Ann Pohl’s Response to Minister Soucy’s June 12th reply to her May 26th submission on Unfair Process and other public interest issues re: 4 SWN EIAs

June 19, 2014
Hon. Danny Soucy, Minister, Environment and Local Government
Marysville Place, P O Box 6000, Fredericton, NB E3B 5H1
danny.soucy@gnb.ca

Re: EIA Applications 1381, 1382, 1383, 1384

Dear Minister Soucy:

The second paragraph of your letter recalls Premier Alward’s January 2014 State of the Province address, in which he said, “I want to be crystal clear, we are supportive of shale gas…” and we are “aggressively pursuing” shale gas industrial development. In your next paragraph, you say “I can assure you there is no intent to mislead…” (1)  On the contrary, due to this overriding policy objective, I believe there is a serious attempt to mislead on a number of points.

I suggest it is time to for you, Minister Soucy, as minister responsible for both the environment and local communities, to review your mandate. You oversee two departments and their mandates are environmental protection and the protection of local communities. Therefore, your letter to me should have started by acknowledging that the concerns raised by myself and others are valid, troubling, and substantiated by experiences in a broad diversity of regions (similar and dis-similar to New Brunswick). Rather than cheer-lead for the industry, and attempt to deny, distract and obfuscate, you
should have addressed the points I now reiterate in hope of a more productive response.

  1. As things stand, your department does not have qualified research or policy staff to even anticipate the issues that will arise in this specific region based on other regions’ experiences, nor do you have enforcement personnel with the expertise to monitor this industry. As your much-touted February 2013 “Rules for Industry” document acknowledges right in the preamble (page vi), all these items are among outstanding matters that require government action:
    • Enhancing certification and training requirements for oil and gas operators
    • Monitoring the on-going development of fracturing fluids and technologies
    • Identifying additional wastewater treatment and disposal options
    • Enhancing the provincial water monitoring network
    • Developing a water management strategy for oil and gas development
    • Considering the possible introduction of water use permits
    • Considering expanded ambient air quality monitoring by the Province
    • Establishing an orphan oil and gas well fund
    • Considering the establishment of an enhanced occurrence management system
    • Considering the establishment of a contingency fund to address environmental issues that may occur in future
    • Public Disclosure of Environmental Assessment Information
    • Assessing the Province’s enforcement capabilities
    • Gathering additional scientific information
    • Establishing training requirements for oil and gas operators about New Brunswick’s environmental regulatory regime (2)

    In the past couple of years, you have downsized the Department of the Environment and cut budgets. You have not added expert staff and resources that would enable any real action on these outstanding items. Your technical staff lack the capacity to do ongoing monitoring of pollutants such as radon, NORMs and other hazardous by-products and additives from the sites. How do you intend to hold the proponent accountable for protection of the environment, our communities, our homes and properties, and the health of the public, when the government lacks the skilled personnel required for this “rigorous” protection?

  2. What is the exact relationship between the Technical Review Committee (TRC) partners and invitees, and the Minister’s Office, in regards to decision-making input? In keeping with your government’s commitment to aggressively support and proceed with development of this industry, I am trying to understand two things:
    •     Why have you created such broad and diverse TRC’s? Is this just a public relations gimmick or do the members have power to influence your decision whether or not to approve the proposals in front of you? Can any of these participants, eg. the local governments and local service district committees (who are already on record asking for a stop to exploration and development) or the Chief Medical Officer of Health (who has similarly asked for a halt to all work until much further research is done) influence your decision?
    •     Why are the two most affected and closest First Nations (Elsipogtog and Saint Mary’s) not part of this TRC process?
  3. You are muddying the water with your comment that Phased Reviews have been around for 15 or more years. I am not sure what you are referring to, but attached to the email with which I am forwarding this communication is a PowerPoint produced by your government in early 2011. Its purpose is to inform stakeholders of this new and beneficial Phased Review approach for handling proposals from the shale gas industry.  The “rules” you have created for industry are toothless (based on voluntary compliance and industry self-monitoring). None are legislated and therefore not actually enforceable. In Elgin and Penobsquis it became apparent that Phased Reviews do nothing to help protect the environment. They only seem to benefit the proponents by enabling them to escape comprehensive technical and public scrutiny of their plans. Please answer these questions:
    •     Under the legislation, what is the exact legal standing of a Phased Review Process?
    •     Can a proponent be held responsible for compliance with all recommendations that arise from this process, and if so under what legislation?
    •     Most importantly, why are you using this Phased Review process instead of following the legislative requirement for a Comprehensive Review?
  4. How can you say that the proponent’s proposal does not raise the issue of waste disposal systems as identified in SHEDULE A: UNDERTAKINGS (87-108), which automatically (by law) requires a Comprehensive Review? The proponent mentions several times “flaring” as part of an on-site waste disposal system in this project. In addition, the proponent has failed to propose a system of waste management for the NORMs that may occur in drill cuttings and flow-back fluid in this project. The proponent makes numerous references to waste management “components” that clearly constitute elements of a Waste Management System IN NEED OF DETAILED technical and public REVIEW prior to approval, as defined in 87-108.
  5. In my May 26 2014 submission to you, I point out that the well pads proposed by SWN Resources Canada (SWN) are much bigger than usual for stratigraphic purposes, and that in the Province of Alberta (for example) there is a mandated regulation for a much smaller maximum size for well pads designed for stratigraphic analysis. That Alberta regulation protects the public
    interest by forcing industry to delineate between the stages of exploration and production, and minimizing the impact on the environment while still in the exploratory stage.Your response to me is that “It only makes sense that a proponent would construct an exploration well to a high standard if they are hopeful that they may develop the well further down the road. This way, if exploratory phases are successful and lead to further exploration or even a future proposal for commercial extraction, the proponent may not be required to make extensive modifications to the well or drill a new one because the initial well was not properly constructed for development and production.” Your cavalier rejection of my concerns makes evident the slippery slope of moving from exploration into commercial production WITHOUT ever having any “rigorous” review of the environmental issues at stake and possible/probable
    impacts.

    I am convinced that the intent here IS to mislead the public. The proponent says this development is for stratigraphic analysis. You say the proponent is building much more than is needed for stratigraphic analysis in “hopes” the analysis comes back positive for commercial development, so the infrastructure for commercial development will already be in place. The proponent lays out a plan to build to commercial production standards while nominally doing so supposedly only for stratigraphic purposes. This is endorsed by your comment that doing this only makes sense because the proponent is “hopeful that they may develop the well further down the road… for commercial extraction” – none of which is spelled out in the proposals. By way of example, I doubt your government would approve if I proposed to build a septic system capable of servicing a subdivision on my rural Kent County 11 acre property, and said it was for my new house. The difference is that your government has already decided to facilitate this industry. No matter how much reasoned judgement has to be set aside, or how many loopholes created, that greasing of the wheels of approval seems guaranteed.

    Can you explain to me if you see this differently? Also, why does Alberta have this maximum size regulation for stratigraphic analysis well pads at this exploratory stage and why does New Brunswick not feel it is necessary to protect the public with a similar regulation?

  6. You say the proponent has initiated their public consultation program. When and where are they planning a public meeting in Kent County?
  7. On the matter of the honour of the Crown in regards to First Nations, both of the most directly affected communities (Saint Mary’s and Elsipogtog) have publicly stated that their concerns have not been adequately represented to your government by the third party of the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick (AFNCNB), and that AFNCNB is not advocating for
    them. Hence, why are these communities not being directly asked for their input to your department during this TRC review period, and – if so required – provided with capacity funding to effectively participate? Also, how can an Environmental Management Plan be assembled without their direct input, as title to the land has never been ceded and it is beyond dispute that First Nation communities have an aboriginal right to care-taking or guardianship of their territories, even of territory that may be considered to be in their domain? Finally, there is the issue of cumulative impact on aboriginal and /or treaty rights from four proposals. Given the expressed concerns from the closest First Nations, has this been considered in the event that
    this matter progresses into court? Surely it would make better sense to provide capacity funding and have a genuine dialogue now?

You say you are “strictly following the rules and regulation”. I say that is how you want to make it appear. You cannot even make a reasonable claim to be strictly doing anything when you are following a recently invented system of toothless guidelines and voluntary compliance that stem from a policy to above all expedite this industry – while you are ignoring 30 years of environmental protection
legislation and Supreme Court rulings.

I look forward to your response to the questions I ask above in points 1 through 7.

Respectfully, for future generations,
<original signed>
Ann Pohl

 

Endnotes
(1) “Alward makes ‘crystal clear’ commitment to shale gas”; http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/alward-makes-crystal-clear-commitment-to-shale-gas-1.2517028

 

(2) Responsible Environmental Management of Oil and Natural Gas Activities in New Brunswick
Rules for Industry, February 15, 2013; http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Corporate/pdf/ShaleGas/en/RulesforIndustry.pdf

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