Lecturers push for more fracking consultation

    Stephanie Merrill spoke as part of the Occupy Speakers' Series downtown on Saturday. (Amy MacKenzie/AQ)

    New Brunswick’s shale gas protesters want the provincial government to listen to its citizens.

    Bill Parenteau, a history professor at the University of New Brunswick, and Stephanie Merrill, of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, gave a speech on Saturday at Conserver House downtown about hydro-fracking in New Brunswick.

    The speech was part of the Occupy Speakers’ Series in Fredericton that has two weekly speeches at St. Thomas University and the Conserver House downtown.

    The aim of the speeches are to increase public debates about social justice issues.

    Some New Brunswickers have been protesting shale gas exploration in the province for several months. They are worried about the exploration contaminating their drinking water and destroying the value of their private property.

    “Drinking water connects everyone,” said Merrill. “It’s part of who we are, we need it to live, and this is why it’s been put in the public light.”

    Parenteau and Merrill would like to see more consultation in the province on hydro-fracking.

    “These are real everyday people who are being affected by this,” said Merrill. “Their backyards are part of the licensed areas of exploration. They’re not eco-terrorists who are protesting this, they’re not radicals, they’re people with real concerns about what the government is saying yes to.”

    When methane leaks into the ground from improper casings in the well bore, drinking water can become contaminated, Merrill said.

    But drinking water is only a part of the problem that hydro-fracking or “hydro-fracturing” can create.

    “There’s the venting of emissions because of the pressurization that the process requires. This releases methane and other volatile compounds into our air.”

    In Wyoming, where there is fracking, the air quality surrounding the drilling sites is worse than in downtown Los Angeles, Parenteau said.

    Merrill also said it takes 20 million litres of water to fracture one well and 50 per cent of what comes back to the surface is contaminated water that can easily turn into an environmental disaster.

    According to the Conservation Council for New Brunswick, there are eight companies with a license for shale gas exploration in the province.

    The largest licensed exploration area in New Brunswick arches through the centre of the province with Fredericton in the middle. The southeastern part of the province, near Sussex, is where the controversy around fracking began last year. But shale gas exploration has been happening in the Penobsquis, N.B. area for 10 years.

    Parenteau said the provincial government is favoring business over what New Brunswickers want.

    “When the Conservatives were in opposition, they were the champion of the people,” he said. “Alward chastised the Liberals for not having public consultations for shale gas exploration before it began. They’re now promoting it as enthusiastically as the Liberals were.”

    Parenteau said large corporations make investments in the province and make legal agreements in order to assert influence in policy. He said this is why the government is acting in the interest of the corporations, not its citizens.

    “What the government is saying is that they want to make New Brunswickers more comfortable with fracking – not whether or not we think it’s a good or bad idea,” said Merrill.

    Parenteau said the protests of the sale of NB Power were effective because of the immediate response of the public and the protesters’ devotion to the cause.

    “In order for us citizens to have an effect on policy change, we need to get in early and be persistent.”

    Correction: An earlier version of this story said shale gas exploration has been happening in the Sackville, N.B. area for 10 years. That is incorrect. It has been happening in the Penobsquis, N.B. area.