Letters to the Editor

Monday, 18 July 2011

City of Fredericton Environment Committee Chairman Unaware SWN in Town

Mayor, Water and Sewer Manager not Concerned 

By Cheryl Norrad

FREDERICTON - Fredericton city councillor and chair of the city's environment committee, Eric Megarity, was unaware shale gas company SWN has exploration rights in the city until asked about it on the weekend.

"I wasn't aware of it [SWN exploration] until it was mentioned to me," said Megarity.

Contacted by The Purple Violet Press on Saturday, the publication wanted to  know what Councillor Megarity's reaction was to a report out last week by the NB Media Co-Op stating SWN has a license to do work in the UNB Woodlot and northside areas.

Megarity looked into the matter and found indeed, SWN is licensed to do seismic exploration within city limits, adding the city is working on finding out more.

"We are currently trying to ascertain the situation," said Megarity.

It is thought by many the cities are exempt from shale gas work in the provincial agreement with shale gas companies. However, in New Brunswick, mineral rights underground are owned by the Crown not the landholder, no matter if private or municipal, leaving cities vulnerable to possible fracking if shale gas is found.

Fredericton falls within the area mapped for shale gas exploration by SWN, stretching across the southern half of the province from the east coast around Moncton, to the southwestern area near St. Andrews.

Above, the large beige area stretching east to southwest is the exploration license region granted to shale gas company SWN by the province. The area includes Fredericton. The map is courtesy of DNR. 

Although Megarity was unaware of the situation, Neil Thomas, the city's water and sewer manager is aware but wasn't concerned when contacted last week by The Purple Violet Press.

"I don't believe the work [seismic exploration] being done at the moment is an issue for us...I'm not concerned at this point, but we are monitoring the situation...we meet with consultants from DNR to be apprised of work being done," he said.

Thomas also stated the city's aquifers aren't in the bedrock, but sit high above it, out of harm's way of drilling, if it should occur. 

Confident the city's treatment facilities can catch any changes in the water supply, Thomas added there are mechanisms in place to do so.

"We routinely monitor the quality of the water during the treatment process in person and automatically. There are a series of checks and balances in place," he said. 

Fredericton's Mayor, Brad Woodside, is also confident in the city's water monitoring process.

"We have a good system in the city. The taxpayers invested a lot of money in it...Fredericton was used as an example in the Walkerton case about getting it right," he said. 

Mayor Woodside noted the province has done its research and put regulations in place to deal with problems up front, although he's not well-versed on what they are and acknowledges the city has no control.

"Whatever the government does, it better do it right," he said.

The Purple Violet Press contacted SWN and DNR for comment on the NB Media Co-Op piece, however, inquires went unanswered.

UPDATE:  The Purple Violet Press received the following response from SWN General Manager Tom Alexander late this afternoon:

"Technically, the UNB woodlot is within one of our licence areas. However, we are not conducting any activities on the UNB woodlot and have no plans for any work on the UNB woodlot. If we were to choose to pursue anything in the future, anything within city limits would require the permission of city council.  As well, all of our operations are reviewed and thoroughly vetted by the appropriate provincial authorities and when required, public consultation is conducted. We understand and accept that some areas will be excluded from certain operations and will gladly avoid such areas. SWN Resources Canada will at all times strive to meet or exceed all rules and regulations."

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