By Cheryl Norrad
Friends of UNB Woodlot member, Mark D'Arcy, made a presentation for the the ban of shale gas to Fredericton's Public Safety committee today at city hall. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)
FREDERICTON - Friends of the UNB Woodlot member, Mark D'Arcy, made a presentation to the City of Fredericton's Public Safety committee at city hall today on the ban of shale gas within city limits. The group had been pressing for a meeting with city officials for some time to present its concerns about the effects of potential shale gas fracking on the city's drinking water. If shale gas companies choose to exercise their right to drill on land they've licensed in the city, the group worries the water table could be catastrophically contaminated.
In his ten minutes allotted, D'Arcy outlined several areas to be touched on in the presentation, including the city's currently inadequate commitment to watershed protection, risks of allowing shale gas work in the city, the public debate on the issue, health and safety concerns and recommendations by the Friends of the UNB Woodlot group.
D'Arcy pointed out the city's municipal plan on watershed protection doesn't include anything current dealing with the new issue of shale gas within city limits. Although well field protection policy is in place, the Friends of the UNB Woodlot group say it's not stringent enough to protect the city's wetlands, the main supplier of fresh drinking water to the city's aquifers.
As part of his presentation, D'Arcy showed wetlands maps before and after new legislation was put in place by the Environment Department that overhauled the mapping of wetlands in the province. In the post-overhaul map, a gaping hole lies in the central New Brunswick area, which includes the city of Fredericton. D'Arcy called it, "the systematic dismantlement of environmental protection policies in New Brunswick."
Continuing with his presentation, D'Arcy reminded the city of its obligation to the public in protecting their drinking water, the city's natural spaces and the restoration of surrounding wetlands. By the city implementing policy on source water protection of the wetlands that feed the city's aquifers, the municipality's drinking water will be safe.
D'Arcy finished up his presentation with recommendations to the city to maintain it's safe drinking water supply saying it should uphold it's environmental plan, stick to it's Green Matters policy, hold UNB accountable for development on the woodlot and take further measures to protect the city's water.
In his final remarks, D'Arcy asked the city to take action on the matter by requesting the province ban the shale gas industry in New Brunswick, ask the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick (UMNB) at it's upcoming meeting to ban shale gas, and adopt a resolution that the province implement legislation to protect drinking water.
D'Arcy ended by asking the committee to bring forward his request to make another presentation on the issue to city council itself.
"It's important to bring this issue to the attention of the city council," he said.
Reaction to D'Arcy's presentation by the committee was mixed.
It was well-received by Councillor Stephen Kelly who said, "I think it was a good presentation by Mr. D'Arcy...I'm very concerned about fracking taking place in the city."
Kelly went so far as to ask the committee that D'Arcy make the presentation again during the upcoming UMNB meeting next month on behalf of the city of Fredericton. Councillor Stephen Chase, UMNB's representative for the city of Fredericton, volunteered to make inquiries to the meeting planners to get D'Arcy on the agenda.
Councillor Marilyn Kerton voiced concern over who has the legal right to make decisions on whether shale gas work goes forward within the city.
"There's no fracking going on right now, but there are licenses...who says no to this? Do we have the right?"
She wondered if it was the city, province or the shale gas companies. Committee chair, councillor Eric Megarity offered that would be something the city would have to look into.
Acting city administrator Chris MacPherson said the city keeps asking the province for information, but as yet gotten no satisfaction.
"We've been asking the province to meet but haven't as of yet," he said.
City Engineer Murray Jamer said Natural Resources was invited to present alongside D'Arcy, however, no one from the Department appeared.
"DNR was invited today, but they aren't here. We've been pursuing them for the last two [Public Safety committee] meetings," he said
As the discussion wound up, Megarity, thanked D'Arcy for his presentation, but was non-committal.
"The city is very concerned with the affects of fracking on the city's water supply... but we are gathering information at this point...and have to get educated in order to make a decision based on facts," he said.
Natural Resources was contacted by this publication for comment on why no one from the department appeared at today's Public Safety Committee meeting with the city. There has been no response as of yet.