New Brunswick’s PC government is under fire from the opposition Liberals for making a closed-door regulatory change allowing for the lifting of the fracking moratorium in the Sussex area.
Last month, cabinet approved an order-in-council, clearing the way for the changes that were part of Premier Blaine Higgs’ throne speech motion that passed through the legislature in December.
But Liberal critic Lisa Harris says the government has ignored the necessary consultation to lift the ban.
“They’re saying that they’re going to consult, they want to work with New Brunswickers, they want to work with all of the different parties. Well, obviously, they don’t. They lifted this 30 days ago without any consultation,” she said.
“They say, ‘We’re going to do this, we’re going to move forward, we’re going to do it our way.’ I mean, it’s a little backwards … to lift (a) moratorium and then say we need to consult.”
Harris said she spoke to several First Nations leaders on Tuesday who said they had not been consulted by the PCs before the change was made.
A statement from the chiefs of Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc. (MTI) says they “were blindsided by the decision,” which was made without “consent, consultation or input” from Indigenous groups in the province.
The statement cites the 2016 final report from the New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing that set out nation-to-nation consultation as a prerequisite to lifting the moratorium.
“The premier must remember the Crown has a duty to consult and to seek our consent to development in our territory. The Mi’gmaq should’ve been engaged on this issue when the government was just considering lifting the moratorium in the Sussex area,” Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg First Nation said in the release.
Corridor Resources had been extracting shale gas in the Sussex region since 1999. But in 2014, a moratorium was issued by the newly elected Brian Gallant Liberals, stopping the development of new wells.
WATCH: N.B. to lift fracking moratorium in Sussex area
New Brunswick Minister of Energy Mike Holland says consultation will be done in due time and that the regulatory changes are only the first piece of a “framework” that will allow the development of the shale gas sector in the area.
“Any business, any government, if you’re involved with an initiative where there are moving parts and you have to figure out how to fit them into a framework, you don’t run out every day and give updates on that,” he said.
Holland said that consultation with Indigenous groups is “of paramount importance” to any development, adding that any projects are about two years off.
“We’re not looking at development (until) probably 2021 so that’s why I’m saying let’s just let the temperature down here because this is a long-term project. Nobody’s doing anything knee-jerk, and we’re looking out beyond a year,” he said.
Along with a lack of Indigenous consultation, there are environmental concerns to consider as well, advocates say.
“You don’t make the decision and then look for testimony that’s going to support it. You have a discussion first,” said Jim Emberger, spokesperson for the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance.
“When the Liberals brought the moratorium in, they didn’t do that until they had had months of public testimony from citizens, from industry. We brought in international experts on contamination of water and public health,” he said.
Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne acknowledged the environmental concerns around shale gas extraction but said the region has a positive track record that speaks for itself.
“We are the area in the province that truly has experience, hands-on experience, with production of natural gas and we have yet to see any sort of negative impact in regards to that,” he said.
“We know of no water contamination or any other sorts of pollution or spills that people should be concerned about. We’re concerned about that, too; we’re not in support of any sort of natural resource development that isn’t done responsibly.”