up.”
Based on my two weeks of PAR study, I strongly suspect the government does not have the personnel to do this job properly. Setting aside points made above, it would be interesting to open GNB’s Technical Review Committee meetings to the public. At that time it would be apparent how many civil servants are mandated to work on these reviews, what skills/experience/biases they bring to the process, and how much time committee members actually spend meeting and reviewing the proposals. I further question if this lack of personnel is because GNB does not want to be on-the-hook for responsibility and accountability regarding longer term outcomes from these sorts of industrial projects. With all that said, in the following table I have attempted to chart my best understanding of how EIA’s on shale gas projects are being done in New Brunswick at this time. I am looking at this from my acknowledged perspective as a committed environmentalist who is: a) very concerned about current and short-term impacts of the shale gas industry on this region where I live; and b) deeply concerned about the world we pass onto future generations re: the increasing climate change crisis.
The column on the left is the major steps in the process, as drawn from the Province of New Brunswick document entitled Environmental Impact Assessment in New Brunswick, which I accessed at http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/env/pdf/EIA-EIE/Environmental ImpactAssessmentInNB.pdf This online material was illuminated by my telephone conversation with David Maguire. At one point Mr. Maguire asked me if I was recording the call. I said was not, I was making notes as we spoke. If perchance ELG was recording the call and can prove my quotes are not precise, I apologize. I tried to get it as accurate as I could.
The column on the right contains what I have learned about these steps from this study. In some cases I have not learned much, in others more.
As a caveat to this section, I acknowledge again this is my first experience with GNB’s EIA process. I realize that there may be some differences between how the system functions and dysfunctions depending on the subject matter. Nonetheless I think the analysis I set out here and in previous pages will be helpful for those seeking to negotiate this path.
GNB Description of EIA process:
My Comments and Analysis
|Environmental Impact Assessment
(EIA) is a process through which the environmental impacts potentially resulting from a proposed project are identified and assessed early in the planning process.
There are two types of reviews that exist within the EIA Process:
2) Comprehensive review
The government’s website says that the “EIA identifies steps that can be taken to avoid negative environmental impacts or reduce them to acceptable levels before they occur. EIA therefore, represents a proactive, preventative approach to environmental management and protection.
Due to GNB’s current obfuscating and opaque processes, these goals are not met.“ This is why I have made the effort to clarify what actually transpires and the who-how-when-where-what of the current EIA decision-making process. Please keep reading.
Coordination of Review
The review of the registration document is coordinated by the Project Assessment Branch, Department of the Environment and Local Government. It is completed with the assistance of a specially constituted Technical Review Committee (TRC) comprised of experts from federal and provincial government departments and agencies and from District Planning Commissions or municipalities depending on the project location.
As discussed above, the EIA regulation was written in 1987 and does not adequately present customary practice today. Please see my extensive comments on pages 6, 7, 8, 13 and 14.
Who is on the Technical Review Committee (TRC) and why does it seem that the Chief Medical Officer of Health is not on it, when it is mandated to screen for and reach recommendations on environmental impacts? I believe the Technical Review Committee should be a body that the public can access directly.
|1) DETERMINATION REVIEW:
The proponent must submit a document which describes the project, the existing environment potentially affected by the project, the anticipated environmental impacts and any proposed mitigative measures that, if implemented, would lessen, eliminate or avoid such environmental impacts. The proponent is responsible for the cost of preparing the registration document, which typically requires professional expertise.
The Determination Review is the automatic first step as per existing customary practice of the Govt of NB regulators. A winnowing process takes place at this juncture so sometimes the Determination Review is the only place that Environmental Impacts are given any consideration before approval to proceed is granted to the proponent. I have already discussed at length GNB’s current practice of accepting as valid EIA studies submitted by a corporation that has a pecuniary interest in the project proceeding as smoothly as possible. An more appropriate way of ensuring that studies funded by the proponent to flag environmental concerns must be enacted by GNB forthwith. The consultants who do these reviews must be independent and qualified.
|1.a) Public Consultation
During the Determination Review, the proponent must demonstrate that the potentially affected public, and other stakeholders have been given meaningful opportunity to provide comment. The proponent must provide a report of these comments including their responses, within 60 days of registration, to the Project Assessment Branch. The Department requires that minimum standards be met with respect to public involvement/ consultation…
Comments made above about consultants who prepare EIA’s also apply to this section. The request and summary of public views must be done by a valid and independent body. The GNB would be appropriate, or a consultant who has been vetted and approved by the TRC through a public RFP process.
Specific to the subject proposals, I was told by Mr. Maguire that “the wording of the ad” placed to solicit comments “met the minimum conditions required by the project manager” at ELG. These conditions must have been very minimal. The ad does not mention that fracking will take place, nor that the fracking will be done by propane. It does not say (as Mr Maguire said to me) “if you want to make sure that [ELG] staff know about your concerns, you can copy your comments direct to us.” It does not explain that this is the point at which the TRC decides whether or not the proposal should be approved (perhaps with conditions) or if it needs deeper review – so this is the moment when community members need to request a Comprehensive Review.
|1.b) Technical Review
During the Determination Review the proposal is thoroughly analyzed and modified in response to concerns and issues that result from the review. Additional information and/or environmental studies designed to address specific technical issues identified by the TRC may be required.
The lack of transparency and accountability in this system is staggering. All this is done behind closed doors, based on initial input from a consultant who is handpicked by the proponent. It is like sending foxes to do security on the hen house. Something must be done about GNB tolerating this “insider-ism” forthwith.
We had the same situation here in Kent County with our pre-seismic water tests. There were many issues with these water tests, but the problems started with the fact the company collecting the water samples (Stantec) had a pecuniary interest in seeing the project proposed by SWN Resources Canada go forward. Among other services, Stantec has also worked ensuring road capacity for their trucks. This corporate integration was apparent when Stantec called for a water test appointment, often identifying themselves as SWN. How could people trust them to provide valid water analysis?
|1.c) Minister’s Decision
Once sufficient information about the proposal, including comments by the TRC and documentation of public and stakeholder concerns is received, the Minister will make a decision within 30 days. There are three possible outcomes:
1.c.1) Certificate of Determination
1.c.2). Project Denied
1.c.3) Further Study Required
For all the reasons I have elaborated above, I want these proposals for further shale gas industrial development on the McCully Field to be sent on for a Comprehensive Review. David Maguire informed me that, after the proponent sends in his summary of the public’s comments, this is the point where projects are winnowed.
I have already lanced this very faulty process extensively above.
In keeping with the final paragraph of Section 5.0 of GNB’s Blueprint document, I strongly recommend that GNB hire a consultant forthwith who can assist with making public consultation a reality in this province. This will simultaneously counter secret “insider” influence and decision-making processes, and thereby take a genuine step towards increasing transparency, accountability, public confidence, and bona fide health and environmental protections. Someone with the skills of Don Bowser at IMPACT would be excellent, but of course the choice of who to contract should be based on a completely open RFP process.
|2) COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW
If the Minister deems that additional study is required, based on the results of the determination review, a Comprehensive Review is conducted. A comprehensive review may also be initiated upon registration if the Minister deems that the initial nature of the project warrants this type of review. During a Comprehensive Review, the TRC continues to function and the Project Assessment Branch continues to coordinate the review process.
A full, inclusive, transparent, and public accountability-driven Comprehensive Environmental Impact Review is required for this project. The proponents proposals are a direct stepping stone to a new, much more intense stage in commercial extraction and processing of shale gas in our province. The issues raised in Sections 1-5 of this document are major environmental, community, and public health concerns. These are just some of the issues of concern to New Brunswickers regarding this proposal, as your department already knows. Many more issues are spelled out in the studies cited at footnote # as well in the CMOH’s report. Although David Maguire was discouraging on the possibility of a Comprehensive Review, recent comments by ELG staffer Vicky Achenes are even more discouraging, “Comprehensive Reviews are only used for major projects that have an impact on the entire province.” Well, I and many others, submit that these proposals fit that category.
It is recognized that New Brunswick’s Environmental Impact Assessment Regulation is an important tool to promote proactive and informed decision making about proposed activities. Continuing efforts are made to make improvements where possible.
As Appendix D shows, GNB has specifically committed, through its “Blueprint” to engaging public health officials directly in shale gas development environmental impact reviews and other aspects of the regulatory process. Now is the time for the government to invite the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health in as a sitting member of its shale gas projects Technical Review Committee, and to provide her office with the mandate and resources to implement the recommendations from her 2012 report.
From The New Brunswick Oil and Natural Gas Blueprint, page 19-21 Accessed at: http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/en/pdf/Publications/9281% 20ONG% 20English%20Final%20web.pdf
5. Alternative Regulatory Agency Models
The Province of New Brunswick will study regulatory agency models that may be appropriate for a future expanded oil and natural gas sector.
A regulatory agency model determines the roles and relationships of government departments and agencies in fulfilling government responsibilities, particularly in relation to approving and monitoring industrial activity, providing direction and oversight, responding to issues and events, and enforcing government requirements. For the oil and natural gas sector, these activities engage multi-disciplinary skills and resources from across government.
In a process led by the Department of Environment and Local Government, New Brunswick currently implements interdepartmental reviews of proposed oil and gas projects under the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulation. This allows experts from several key departments and agencies, including the federal government, to review projects and contribute their comments through a single project manager. Similar multi-departmental coordination has enabled the development of Rules for Industry.
The 2012 merger of the former Department of Energy with elements of the Department of Natural Resources to create the new Department of Energy and Mines further enhances the province’s ability to manage oil and natural gas. Strategic issues such as energy security and infrastructure are now managed by the same department that is responsible for operational functions such as management of petroleum resources and collecting geoscience information.
As outlined in the Key Objectives section, the Department of Energy and Mines and the Department of Environment and Local Government are two key regulatory agencies currently managing oil and natural gas activities in New Brunswick, working under different legislated mandates. As described above, this interdepartmental model is well-coordinated and will continue to meet New Brunswick’s needs for the foreseeable future. Should the level of activity increase significantly in the longer term, alternative future models for the coordination of provincial oversight might be more responsive, efficient and effective.
For this reason, during 2013 and early 2014, the province will examine its current structures and study alternative institutional models that are employed in jurisdictions with high levels of oil and natural gas activity. The province will then consider models that may be appropriate for New Brunswick, if and when needed. Any decision to implement a new model would reflect the future scale of oil and gas exploration and development.
Key Objectives Served by this Action Item:
• Environmental Responsibility
• Effective Regulation and Enforcement
Addressing Community Concerns and Needs
6. Ongoing Public Health Engagement
The Province of New Brunswick will ensure ongoing consideration of issues associated with public health and its social determinants during the development of an oil and natural gas industry. Safeguarding the health of populations is a key responsibility of the province in relation to the oversight and development of our resources. Legislative responsibility for this is distributed among several departments. Population health-focused perspectives must help shape a variety of policies and strategies governing oil and natural gas development, grounded in scientific knowledge and in liaison with other jurisdictions. Both the LaPierre and Cleary Reports made recommendations regarding potential health risks associated with oil and natural gas exploration and development, partly in order to assist mitigation options. Each also made recommendations which would affect environmental impact assessment processes, and directions for ongoing scientific review of environment and health literature. (31, 32)
The Department of Health will work with other key government departments, agencies and others to ensure ongoing consideration of issues associated with public health and its social determinants over the life span of an oil and natural gas industry. Some anticipated elements of the approach include:
• The Department of Health will work with Environment and Local Government on assessment measures in their registration process. • The Department of Health will monitor the evolving research on health impacts of natural gas development and will share this information with relevant departments. • The Department will also facilitate research and information dissemination as appropriate.
• The Department of Health will provide input on measures to monitor environmental and socioeconomic impacts of shale gas development, and continued input on analysis of those measures.
Key Objectives Served by this Action Item:
• Environmental Responsibility
• Effective Regulation and Enforcement • Community Relations • First Nations Engagement
To name just a few current and conclusive studies: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/01/05/somestates- confirm-water-pollution-from-drilling/4328859/; http://sites.nicholas.duke.edu/avnervengosh/duke-study-onshale- gas-and-fracking/; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130726121612.htm; http://powi.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/POWI-UndergroundIntelligence-Struzik-June25.pdf
For more related info: http://www.texassharon.com/2011/11/23/propane-not-a-good-substitute-for-water-in-fracking/; http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ksinding/propane_fracking_in_ny_cant
Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, http://www.cee.cornell.edu/people/profile.cfm?netid=ari1
Dr. Tony Ingraffea on Penobsquis, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jdxg-Jen4K4
In Appendix C,I examine in some detail what I now understand to be the process for environmental impact reviews in New Brunswick, along with some of my comments on this process in regards to the subject proposals from the proponent.
These “Rules” were not in place when the site’s existing infrastructure was built, in the infancy of the unconventional shale gas fracking industry. The information we now have about contamination and other hazards was not yet known.
See: http://isourforestreallyours.com/Isourforestreallyours/Ep_21.html. For more specifically on Mr. Bowser and his professional work, please see the website for IMPACT, the international nongovernmental organization of which he is President, IMPACT (Integrity Management, Promoting Accountability and Transparency) at http://goodgov.ca/Home.php
“Alward Gov’t Cuts Millions from Environment, Local Gov’t”in the Telegraph-Journal on February 26, 2014
“Provincial NDP pledges to give more power to cities”, in the Telegraph-Journal, on February 28th, 2014
I am a practitioner with many years experience in “PAR” (participatory action research). For a basic definition of PAR, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2566051/.
It seems noteworthy that the proponent’s consultant mistakenly called this regulation “97-83” in the October submission. This may suggest a lack of familiarity with the actual governing legislation on the books in New Brunswick.
Dr. Louis LaPierre, The Path Forward (October 2012, pp. 21 & 29).
Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health (NB), Recommendations Concerning Shale Gas Development in New Brunswick (September, 2012), p. 58.