New BrunswickNew Brunswick news
Updated: Tue, 30 Apr 2013 08:00:04 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Health officer hopes to help regulate shale gas industry



Health officer hopes to help regulate shale gas industry

New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health says she's not giving up on playing a role in how the shale gas industry is regulated in the province.

Dr. Eilish Cleary says some of her key recommendations to protect human health have still not been incorporated into the provincial government's rules.

In her 82-page report, submitted to provincial government last fall, Cleary called for health impact assessments of every shale gas project, as well as a broader look at the health effect of the industry with ongoing monitoring to detect any adverse impacts.

"What I can speak about is the piece that affects humans and that's the piece we address in our recommendations, which per se have not been incorporated in the rules," she told CBC News.

Cleary is hoping her public health office will get extra resources to play a role in assessing the health impact of the industry.

"The issue will be raising an understanding of why it's important and then accepting that those things that are required will take more time and perhaps more upfront investment. However in my view, if we want to move forward in a way that's sustainable, that's the way to go."

Health Minister Ted Flemming told Cleary in a letter, individual assessments are up to the Department of Environment, while the broader health assessment will require more study.

He has not yet committed to any additional funding, saying fiscal restraint means he has to weigh the value of suggestions.

Still, Cleary, who has said the costs "will not be insubstantial," is cautiously optimistic.

"The response indicates that none of the recommendations have been completely taken off the table. All are open for further development," she said.

An Energy and Mines Department spokesperson said a shale gas blueprint to be released "very soon" will include a point-by-point response to Cleary's recommendations.

Some of Cleary's other ideas, such as requiring the disclosure of all chemicals used in the controversial hydraulic-fracturing process, commonly known as hydro-fracking, and ongoing water monitoring, are in the shale gas rules the government released in February.

SWN Resources to test this summer

Energy Minister Craig Leonard has said New Brunswick's rules governing the oil and gas industry are among the strictest in North America. Environment Minister Bruce Fitch has said water protection is the government's top priority.

The Opposition Liberals and anti-shale gas groups have repeatedly called for a moratorium on developing the shale gas industry.

Many worry hydro-fracking could have a negative effect on local water supplies.

The process involves companies injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations, enabling them to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

Cleary has sidestepped questions over whether the provincial government should impose a moratorium on shale gas.

SWN Resources will be operating again in New Brunswick this summer, testing to see if the company has a viable chance of developing a shale gas industry in the province.

Nicki Atkinson, the exploration manager for SWN, has said the company estimates there is a 10 per cent chance of being able to establish production in New Brunswick.

It could take until 2016 to determine if it's viable, officials have said.

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