Thank you for your recent e-mail dated May 26, 2014 concerning the EIA Registrations 1381, 1382, 1383 and 1384 for projects proposed by SWN Resources Canada Inc. Please find below responses to the various issues and concerns identified in your e-mail.
I would like to start by saying that our government remains committed to pursuing the safe and responsible exploration and development of our Province’s natural resources. When it comes to natural gas development in particular, addressing concerns and mitigating any potential adverse effects on the environment is of the utmost importance to us. We are convinced that New Brunswick can foster an environmentally safe and economically viable industry, which could help rebuild our province’s economy. The Government of New Brunswick’s approach to the oil and natural gas industry is proactive with rigorous monitoring, inspection, and strict enforcement of the rules.
With respect to your comment that “The well pads proposed by SWN Resources Canada (SWN) are much bigger than usual for stratigraphic purposes. Thus it appears that the proponent, in complicity with your department, is obscuring the true goal of this development…” I can assure you that there is no intent by our government to mislead the public on this front. 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. This does not change the fact that a proponent cannot know for certain if a commercially extractable resource is there until they complete more exploratory work.
Furthermore, your email makes several references to the “Phased EIA process” and I wish to offer some clarification on this subject. Phased EIA reviews were introduced in the late 1990 to systematically evaluate and review projects, which during their planning phase, cannot be described in their entirety. This approach is also being utilized to review oil and gas well development projects, where previously these were only registered for an EIA once they had reached a commercial extraction stage. Phased reviews were implemented to address the concerns surrounding these activities and to ensure the well pads were sited appropriately, among other things. It is important to highlight that prior to phased EIAs being implemented; the current work being proposed by SWN may have taken place without any public knowledge or consultation.
Subsequent to the SWN projects having been registered with DELG, a technical review committee (TRC) has been assembled and is made up of technical experts from the following agencies: the Department of Environment & Local Government (several staff including the Wellfield Protection Program Officer and 3 Hydrogeologists), the Department of Health (including the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health), the Department of Public Safety, the Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Energy and Mines, the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture (including the Provincial Archeologist), the Energy and Utilities Board, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Environment Canada, Kouchibouguac National Park (St. Charles well only), Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Town of Richibucto (St. Charles well only), Village of Rexton (Galloway well only), Regional
Service Commission #6 (Galloway and St. Charles wells), RSC#11 (Pangburn and Bronson wells), RSC#8 (Pangburn well only), Chair of the LSD Cape de Richibucto (Galloway well only), Chair LSD St. Charles (St. Charles well only). The TRC has had the opportunity to review the SWN registration documents and the EIA Project Manager has submitted approximately 100 questions (raised by the TRC) to the proponent for each of their four (4) proposed projects. SWN has responded to the TRC questions and the TRC is currently reviewing the responses to determine if they are satisfactory to address their concerns. The TRC is also in the process of reviewing SWN’s Environmental Management Plan (EMP) and is actively providing feedback.
The proponent has initiated their public consultation program and the government is working towards fulfilling the Crown’s duty to consult with First Nations.
The NB Department of Health is a key member of the TRC and has been forwarded all proponent submissions concerning the four (4) currently proposed well pads. Comments concerning these proposed project activities have been received from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. In addition, the proponent has not proposed an onsite waste disposal system as identified in SHEDULE A: UNDERTAKINGS (87-108); however, they are required to identify an acceptable method of disposing of their waste and must submit a Waste Management Plan which is then reviewed by the TRC prior to the project being approved.
I must emphasize that phased EIA reviews do not change the fact that “if” and “when” the proponent wishes to commercially extract oil and/or gas from a well pad, they are required to obtain an EIA determination prior to proceeding to the commercial extraction phase. I can assure you that, in any case, proponents do not decide whether or not they will be required to register for an EIA nor do they decide the final outcome of a determination review.
This leads me to your question regarding what we consider “intent of commercial production”. I can inform you that when a proponent proposes to extract oil and/or gas, and sell it commercially, that is what we would consider intent of commercial production. Given that the proponent does not know for certain if there is a commercially extractable resource until they conduct more work, a phased review has been implemented. I would also like to address your question with regards to SCHEDULE A: UNDERTAKINGS (87-108) on page 5 of your email. The undertakings listed under Schedule A all require registration and by default undergo a “determination review” as opposed to a “comprehensive review” as mentioned in your email.
I respectively decline you recommendation to direct the proponent to amalgamate their four (4) projects into one application and initiate a comprehensive review. We are strictly following the rules and regulation; the Technical Review Committee is actively working towards identifying any potential concerns related to the projects to ensure these concerns are addressed and mitigated prior to the projects being approved and commencing.
And finally, regarding your second email dated May 26, 2014, DELG staff contacted SWN to determine the time period their online comments site remained open; SWN informed us that when they posted the first public notices about their proposed projects in local newspapers, they had indicated they would accept comments until May 21, 2014. The online comments section on their website was opened on Thursday, April 17, 2014 and was kept open two days longer than announced in their initial public notices, closing on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Unfortunately, SWN did not notice the inconsistent date on the letter sent to residents that live within 1800 m of the proposed well pad sites (May 26th). Even though the website was closed on May 23, 2014 these residents still had other options to express their concerns (via written response or direct email to SWN Resources Canada Inc.).
Furthermore, section 6.0 PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT (page xiii, 3rd paragraph) in our GUIDE TO ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT IN NEW BRUNSWICK (GUIDE) indicates that a proponent is required to give stakeholders and the general public 25 days (from the date of public notice of registration) to provide their comments. Given that there are 32 days between April 17, 2014 and May 23, 2014 SWN has met the requirement in the GUIDE.
I believe many of your process-related concerns, including the requirements and details related to Comprehensive EIA reviews, could be addressed and the EIA process clarified further – I invite you to contact Crystale Harty or David Maguire at (506) 444-5382 to set up a convenient time.
Hon. Danny Soucy
Environment and Local Government