K'JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – As of December 17th, north of Pleasant Ridge Road, near the town of Rogersville, New Brunswick, water continued to flow out of a near-surface aquifer that was broken by shot holes drilled by sub-contractors of SWN Resources Canada. Despite below-freezing temperatures that have turned much of the forest and environs into an icy winter wonderland, a steady of stream of water continued to pour out of the broken aquifer.
The shot holes themselves – part of SWN's seismic testing plan in Kent County, New Brunswick – were drilled at some point in late July, 2013. While it is unknown exactly how long the aquifer has been broken for, this story is not a new one; both APTN and the Halifax Media Co-op reported on this issue in mid-November, 2013.
Indeed, I myself presented this information to Justice Judy Clendening on November 26th, in a Fredericton Courtroom, in an attempt to draw attention to the fact that SWN, in breaking the aquifer, was in clear violation of the New Brunswick Oil and Natural Gas Act, specifically section 37.
In returning to the scene of the broken aquifer, it appeared clear that the New Brunswick government has done nothing to remedy the situation. Nor has it publicly made it known whether it intends to fine SWN for it's blatant violation of the act in question.
In fact, the only reaction whatsoever to suggest that the New Brunswick government is even aware of the ever-broken aquifer came from Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard, in the December 3rd, edition of the Times and Transcript.
In it, Leonard noted that it was in fact the RCMP that instructed SWN to leave the area of the shot holes in late July, for their own safety. This, despite the fact that over the course of June and July the RCMP was quite content to provide daily, round-the-clock, security service for SWN's equipment and workers.
The Minister goes on to note that some of his staff had visited the site of the broken shot holes and that his staff felt that clearly there were “a couple that needed to be replugged”.
Replugging aside, Leonard's statement at once justifies the company in abandoning their work, vilifies the protesters in essence for breaking the aquifer, shoulders the responsibility onto the RCMP and not his department, and gives SWN a total a pass on breaking the Oil and Natural Gas Act.
The Minister's statement is problematic for a variety of reason, the most glaring of which is that it is probably not true.
Prior to SWN's so-called summer break, around the beginning of August, 2013, negotiations took place between the RCMP, SWN and community members from Elsipogtog.
During these negotiations it was determined that SWN would halt its seismic testing regime until mid-September, but that before it left, it would be granted a three day period in which it could collect it's equipment and ensure that no work was left incomplete.
The immediate concern was for unexploded dynamite contained in shot holes, but it stands to reason that during this period it would have been able to verify whether or not water was flowing unabated from holes that the company had exploded in the ground.
For Leonard to suggest that SWN - with a private security firm and much of the Maritimes' RCMP forces at its disposal - was at the mercy of a pack of protesters, and is thus free from blame for shoddy work and a lack of oversight, is to cast doubt upon the ability or interest of the New Brunswick government to actually enforce the Oil and Natural Gas Act.
Again, this is an act that the government would have the population of New Brunswick believe is 'among the toughest in the world'.
Further, Leonard's reaction/non-reaction puts into clear doubt whether or not there is in fact any on-the-ground governmental oversight related to monitoring SWN's seismic testing adventures in New Brunswick. From his department's reaction, it appears that monitoring is an entirely reactionary affair.
None of the existing documentation, including copies of the license issuances, speaks of any governmental on-the-ground monitoring of SWN's seismic testing.
Indeed, aside from a weekly self-reporting schedule that puts the onus upon the 'licensee' (in this case SWN) to let the Ministry of Energy and Mines know if anything out of the ordinary should happen, it does not appear as though there is a governmental body set up or equipped to ensure that SWN is testing within the realm of the Oil and Natural Gas Act.
It would appear that it is up to SWN, a company who has been involved – and is involved – with numerous lawsuits in the United States of America, to self-report.
In the instance so far where the Oil and Natural Gas Act has clearly been broken, it was discovered by people walking in the woods, not governmental monitors. The lack of oversight is ignored, the infraction is glossed over and the blame falls not to the company itself, but upon the actions of anti-shale gas activists.
In an attempt to confirm with the New Brunswick government whether they indeed to have on-the-ground monitoring in place, on December 3rd I asked the communications liaisons for the Departments of Energy and Mines, Natural Resources, and Environment, the following questions:
"1) Can you outline the monitoring program in place for the Department of Energy and Mines, in terms of on the ground inspection of SWN's work, especially the work they performed using shot hole drillers, rather than vibreosis trucks?
2) Can you outline the actual on the ground inspection done by the Department of Energy and Mines that has taken place of SWN's work, especially as it relates to the shot holes drilled?
3) When did the Department of Energy and Mines monitors become aware of the broken shot holes south of Young Ridge Road near Rogersville, New Brunswick?
4) Did SWN take any steps towards addressing breaking the Oil and Natural Gas Act of New Brunswick, specifically section 37, that the Department of Energy and Mines is aware of?
5) Is the Department of the Energy and Mines planning on enforcing the Oil and Natural Gas Act in relation to this break, and if so, how?"
My questions were referred to the Department of Energy and Mines, where they have languished without a comment for over two weeks.
Please see the attached document, which contains, among other interesting information, the New Brunswick government's conditions of approval for a geophysical licence, which starts on page 15. The document was obtained as part of the affidavits that lead to the November 22nd injunction against impeding SWN's seismic testing work along highway 11.
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